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What is the role and function of the Inspector in JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls Essay

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‘An Inspector Calls’ written by J. B Priestley, is set in 1912 and was written in 1945. In the play the Inspector appears to be very plain, dull and straightforward wearing a dark suit, and is rather sinister and suspicious. He, on his appearance, has a huge sense of “massiveness” to him, and has the authority to control and pull out information from his suspects through his persuasive techniques. The Inspector has a sense of fear and trouble about him, which helps create a tense atmosphere.

The Inspector represents central concerns and themes throughout the play through his image of law and justice in the play. This sense of feeling about him in the play to the audience shows that he is looked up to, and maybe is considered as being rather powerful. He also acts in a way of making the characters think about their conscience. This also adds tension to the characters and the audience, as this is also a sign of authority and control.

It may also show that he is omniscient, and is a god or spirit like figure, which may explain why his name is ‘Inspector Goole’, as the writer has used play on words, as the word ‘Ghoul’ defines as a spirit. The Inspector also uses his role to make the characters feel collective responsibility, as the makes all the characters feel guilty for Eva Smith’s death through gathering information and by telling the story his own way, which is his role in the play.

He gains control when he leaves the play as, at first one of the characters; ‘Mr Birling’ expresses his opinions on society by saying “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 mixed up together like bees in a hive-community and all that nonsense”. This tells us that before meeting the Inspector, the characters are narrow-minded, and are all individualists, who also think that “a man has to mind his own business and look after his own”.

This speech given by Mr Birling, shows that the characters as a whole are very arrogant, and think highly of themselves. This speech was also interrupted upon the arrival of the Inspector, which also shows his power and control, as he was able to end this inequitable speech on individualism. Because of the interruption, this shows that the Inspector was able to undermine Birling’s views, or philosophy on life, which again shows the power and control that the Inspector has.

He also is has the role of sending out moral views of social life, and is a type of warning teaching them not to be egotistic, and to think of how the rest of the society lives. The Inspector operates as a dramatic device through the dramatic structure of the play, by moving the story forwards at his own pace, choosing when to get information and how he ends each act or scene. The Inspector chooses when to gather his information by questioning each character once at a time, and in a specific order, as when Eric wishes to be questioned early, the Inspector replies sharply “No, I can’t do that yet.

I’m sorry, but he’ll have to wait. ” This shows that the inspector knows what he is doing, and is rather forceful in getting what he wants. When he firstly starts questioning Mr Birling about a woman who died, which opens the story and also tells the story to the audience and to all the characters, which may mean that he does not specifically tell Birling, as he is not the only one to blame, and also tells the audience, as they may also listen openly to the story, to learn the moral that the Inspector maybe starting, to teach everyone at this point.

He opens with Birling, and tells him what he has done to cause her death, but does not specifically point out that he was the only one to blame. But at this point, he still signifies to the audience that he may also find other reasons for her death through the other characters, as he rather shrewdly answers to Birling’s son in law Gerald that “there might be” a reason for him to get involved in this investigation. This also gets the audience and the other characters thinking of what the Inspector may possibly say to Gerald. This creates a sense of dramatic tension to both characters and the audience.

The Inspector also gets Birling, once told this news of how he was partly to blame for Eva Smith’s death, thinking of what he has done, and causing him to “move restlessly” and become “impatient”. He also when he questions the characters, is very direct in his speech, and whilst explaining events which took place, without sympathy for the subject. He also makes the characters feel very compelled to answer him, and feel that “he makes you do it”. This also show that the Inspector is in charge, and also the quote “We all started like that-so confident, so pleased with ourselves until he began asking questions”.

This also shows that the Inspector is in charge of the story, and has power. His role of making the characters think about their conscience begins to start work after questioning Mr Birling, as that is when he proceeds in telling the rest of the story. From his ways of extracting information, he only lets the audience know certain things of the story from each person at a time which creates dramatic tension to the audience, which is caused deliberately by the Inspector. He also creates tension at the ends of acts to create a cliff-hanger, such as at the end of Act one, he end with a question; “Well”.

This ambiguous ending, causes questions to arise in the minds of the audience, as they know that something is going to happen due to a sudden ending of an act, but they do not know what the Inspector is going to reveal next. This creates dramatic tension for the audience and with the characters as the Inspector begins to reveal more on the characters, and makes them feel much guilt. He also has a very direct way of speaking, and makes the characters feel concerned and intimidated when he speaks.

