From this quote we can clearly note Priestley’s condemnation of capitalism and his vision of a new socialist Britain. Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls in 1945, but critically, set it in 1912, just before the outbreak of World War One, and in the year of the Titanic’s sinking. Inspector Goole is not a real police officer, as we discover, but represents Social Conscience and can be seen as the embodiment of Priestley’s socialist message.
Priestley uses the plight of a poor working class young woman to illustrate the power an industrialist and his privileged, selfish family have over her. By setting the play in 1912, Priestley can suggest to his audience that it was Britain’s capitalist society that led to war, and that just as we ignored the lessons that could have been learnt from World War One, some of the Birlings didn’t heed Goole’s message and caused another visit from an inspector to be necessary. Priestley uses the characters in An Inspector Calls to put across his message.
Mr Birling is the play’s stereotypical portrait of an avaricious capitalist, whose attitudes and actions have undesirable repercussions for his workers; Birling: ‘… a man has to look after himself – and his family too, of course, when he has one – and so long as he does that he won’t come to much harm. But by the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense… a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.
‘ (Act One, page 10). Eric agrees with his father, and therefore backs up Birling’s argument. This blatant disregard for the well being of others is repeated throughout the play by Birling and his contemporaries, and we are obviously expected to view these opinions negatively because Birling is proved to be wrong in his ideas about other matters, such as the ongoing ‘behindhand’ nature of Russia, the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic, and the ‘silly little war scares. ‘ All three of these obviously incorrect ways of thinking discount Birling’s other ideas.
The treatment of Eva Smith (Smith is a very common name, perhaps chosen to represent the anonymity of this girl) by the Birlings and Gerald highlights the capitalist attitude that the lower classes are not nearly as important as richer people; Inspector: ‘And so you used the power you had, as a daughter of a good customer and also as a man well known in the town, to punish the girl just because she made you feel like that? ‘ Sheila: ‘Yes, but it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time. Don’t you understand? ‘ (Act One, page 24).