Responsibility is a key factor in the play which somehow no one seems to acknowledge, responsibility is all about being the primary case of something and so able to be blamed or credited for it. Yet J. B Priestley takes advantage of the characters not being able to accept responsibility of anything which then leads to a death with everyone refusing to take responsibility when they all uniquely had a part to blame in the death. But whether they accept this blame is another question altogether.
Arthur Birlings is a successful industrial business man and the inhabitants of Brumley owe to him their employment. For example Mr. Birling did have Eva smith as one of his employees but he discharged her due to wanting an increase in pay. Whereas Mr. Birling strongly puts forward an idea that a man should only care for himself and his family. “Well it’s my duty to keep the costs down we were paying the usual rates and if they didn’t like it they could go work somewhere else” page 15 “I told the girl to clear out and she went” Page 16
Mr. Birling is not a bad man and probably considers himself to be a good employer but he still really refuses to accept any responsibility towards Eva Smith whatsoever, but his daughter Sheila was just as much to blame for the incident because she was so envious and jealous of this Eva Smith, so much that she complained about her to the manager of the shop at Milwards. She clearly told him that if he didn’t get rid of the girl she would never go near the place again- she stated that the girl was impertinent.
Ghoole clocks onto this and states that she was clearly jealous of her and when he suggests it she comments back: “Yes I suppose so…. ” Page 24 So she clearly had a part to blame just as much as her father accept the only difference is that she accepts this responsibility- Sheila’s husband to be Gerald did pay a major part of the blame because he had a secret affair with Eva and paid her stolen money from his dad to keep her going. But he clearly quotes the relationship not to be disgusting “you know it wasn’t disgusting” page 38.
Gerald was a major part of her life so he did take some of the responsibility but he did later pass it onto his mother who had refused to give her any help stating that she didn’t believe her and the worse part is, is that Eva had no where else to turn but still Mrs. Birling refused any acknowledge of the responsibility at all and tries her hardest to blame everyone else until it all comes out that Eric had got drunk a few times and had sex with her and she ended up getting pregnant, but when Eric found out that she was dead he clearly and quickly blamed his mother and not himself for getting her in that state in the first place.
Thus proving that none of the family really truly accepted responsibility other then Sheila, but does the main culprit Mrs. Birling break down and really accept what she has done no? The Burling family represents a pretentious part of society; they believe themselves to be superior and upper class. The play was set in 1912 this was the era where workers were at the mercy of their employers. The Birlings were lucky they had the money, lifestyle but money never brought true happiness and is still the same today.
Their were few laws to save workers from exploitation and no welfare state to support them, so people like the burling family take advantage of this and people like Eva smith are no exception. Priestley believes that the rich, many of whom made money from the labour of the poor, and that they should feel responsible for them and that we should all care for each other as individuals. The Birlings refuse to accept this and Priestley reflects this in the book.
Priestley uses the Burling family as a tool to get his message across about responsibility. The Burling family hates the fact that they are uniquely responsible and this Priestley takes advantage of by using the inspector to scare them back to reality this clearly does not work as Sheila is the only one who accepts a little bit of responsibility and shame at the very end. But her family still think that they are not responsible thus proving that they are so wrapped up in their own little lives to realise that inspector Goole does not exist.
Throughout his enquires the Inspector has remained entirely in control at times, even he has “massively taken charge” Sheila has regarded him ” wonderingly and dubiously” later she notes that no one told him anything that he did not already no. Through this creation of the powerful all- knowing nature of the character of the Inspector and through the revelation of the apparently incredible but all too real chain of events in which the characters are all involved. Priestley has successfully moved both his reading audience beyond the bounds of naturalism.
It is this unreal quality of the inspector’s final prophecy of “fire blood and anguish” – Priestley’s reference to world war 1- he successfully imbues the Inspector with an almost supernatural quality. Yet he has been successful in bringing Sheila and Eric only to a realisation of their guilt and responsibility, the effect of the Inspector whoever he may have been has been to split the family irrevocably, whilst Gerald, Arthur and Sybil laugh at what they perceive to be a hoax. As soon as Inspector enters the room there is a sudden rush of tenseness and panic.
