An Inspector Calls is a play written by J.B.Priestley. It was written just after The Second World War and set in 1912 just before the start of The First World War. The play reflects Priestley’s social and political beliefs and tries to portray socialist ideals to the audience. The themes of community and responsibility are central to the play. At the time the play is set, there was an enormous divide between the social classes in Britain.
There were the middle and upper classes (around five to six million) who took two thirds of the national income. Then there was the working class (around thirty-nine million) who took the remaining one third of the national income. Poor labourers were often treated badly and were paid ludicrously low rates of pay. There were of course, no unions to push for higher wages or better working conditions, so there was nothing these workers could do to improve their situation. In the play, Priestly tries to convey that this was a bad system for the majority and that everyone should look after each other, regardless of class.Order now
During my essay, I will at times be referring to the National Theatre Production of the play that was originally staged in 1992. This is significant in the fact that Britain had just witnessed the amazing changes Baroness Thatcher’s government had made on the country. Opinions can be made here as to whether Priestley’s political beliefs have any advantages or disadvantages over the more capitalist ideals adopted by the Conservative government during the whole of the 1980s.
The play is set in the fictional town of Brumley. It is meant to represent a sort of normal, industrial town, where there are poor workers and then rich factory owners like Mr Birling. He is a self made man, who has worked very hard to get where he is now. He is married to an almost upper class lady called Sybil Birling who was born into a wealthy family. This shows that there is a slight divide even between these two characters. Mr Birling believes that you can be whatever you want to be, and that if you try hard, you can achieve anything. At one point he says “A man has to make his own way and has to look after himself”. This shows that he only really cares about himself and not the wider community.
We do see that Mr Birling could be portrayed as being slightly naive. At one point he comments on the Titanic being unsinkable but being realistic, anyone who said that they thought the Titanic was going to sink would have been laughed at. He also mentions that he doesn’t think there will be a war and that the Germans don’t want war anyway. Mr Birlings’ main aim in life is to make money.
We see throughout the play that he only thinks about how much money he will make or lose as a result of something. Mrs Birling is also portrayed as not caring about the poor and needy. She refers to poor working women as “girls of that class”. As if to say that they’re not worth bothering about. This is a little ironic as she works for a charity designed to help people with money difficulties. Eric, Mr Birling’s son, has slightly different views to his father. We can see this when he says to his father “why shouldn’t they try for higher wages?”. This is in response to Mr Birling saying he refused to give one of his factory girls a pay rise.
Priestly creates a very naturalistic setting in the text but in the National Theatre Production settings are used to complement the atmosphere and themes. For example, it is a large, grand looking house situated on the top of a hill. This gives the audience the impression that the Birlings’ are above everyone else and looking down on the people in the street. The play centres on a Girl called Eva Smith. She had been involved in some way with each member of the Birling family, which eventually lead to her committing suicide. Her name “Eva Smith” is meant to be a representation of all the working women in Britain. Her name “Eva” is used because Eve was of course the first woman in the Bible.
As well as this, “Smith” is the most common surname in Britain. In fact, there was not actually one particular girl that died as a result of the Birlings’ uncaring nature but possibly several of them. Priestly is trying to show the audience that, although The First World War was meant to be the war to teach people lessons, it did not succeed, because there was a second. He is trying to mimic this in the play where there is an endless cycle of lessons not being learnt.