An inspector calls was written by J.B. Priestley, full name John Boynton Priestley, in 1945. This play is a great example of some of Priestey’s best work. Set in 1912 (the same as ‘Eden End’, written in 1934) before the war. It is about morals and how one’s actions can influence the lives of other people. It is also about responsibility for one’s actions, both individual and collective, and the consequences that may follow. The characters in the play are shown what their actions have created and the consequences of them. The inspector in the play, Inspector Goole, is not one of the characters being shown the consequences of his own actions, but he is the character revealing them. He has several roles, some obvious, others not so, but all are equally important.
In this essay I will be stating my opinion on several points and discussing many areas, some in more detail than others, but all with my personal thoughts and opinions. The dramatic role of the inspector: The role of the inspector, in my opinion, is the most substantial. He is in the centre of everything and Priestley wanted him to seem significant to the other characters so this makes him crucial.
Priestley made Inspector Goole seem important by changing the scene when he arrived. The Inspector’s entrance is perfectly timed for just when Mr Birling says “a man has to mind his own business, and look after himself and his own” (act 1, p. 10). The Inspector has the opposite opinion to Mr Birling so it is ironic that he should arrive exactly after Mr Birling has stated his opinion, as if the Inspector was there to challenge Mr Birlings view. The scene change at the Inspector’s entrance also makes the Inspector appear to be of more significance to the audience.
The change also shows how the atmosphere has changed or how it is going to change. The scene and atmosphere changes mirror each other. The scene change goes from soft pink lighting to a strong and harder bright lighting and the atmosphere goes from a happy and relaxed celebration of an engagement to a serious and depressing inquiry, drudging up some of the characters’ deepest, darkest secrets (Eric and Gerald in particular). The atmospheric change is obviously not as apparent as quickly, but is far more important as the lighting is just an extra sign that the evening is going to get serious.
Inspector Goole is in his fifties and dressed in a plain, dark suit of the period. I think that with the appearance of the inspector, Priestley was trying to make him seem wise. In his notes he states “the inspector need not be a big man but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.” (Act one, p. 11), showing that Priestley wants Inspector Goole to appear powerful, strong and knowledgeable. I would also add confident as Priestley has written, “he speaks carefully, weightily and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking” (act one, p 11) as if the inspector was trying to ‘suss out’ the person he was addressing perhaps.
The Inspector’s manner of questioning is very controlling as he takes charge of all situations and is in control of all of the action. For example, when the Birlings begin to argue, (act 3, p 55) the inspector says, “Stop!” and they all fall silent and stare at him. He has the ability to silence an argument which shows he is masterful and powerful. Inspector Goole appears to orchestrate the events as he takes control of the situation, he is very much in charge and the ‘conductor’ of the evening.
Inspector Goole also uses photographs to bring the conversation back to Eva Smith when it had begun to drift towards other matters. He goes from person to person, with some, showing them a photo to confirm their connection with her. He only ever allows one person at a time to see the photograph and then follows the confirmation with questions, going through each person in turn. Gerald and Eric, however, didn’t see the photograph as Gerald confirmed that he knew her by recognising her changed name, Daisy Renton, and Eric didn’t as everyone already knew that he knew her.
The inspector appears omniscient, which means that he seems to be all knowing. I think the audience begins to notice this when he tells the characters facts that only one of them knew, for example, when he tells everyone in act 2 , p.43 that “Mrs Birling spoke to and saw her only two weeks ago”. Inspector Goole claims that his knowledge originated from Eva Smith’s journal. The characters notice his omniscience as well, for example when Sheila states in act 3 ” we hardly ever told him anything he didn’t already know.” (Sheila, act three, p 60).
The ending of the play is very dramatic and leaves the audience and characters with many questions. The stage directions at the end of the play say “As they stare guiltily and dumbfounded, the curtain falls.” Priestley masterfully created this by changing the atmosphere over and over until the characters are at breaking point. They go from being relaxed to being shocked, from tense and guilty to inquisitive, from laughter and being calmer to, at the very end, being confused. Their emotions are on a roller coaster ride which is exhausting for the characters and audience.
Towards the end of the play the characters start doubting whether or not he was an Inspector. When Gerald has their suspicions confirmed they disregard everything he has taught them. “He wasn’t an inspector.” Said by Mr Birling, (act three, p 66). They start to laugh about the situation thinking that it has all been a hoax and therefore no longer matters. “You’ll have a good laugh over it yet.” (Mr Birling, act three, p 71).Sheila and Eric, however, have the opposite reaction.
They believe that it does not matter whether he was an inspector or not because what they have done is very real so they should still feel guilty. “Well, he inspected us all right. And don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove this girl to commit suicide.” (Sheila, act three, p 66). I agree with them. We never find out who Inspector Goole is, but this does not matter because it is not his title that makes him of significance, it is what he believes and what he has taught the Birlings, Sheila and Eric at least.
At the end of the play I was left feeling confused about how what had happened during the course of the play was actually possible. I was left thinking, which is probably what Priestley wanted. The ending also left me feeling shocked, as this was not what I had expected to happen. I expected someone to go to the media and shame and disgrace the Birling family. I did not expect to the Birlings to discover that she had not died when Gerald rang the infirmary. I was even more shocked to find that shortly afterwards the Birlings received a telephone call from the police saying that an inspector was on his way round to ask some questions as a girl had just died on her way to the infirmary after drinking disinfectant.