J.B. Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls, is about a successful middle class family living in Brumley, a North Midland industrial city. Although the play was written in 1946, it is written as it is in 1912. Edwardian society at that time was strictly divided into social classes. The Birlings and Gerald Croft are celebrating in a rather self-satisfied way, as Gerald and Sheila have become engaged. Arthur Birling is a rather portentous businessman, who owns Birling and Company.
Sybil Birling is the upper class wife of Arthur. She is a rather cold, socially dependent woman. Sheila Birling is the daughter of Arthur and engaged to Gerald. She is a kind and thoughtful, very happy with life person. She also acts quite childlike as she calls her parents, “mummy”, and, “daddy”. Gerald Croft, fiancï¿½ to Sheila, is the easygoing, wealthy son of the owner of Croft Limited. Eric Birling, the son of Arthur, is a half-shy, half-assertive thoughtful gentleman who can be aggressive when he wants to, but is mainly aggressive towards his father and mother.Order now
Eric starts off to be quite similar to his parents, but later on to be less like his mother and father, and more like his sister. Eric is a capitalist to start off with, along with the rest of the family but he disagrees with his father’s view of workers, and when he finds out that his father sacked Eva Smith because she tried to get a higher wage, he says, “Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages? We try for the highest possible prices.
And I don’t see why she should have been sacked just because she’d a bit more spirit than the others. You said she was a good worker. I’d have let her stay.” This tells us that Eric is not the same as his parents, and he does not share the same views as his middle class family. As the play goes on, Eric changes his views to be more of a socialist, and ends up being a much more compassionate, caring and considerate young man, rather than self-prioritised and selfish.
Priestley establishes an early impression of the characters’ personalities and interests for the audience before the inspector comes so that we know what kind of people they are. We know that Eric seems to be quite quiet at the beginning, and his first line is after he laughs after Gerald and Sheila’s conversation. A few lines later Eric makes a remark directed to Sheila, which makes us think he is quite the nasty fellow. Sheila then says to Eric, “Don’t be an ass, Eric”, so the image of Eric being a pain is built up. Eric also wishes Gerald, “All the best! She’s got a nasty temper sometimes.” This shows that Eric is still rather childish, even though he is a young man. It also prepares us for Sheila’s story, that she had a bad temper with Eva Smith.
On page 9, when Mr Birling, Gerald and Eric are talking about women’s clothes, Eric says, “(eagerly) yes I remember – (but he checks himself)”. This is a dramatic device because it gives the audience the impression that Eric knows something about a girl, as he remembers about a girl he knew who liked clothes, and then he stops himself talking. It could also suggest that he holds an important secret.
Another example of a dramatic device is when Eric ‘guffaws’ after Gerald says that he’ll be careful when he goes away for, ‘work’. This gives the audience the impression that Eric knows a secret of Gerald’s. However, this could also be that Eric is drunk. Eric’s father, Mr. Birling, does not approve of Eric. He seems to treat Gerald better than his own son, as Mr. Birling says to Gerald, “You’re just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted”. Mrs. Birling cannot see Eric’s faults, one of which is a drink problem.
When the inspector arrives and makes his early speech about a young girl dying in the infirmary, immediately, Eric is clearly very shocked as he says, “(involuntarily) My God!” And as the inspector is talking to them, Eric later bursts out again saying, “Well, I think it’s a dam’ shame.” He is defending the girl, as Mr. Birling has no sympathy for her, just in getting himself out of trouble. Eric says, “Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages”, and “I don’t see why she should have been sacked just because she’d a bit more spirit than the others”.
Here, Priestley is giving his views on socialism and he thinks that people should at least try for higher wages, and they shouldn’t be sacked, especially if they are a good worker. Since Eric has said this, the audience’s impression of him has grown, and instead of him being seen as a cocky and arrogant young man, he is now looked at as more sympathetic and compassionate. I also feel this way about my views of Eric, and I now see him as an opposite to his capitalist parents, and he is now starting to see things from the perspective of the working class.
Whilst the inspector is talking to Gerald and Mr. Birling, Eric suddenly bursts out with, “Look here, I’ve had enough of this.” This could be because the inspector says that everyone will have an opportunity to talk to him. The inspector then says, “(dryly): I dare say.” Eric then replies, “(uneasily): I’m sorry – but you see – we were having a little party – and I’ve had a few drinks, including rather a lot of champagne – and I’ve got a headache – and as I’m only in the way here – I think I’d better turn in.” When Eric says this, we immediately think that he is trying to get out of the situation by saying that he wants to go because of his headache, and that he is only in the way. He also slips in the fact that they were having a party, and that they were drinking champagne, which is often associated with celebrations.
This could be that he is trying to get rid of the inspector by dropping in, that he is interrupting their celebration with accusations and bad news. This gives the impression Eric knows something about the girl and was in some way involved with her. Later on, Eric is said to be in an excitable silly mood, and then the inspector asks why. Mrs. Birling replies, “I’m afraid he may have had rather too much to drink tonight. We were having a little celebration here-“, and the inspector replies, “Isn’t he used to drinking?” Since the inspector says this, it makes us think that Eric may be an alcoholic, or used to be. And because the inspector says it, it is though this may be a factor in the death of Eva.