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What is Priestley’s message in An Inspector Calls

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John Boynton Priestley was born in Bradford on 13 September 1984. His mother died in the same year and his father, who was a schoolmaster remarried four years later. Priestley left school at sixteen to write and managed to get work and at the same time found him self gaining an interest in politics through his fathers friends who were a circle of a socialists people. This made Priestley take part in discussions with his father’s friends and made him very politically minded. This would be the influences in his plays later on such as you will see in ‘An Inspector Calls’.

Being a socialist Priestley believed in responsibility, both individual and collective believing that for every action there is a consequence and Priestley try to portray this message in his play ‘An Inspector Calls’ which was written in 1945 within a week of World War Two ending but is set before World War One. Priestley wrote this play intentionally as he saw an urgent need for social change and used the play to express his desire for social equality. The play is set in an industrial city in the Midlands of 1912 concerns a wealthy industrial Arthur Birling, his family, the fianci??

Gerald Croft and an Inspector. It shows how each family member helps to destroy a young woman’s life-Eva Smith through their selfish and egotistical attitudes towards life, which are the consequences in her death. The play runs corresponding to what was happening to society at the time. Each indifferent action and statement is backed up with resulting consequence. The play opens with a conversation between Mr Birling, the family and Gerald Croft. The family is sitting in their living room celebrating the success of their daughter’s engagement.

The first thing we have to remember is that the play was performed in 1946 but was actually set in the year 1912 which probably meant that peoples views and attitudes changed in this period of time and this was done because it made people realize about what they were doing at that time. The audience just having gone through two wars must have been towards more to the socialist side as it made them realize everything is not so straight forward such as when Arthur Birling makes predictions for the future about the titanic being unsinkable, the impossibility of war as well as the promise and progression of technology in the near future.

He quotes:

“And I’m talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business. And I say there isn’t a chance of war”. “The titanic-she sails next week………… and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. ”

There’ll be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere-except of course in Russia, which will always be behind hand naturally. Which then would have been optimistic and realistic predictions but to the audience in 1945 totally laughable as all these predictions were totally wrong.

In the play Priestley first shows the Birlings wealth and class by doing things such as putting in the port and cigars which they have after the dinner and not only has he showed his wealth but also showed Birling is looking to climb in the world as he says: “I gather there’s a very good chance of a knighthood just as long as we behave our selves”. Mr. Birling mentions this to Gerald, as he knows this might make him superior in society and to towards Gerald’s parents who to him are his social superiors in society.

Next I would like to give a brief summary on each character in the play what role they played and why each one was created to show something. Arthur Birling is a successful factory owner and an ex-Lord Mayor of Brumley and also a local magistrate. He regards himself as an upper-middle class man who does not really like to mess around with anything. Arthur Birling has no imagination and seems to be blind to both to the consequences of his actions and to the events in the larger world. I think that Priestley has put him in to the play to represent capitalism and arrogance towards the world and others beside himself and his family.

Sybil Birling, who is even more hard-faced and arrogant then her husband, as she comes originally from the upper class in society. In the play she is introduced as a social superior who’s manner indicates she is very conscious of her position in society. She is extremely snobbish as she comes from a rich background and expects others to respect her and defer to her opinions. She also seems to be stubborn as if her class allows her to always be right in whatever she takes part. Sybil Birling represents arrogance and power madness like her husband.

Sheila Birling is impressionable and deeply affected by the inspectors revelations made during the play. She and her brother are the only ones who give optimism in the play. Sheila is an attractive and honest character who lacks her parent’s arrogance and cold- blooded attitude towards the world. Sheila Birling represents a person who sees that there’s no point in hiding the truth and that everyone should just accept reality, this I could say is the way of thinking from the new generation as Sheila and Eric both have a totally different frame of mind towards life then there parents.

Eric Birling exposed as a drunkard and the farther of an illegitimate unborn child. Eric is what you could say is the result of upper class and money as if he has taken everything for granted. He represents a similar character and opinion as his sister Sheila Birling but is in the play to create curiosity towards others as if he may know something that the other members of the family do not. Gerald Croft is a man from the upper class and has a similar outlook towards life as Arthur Birling as he agrees with Arthur Birling over the dismissal of Eva smith.