He also makes the characters answer his questions to what he wants to hear. In fact, in a kind of way, you might be said to have been jealous of her. ” This quote shows that the Inspector has asked a question to Shelia, where he wants her to answer what he wants to hears, and is not really expecting anything else. This makes the audience feel tense, and realise that he is rather omniscient and is maybe speaking as their conscience. This makes the audience also agree with the characters and with the Inspector. The Inspector also creates dramatic tension in the play through many ways.

Through his appearance, his dark suit and large hat covering his face creates tension due to the connotations, of darkness, as his suit gives a sense danger, and is a type of threat to the audience and the characters. The Inspector also creates tension as his large hat covering his face hides his identity from the characters and the audience, which again creates dramatic tension and fear as it gives a sense of unknowing and suspicion to the audience and characters. He shows dramatic tension when he rather intimidates Birling, when he says “If you’re easy with me, I’m easy with you”.

This shows the Inspectors “massiveness” and great power and authority. Upon hearing this, both the audience and the characters see that the Inspector is rather forceful and tough. The audience and the characters also feel tense, when they see the Inspectors “hard long stares” at the characters. This creates dramatic tension with the characters and with audience, as they can see the tense atmosphere created by the Inspector in the play, as it creates discomfort and tension for the characters.

The Inspector also creates irony when questioning Mrs Birling as he deliberately asks her questions on the death of Eva Smith which involved her son, but the Inspector wanted Mrs Birling to air her views on what should happen to the father of Eva’s baby, before telling her that her son Eric was the father. This creates irony as whatever Mrs Birling said, in her mind, was not supposed to be for anyone in her family or for anyone she knew, but of someone who is of a lower class then her. This shows that she is prejudice, and hypocritical, as she does not want her son to shown up, as it concerns her.

This is the Inspectors role as well, as he begins to make the characters think of what they have said, and help them realise that it is wrong, and the Inspector is maybe again speaking through the voice of the characters conscience, making them realise what they have done. The Inspectors role in helping the characters, and the effect he has on the characters is shown through after he leaves. “You and I aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here. We’d have to start all over again, getting to know each other”

From this quote, we see that Sheila has seen the purpose for why the Inspector chose to visit them. From the Inspectors final speech in the play, Sheila, along with Eric as well, have noticed that the role of the Inspector, which was to help the Birling’s realise that “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, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do”.

The Inspector tells the characters and the audience that there are many neglected people in society, and people who are not noticed, due to their status in society such as Eva Smith, and treatment like how the Birlings neglected her, consequently ends in pain and misfortune. His final speech explains all his themes, and informs the message of help and change to the society, through his role as the Inspector, and creates a pause for thought in the audience’s minds.

His effect on Shelia and Eric is rather successful, as his role in making them think of their actions towards vulnerable or lower class citizens has been successful, as the quote “You and I aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here” earlier shows, that she has realised that they are rather immoral people, who do not accept society as a whole. The Inspector however fails to change the views of Mr and Mrs Birling. They do not any remorse for after events.

There social standing prevented them from helping Eva Smith even though it was due to them that she ended up the way she did. The power of their money and status enabled them not to be affected by any of the problems she had suffered because of them as the quotes, “I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next Honours List” and “I’d give thousands-yes, thousands”, shows that his social status seems to be more imperative then a death of a young woman, caused by their inconsiderate behaviour.

The Inspector helps their children realise their role in society, and their role in the death by his questioning. They accept this in the end but believe their parents should also acknowledge responsibility. He helps them realise that they have an equal part in society, and that they are not any superior then the next Eva Smith. At the end of the play, the Inspectors role and function has effected the audience of 1945 by informing them of society in 1912. These dates are significant as they both have historical backgrounds which effect both societies.

At the time when the play was set in 1912, as this was a time were the caste system was around, and when there were hardly any equal rights for men and women, as women were classed as house wives, and men as the providers and bosses of the family. As it was set at the time before the First World War, Priestley’s moral to that audience is to tell them that as the Birlings, and the upper class people need to change their views, and as the First World War followed, he is trying to tell that they will learn through “fire and blood and anguish” which represents war.

He tries to tell them that “we are members of one body” and that society is one. He also shows significance through when the play was written, in 1945 to the audience, that due to failing in learning from their first mistakes, in which the consequences was the First World War, has now resulted in bringing the Second World War. Priestley’s main message in the play, is telling all of society that “we are members of one body”, and that whatever we may do to others in society, affects everyone else.

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What is the role and function of the Inspector in JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls Essay. (2017, Oct 13). Retrieved from

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