The Inspector and Arthur Birling have very different views on responsibility. How does Priestley present these two speeches? Who does he want the audience to agree with? “An Inspector Calls” was written in 1945 but set in 1912 by Priestley. Priestley was a socialist and he wrote this play to reflect the views he held about social responsibility. Socialists believe that everyone is responsible for each other, that we are connected to each other through our actions, words and thoughts. The play is about a ‘respectable’ family who are interrogated about Eva Smith’s suicide. The overall message of the play is that we do not live alone; we live in a community. We are responsible for each other, so what we do, think and say affects the lives of the people around us.
Arthur Birling is the head of his manufacturing factory, Birling & Co. Eva Smith was working at his factory before she was fired from her factory-floor job. Before making his speech, Birling and the rest of his family were celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft. Through his speech, Birling’s point about responsibility is that a man should look after himself – and his family. As an audience, we get the impression that Birling’s opinion is not too well informed from the speech he had previously made. In that speech, he claims that, the now known “Great War” would never happen that it was just the Kaiser talking nonsense and the Titanic was “unsinkable”. The audience’s feelings towards Birling are that he does not know what he’s talking about; a 1945 audience would already know that the Titanic did sink and not only did the Great War happen but there was another war after that, therefore not taking his speech seriously.
The Inspector is an interpretation of Priestley and the Socialist views he held. He was sent to the Birling household to interrogate the family about their involvement with Eva Smith. When the Inspector makes his speech, the Birling family secrets are all out in the open and there is a clear rift between the older and younger generation. The point about responsibility that is made in the Inspector’s speech was that we are a community so therefore, we are responsible for each other. We know the Inspector is well informed due to the tone of voice he spoke in and how he knew what happened before any of the Birlings had confessed yet.
Birling gets interrupted at the end of the speech by the Inspector, therefore leaving no time for the characters to respond, and there is no evidence that they felt the same as Birling. This makes us think that if a member of his family does not agree with his views then neither does Priestley. During the Inspector’s speech, the characters present in the room respond with utter silence and awe. The silence and awe transcends to the audience as respect, which gives off the idea that we should agree with the Inspector.
Arthur Birling uses personal pronouns like ‘I’ and ‘he’. Using these kinds of pronouns portrays Birling as selfish. His argument seems limited as Birling is only making one point of view. The Inspector also uses personal pronouns but to refer to a group of people. By using these pronouns, the impression you receive is that he is talking about society. Also, it creates a direct response to the audience. The Inspector’s use of these personal pronouns links to Priestley’s message of that we don’t live alone, we live in a community.
Arthur Birling ridicules others during his speech. He criticises Socialists like the Inspector and Priestley. This language technique puts Birling in a weak position; it seems that all he can do is argue. The audience would take an instant dislike to Birling as he would be seen as a self-centered argumentative figure. A 1945 audience would also take a dislike to Birling, as due to the World Wars many of the younger generation died at the hands of the older generation. So, Birling would have been portrayed as egotistical, careless and selfish.
Birling gets interrupted during his speech by the Inspector at an ironic time. It is ironic because the audience get the feeling Birling is to be contradicted by someone who is viewed by the audience as his inferior. Being interrupted by the Inspector gives the Inspector the higher edge. It gives the impression that the Inspector is about to contradict Birling. The Inspector is not interrupted, giving him the power and respect from the characters and from the audience. Priestley uses interruptions to make the Inspector seem a greater force than Birling, as a result more respect is presented to the Inspector.