It comes to a shock that they of all people get disturbed on the night of their daughters engagement. The audience receives a clear impression about what sort of lifestyle that they lead they clearly show they are wealthy and show plenty of evidence that they lead an upper class lifestyle by the way that they are seen, heard and in the way that they act. In act one we see the facade of Respectability and they talk in a highly mannered way and in the first scene with them sitting round a table drinking port and smoking shows that they are happy and they are enjoying their lifestyle.
Their life differs from theirs to Eva in a slightly dramatic way, they know that that them being in that particular situation they can clearly take advantage of a poor struggling girl like Eva. Eva leads a slightly lower class role she isn’t as fortunate as the Birlings, she really struggles to go through life and not having a job and being pregnant with everyone refusing to help her just finished her off completely. The personalities of the Birlings are clearly shown throughout the play J. B Priestley clearly shows that they are strong minded people and that they want to get what they can out of life.
It’s ironic that the inspector enters just as Mr. Birling makes a pompous speech about how a man has to make his own way in life and that they have to look after only themselves. The Inspector enters just as Mr. Birling states; “That a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own-and-(the doorbell rings) The twist in the tale is after the inspector left and it is to be discovered that no such inspector exists.
He is a metaphysical inspector, perhaps a conscience of each. There is a general relief that if the Inspector is non existent then there is nothing to worry about- only Sheila realises that it is frightening that the family have not learnt anything at all and they will go on accusing their actions and thinking themselves to be above approach. But it’s sudden news that another inspector is coming to investigate the suicide of a young women. Inspector Goole’s warning is that unless we learn that we are all responsible for one and another we shall pay a terrible price.
His final words “we are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will come when, If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire, blood and anguish. ” These words would not be lost on a 1945 audience- with its churchillian echoes. The Inspector is skilful at getting people to condemn themselves. He gets Gerald to suggest (page 27) that young women should be “protected against unpleasant and disturbing things” and then says, “Well we know one young woman, who wasn’t don’t we? ”
The Inspector’s comments to Mrs. Birling about young people-“they’re more impressionable” (page 30)- adds weight to our feelings that the older generation is fixed in its attitudes and that if society is to become more caring and more just it will have to be through the efforts of the young. Talking about Eric’s excessive drinking (page 32) Sheila say’s “But we really must stop these silly pretences” In a wider sense this is very much a central theme in the play. Priestley is saying that we all tend to hide our weakness from ourselves- which the veneer of pretence needs to be stripped from society.
The play could be called a modern morality play because Priestley based the play around reality. He used the Inspector to get across his views in a strong and vigilant way. There is a lot of meaning in Mrs. Birling comment; “I must say we are learning something tonight” They are learning not only about Gerald’s infidelity and not only about Alderman Meggarty’s drinking and womanising. They are learning a great deal about themselves as the Inspector strips away their veneer of respectability although the elder Birlings do not realise it yet.
The audience is meant to feel that it is not only the Birling family that are on trial. Men like Alderman Meggarty’s, from a privileged social position, also treated Daisy Renton (and other girls) badly. In one sense the whole of society is on trial, this is what Priestley wants the audience to feel. Priestley’s sympathy for the plight of girls like Eva smith is evident. It is part of his deeply felt, genuine concern for humanity, not just the expression of a political opinion.
Throughout the play Responsibility is a key issue and he really reflects it well in the characters, so overall Priestly gets his message across about responsibility really well he uses the Inspector as a key source to express his feelings and opinions about responsibility towards all women etc and how they are treated. I think that the audience feel shocked at the very end of the play because it’s not what they expected to happen and that Priestley used the plot twist really well and created real good suspense.
Priestley wrote the play in 1945 at the end of world war 2 but he set it in 1912 I believe this to be because he wanted to start it at the beginning of the war, he was trying to explain that the society in that time was badly- run worn down and women was just not treated as equals and this frustrated Priestley. I found that from reading the play that it was well written and that he did a splendid job of showing us a glimpse of society in that particular era. He really puts it across in a really positive way.