An Inspector Calls is a play that centers on morals, political views and highlighting to a 1946 audience how things have changed dramatically since 1912. Priestley uses the play to communicate his socialist views this is done is many ways throughout the play and the main way he does this is though his characters. But before the characters even do something the set tells the audience a lot about the characters that are about to speak.
A large dining- Room, elegantly decorated expressing the fact that the family dining there is of an upper-middle-class status. The period furnishing Identifies to the audience that the play is set in 1912, a year where the unsinkable Titanic sank on its maiden voyage and a great war would be waged two years later. Then after that the Russian revolution and the great depression which has a great impact on the capitalist nations of the world.Order now
Once the play has started certain things are thrown forward about Mr Birling and Sheila, Mr. Birling talks far more than the other characters in the first section of Act One often clearing his throat to stop people cutting-in this would show the audience how he feels he has vast knowledge to share with his family. He is highly money orientated as he talks about a business deal with Gerald’s Father more than the fact his daughter is to get married “my duty to keep labour costs down” so he does not really care for the lower classes even though he was once in their position.
His speech shows that he has climbed the social ladder to get to where he is now and his wife is from a family of higher status, so maybe his marriage was not wholly about love but maybe for the higher social standing for Mr. Burling and the money for Sybil. Also J. B. Priestley uses Mr. Birling to allow the audience the power of hindsight as he leads them along the chain of his predictions that are wrong – the audience knows this and are seen as humorous sometimes “you’ll hear some people say war’s inevitable. And to that I say – fiddlesticks! The Germans don’t want war”. Here the audience knows he is wrong as two years later the First World War began.
Birling also gives the two young men a long speech about how it is every man for himself, and that Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells are old cranks to think that we should all care for other people who aren’t family” as if we’re all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense.” With this Priestley has used Birling as a prime example of capitalist values of the time, by this I mean that he expresses the fact ‘everyman for himself’ is the way to go. This use of dramatic irony and very capitalist speeches makes sure the audiences’ opinion of Birling is certain before the inspector arrives.
Sheila acts very different to her father in the first act she says very little and what she does say is very childish “mommy” this means the audiences first impression of will be that she is a spoilt little girls who has been sheltered from the outside world. Also she seems to be quite cheeky and her and Eric seem to try and test what they can get away with in front of their parents “your squiffy” and “don’t be such an ass, Eric” I think this would also cause the audience to think the children are spoilt.
Sheila like the rest of the family does not listen with great attention to Mr. Birling’s speeches “I’m sorry daddy. Actually I was listening. I think an actress acting Sheila would have to act in a very childish and excited way with her maybe fidgeting. Then half way through the first act Sheila and Mrs. Birling leave the room to go drink Coffee elsewhere this shows that even in 1912 women were not involved in business and were told what to do. The first impressions of Sheila to the audience are also very important as it makes sure the audience notice her so later in the play they will see how she changes.
Half way through one of Birlings speeches the doorbell rings and the inspector arrives. The Inspector is a man of firmness. Though of medium height the dialogue describes him of having a certain ‘massiveness’ about him, and he addresses each character with a firm stare. Throughout the play he remains calm, firm and solid. The inspector is the socialist representative in the play and therefore there is a lot of friction between him and Mr. Birling who of course represents capitalism.
Throughout the whole of the Inspectors questioning to all the characters Birlings stage directions often read furious, moves impatiently, cutting in and angry. These all give pointers to the actor and then to the audience that Birling does not like his authority being challenged and particularly when he public image is at stack, he seems to get more angry when his children are being questioned than when he was maybe because he thinks his children are more likely to him damage.
During his confrontation with the Inspector Birling tries to intimidate him by threatening him “I ought to warn you he is an old friend of me”(Birling is talking about the Chief constable) this really shows how nervous Birling becomes about how his chance of a Knighthood could be in trouble. A good example of how Birling really dislikes the inspector coming to his house and becoming the highest authority figure is “I consider this un-called for and officious” An actor playing Birling when talking to the Inspector would have to use body language to show Birlings dislike for the Inspector and also to show how Birling is nervous. Also blocking would have to b taken in consideration, as I don’t think Birling would be sitting down during this he would more likely be pacing around the room trying to make himself look more important than he really is.
Sheila’s reaction to the inspectors questioning is very different as when she first is reminded of what she did to Eva Smith and what has become of her she runs from the room very unset as the stage directions say, “a little cry, gives a half-sniffled sod, and then runs out”. But once she returns she takes a much different approach and seems alot more calm and more grown up as she no longer uses childish language such as mommy but calls Mrs. Birling mother now. This change in Sheila can also be seen in the stage directions as in the first act they mostly read excited and gaily but in act two read bitterly and passionately.
She works out that there is no point trying to keep thins from the inspector “you mustn’t try to build up a kind of wall…if you the Inspector will just break it down”. This is the part of the play when Sheila starts to break away from the older generation and works towards a more socialist person. Also in this part of the play Sheila’s attitude to Gerald changes as she finds out the truth about the previous summer. An actress playing Sheila in this act would I think have to really try and show that Sheila has grown up very quickly and also the blocking would be different between Gerald and Sheila they would no long sit close together but maybe have their chairs slightly turned away from each other.
As the Inspectors enquiry comes to an end Birling resorts to desperate measures to protect his life “look, inspector-I’d give thousands-yes thousands-” but of course this is to late but it shows how even though he has just found out not only has Eva Smith has died but also a member of his own family, he feels the answer is money. So really Birlings speech about family values at the start of the play was not true, Birling does not put his family first in hard times this is also said by Eric “you’re not the kind of father a chap can go to when in trouble”
Once the inspector has left his message doesn’t seem to have had an effect on Birling for a while and he seems worried but that soon changes once Gerald enters and reveals that Inspector Goole was not a police officer. Birling suddenly jumps into action and talks of how it was a hoax “By Jingo! A Fake!”
While Birling is thinking about what to do next he does not realize that he has lost both of his children. Sheila at this point brakes away from what has been expected of her and begins to tell her parents how there reactions are wrong she now becomes the representative of socialism since the inspector has left “you’re just beginning to pretend all over again”. This is one of the major messages of the play, that the younger generation learn from the events and change for the better by this happening priestly shows that his 1946 audience that they should not cling to the past but also change and try and lead a more socialist life.
He has taught the audience that responsibility for ones actions is a key role in life, for though not one person is solely to blame for Eva’s death they’re still involved in her drastic actions to take her own life. His meaning: just because you are not all together to blame doesn’t mean you are not to be blamed at all. And so Priestley has successfully conveyed his personal opinions of socialism and capitalism. By reading and watching the play “An Inspector Calls” we are able to understand the differences between denial and morals, those of which Priestley believed in.