He is also similar to Mr. nd Mrs. Birling as he conceals himself to the truth worried about his relationship with Sheila Birling and also maybe his overall reputation as he comes from a rich and upper-class background. I think Gerald Croft represents capitalism but also the problem with why we should not capitalism but work towards socialism. Last but not least Inspector Goole is an enigmatic and mysterious figure, as we never even learn his first name and always seems to be able to get himself out of giving himself away to the other characters by using phrases such as ‘I haven’t much time’.

The Inspector has a quiet and mysterious feel about him and in my opinion represents the socialists and the lower class as he never shows any respect towards the other characters, treats them as equals and tells them because of there actions they have had consequences on others in a big way. When the Inspector calls unexpectedly on the flourishing Birling family his staggering revelations not only shatter the very fundamentals of the Birling family but also changes some members of the families frame of mind.

Inspector Goole believes in quite the opposite to what Mr Birling believes in. He feels every person should help each other as he quotes, “We are members of one body-We are responsible for each other. ” The Inspector also brings to our attention the huge number of differences between the upper middle class men and lower class citizens. The inspector refuses to acknowledge the fact that the Birling family is a middle class and does this by giving him no respect, knowing that he is more of a threat to them then they are to him.

He hovers over the characters acting much like their conscience, he is described as creating ‘an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ He speaks carefully and has a bewildering habit of looking hard at the person he is talking to, getting the truth out of each character. While the Inspector moves Arthur Birling to anger, he is not affected by being confronted with the effects of his actions until the Inspector is about to leave.

To make his message clear to the audience Preistley makes Inspector Goole make an emphatic speech as he says the following: “But just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths Still Left with us, with their lives, theirs hopes and fears, they’re suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.

And I tell you that the time will come soon when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. ” The speech talks about how our actions have consequences on others and that if we do not learn this and think before we take actions then we are going to regret it and pay for it: “In fire and blood and anguish. ” Which is referring to some kind of conflict, which is going to be terrible, and which is going to affect everyone no matter who it is. Class and wealth will not matter when this actually happens.

By putting in this speech Preistley evokes emotional response from the audience and gets them thinking about how there owns actions even thirty years later or even now, how they can affect people around us close or distant. It makes you think about everything you do because it can make a difference to some one else in a good or bad way. Next I will discuss the entrances and exits in the play and look at why certain characters were taken out and put in to the action and why Priestley chose to do what he did in the play.

I think he has used to take in and take out certain characters so that the Inspector can investigate without the interference of others, which may effect what happens in the rest of the play. For example when Eric leaves the setting for some apparent reason because he is not feeling well then straight away the audience know that Eric has done something and looks as if he regrets what he has done in another ways he feels responsible for what he has done showing responsibility for his actions. This portrays Priestley’s message in a big way and makes it clear to the audience.

I would now like to discuss the behavior of the characters once the Inspector has left the setting you will have noticed how after knowing about Gerald’s so called theory, attitudes change. Mr. and Mrs. Birling are more worried about their reputation then they are about what they may have done, maybe not to the same girl but they had done it anyway. Whereas the attitude of the younger generation is totally different as they are concerned with what has actually happened and not what may happen to them or their reputations.

This must have been interesting to the audience watching the play as it would showed them that Mr. and Mrs. Birling the ones who represent upper class and stand for capitalism only bothered about what may happen to them and not what has happened to the girl as it showed that they were in the play to represent people who did not take responsibility for their actions whereas the younger generation who are totally the opposite of there parents as they realize that what they have done is wrong and start to show responsibility for there actions.

This is all interesting as is will have a big effect on the audience as it shows the audience that everyone should be responsible for what they do in life like Sheila and Eric Birling and not like Mr. nd Mrs. Birling who do not want to take any responsibility for there actions unless it would affect themselves or their family. Last but not least I would like to say that if I was to produce the play I would go with it by the book but things I would include are the following really emphasize the role each person is playing and I would also put a very big focus on the Inspector, really bring him into the play and the last thing to make show the audience like everything they see and it keeps them on their toes.

Finally I would like to finish off by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the play and it was brilliant and the best thing was the ending because I think that the ending was clever and mysterious. I also liked the principals and morals in the play because rather than just reading a play the play gets you thinking, as there are aspects in the play, which apply to us even now. I also think that everyone can learn something from the play as it appeals to all types of people.

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What is Priestley’s message in An Inspector Calls. (2017, Oct 13). Retrieved from

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