An allegory is a story in which the meaning of the message is described using symbolism. An Inspector Calls can be described as an Allegory because of J. B Priestly’s attempt to put his socialist views across within the text. He does this through a variety of sources particularly the time period in which the play is set and the attitudes of the characters. The play is set in 1912, two years before World War One and in the same year as the sinking of the Titanic . This date is symbolic as the play is written in hindsight, this gives Priestly the chance to use dramatic irony.
The characters which are the major cause of symbolism within the play. All of the characters must be examined on two levels. At face value, that is to say the level at which one is present just from a cursory reading of the play, and at the symbolic level that can be discovered upon closer examination of the text. Mr Birling is described in the opening stage direction as being a “heavy looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners and rather provincial in his speech. ” He is the head of the family and as such believes that he deserves respect.
From his speech it would appear that he earned his wealth rather than inheriting it, it also appears that his wife is his social superior. This is aptly demonstrated through his lack of knowledge of basic etiquette, particularly when he complements his servants when visitors are around, and is he swiftly rebuked by his wife ” Birling: Good dinner too, sybil tell the cook from me. ” “Mrs. Birling: Arthur your not supposed to say such things” Symbolically Birling represents capitalism and all that is abhorrent about it.
Priestly goes to great lengths in the play to make Birling look stupid, He uses dramatic irony to achieve this effect. Birling says that the Titanic “is absolutely unsinkable” and that there is “no chance of war”. Seen as the text was written in 1945 the events that Birling was decrying had all ready taken place. Therefore the audience see this as stupidity, thus achieving Priestly’s aim to degenerate capitalism. Mrs Birling is described in the initial stage direction as being “about 50, a rather cold woman and her husbands social superior”.
Throughout the text her demeanour demonstrates this particularly in the above incident with Mr Birling. She seems to be in complete control Sheila, when Gerald asks her questions Mrs Birling will answer for her. She also likes to believe that she is in complete control of her “perfect” family. This illusion is shattered however late on in the text when the truth about Eric’s drinking is revealed. She is also a hypocrite as when the inspector informs her of the fate of Daisy Renton/ Eva Smith after she made a claim to her charitable organisation, she claims that the father should be responsible for the support of the woman. and make sure you take some steps… in public his responsibility”.
However this all makes an abrupt about turn when it becomes evident that Eric is the father of the unborn child. She also admits being prejudiced against Eva Smith’s claim because of the fact that she applied using the name Mrs. Birling. She said that she was only “doing her duty” by refusing to give money to the girl . Mrs Birling is a difficult symbol to fathom as she could stand for so many things and yet still stand for nothing. from what I can fathom Mrs Birling represents the upper-middle class “old money”.
She is shown to be a hypocrite by Priestly, particularly in the incident with Eric at the end of act 2. She also appears to be extremely controlling of Sheila, for instance when Sheila is choosing a dress at Milwards, she tries to council her against it in the plainest of terms “and mother said that it was quite unsuitable”. Sheila is described in the stage direction as being “a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited. At the beginning of the text she appears to be a stereotypical spoilt rich girl.
She is obsessed with appearances on the surface as demonstrated when the inspector is describing the Eva Smith affair and Sheila’s first questions is “pretty? “. She also does not have the same standards of English usage as her mother as she uses slang on a number of occasions, she refers to Eric as being “squiffy”. However later on in the text she begins to swing around to the inspectors point of view. She begins to feel compassion for Eva Smith. She shows remorse for her treatment of her, after her supposed slight on Sheila’s dress sense, “if I could help her now I would.. “.
Sheila, along with Eric, appears to be the only one who is genuinely remorseful for the family’s behaviour. She thinks that her family are wrong to believe that “so nothing really happened…. behaving just like we did. I think that Priestly was using the character of Sheila to represent the younger generation. He believes that the course of the world can be changed only by the young, those who are more open and accepting of new ideas, rather than their parents who are more conservative. Eric is described in the opening stage direction as being “in his early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive.
He is brother to Sheila and in approximately the same age bracket and as such shares many of the same characteristics. He admits that he was wrong in his treatment of the girl, when the inspector tells him to “remember what you did” Eric quickly replies in a guilty tone “I’m not likely to”. Eric, I believe, represents the young generation. He could be said to be a victim of his class, because of his treatment of Eva. He is much the same character as Sheila on the symbolic level, the only real difference being that he is male and thus Priestly can represent both side of the young generation in the same play.
However he is a weaker character than Sheila because he takes he lead from her in all the statements he makes in support of the Inspector. Gerald is the last character to be examined that was actually present at the Birling’s celebratory dinner. Described in the stage direction as “an attractive chap about thirty, rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy-well bred young-man-about-town”. Gerald is marrying Sheila but from even a cursory reading of the text you get the impression that it is not necessarily a match purely based on desire. When Mr.
Birling makes his speech he sets great store by “Croft’s and Birling’s working together striving for lower costs and higher prices” to which Gerald replies ” hear hear and I’m sure my father would approve” this all makes it seem as though the match is purely for business reasons and not for the couple themselves. Gerald met Eva Smith after she had left Milwards. She had changed her name to Daisy Renton and was working as a prostitute. Gerald “saved” her and kept her in his home and paid her way. Gerald was the person who was nicest to Eva Smith because he didn’t really do her any harm.
I think that he is used to represent a member of the younger generation who has already been swung by the opinions of his parents and their peers. Gerald, when he arrives back from his evening walk at the end of the play points out that he has discovered that there is no Inspector Goole on the police force. All in all he is just like Mr and Mrs. Birling in character, he holds the same values and is mostly motivated by money, he is therefore representative of the new breed of young capitalists who take on their parents values without any problem whatsoever.
He is too comfortable in his lifestyle to change at the end of the play, and as he discovers that the Inspector is not a real policeman gives him the perfect excuse not to. The final character to be examined is that of Eva Smith. Eva Smith is not described in the stage direction because she is not present at the Birling’s soiree. We only get a vague idea about Eva Smith’s character but they are interesting glimpses. we are first introduced to her by the inspector once he arrives. Her does not describe her, in fact the only descriptions we ever get are “very pretty” and “deep brown eyes”.
She appears to be an independently minded character as she was classed as the “ringleader” of the strike at Birling’s. She was also described by Sheila as being “very pretty and looked as though she could take care of herself”. I think that Eva Smith is a symbol that represents all working class people who are being exploited by their capitalist bosses. She is a symbol of Priestly’s views on the mistreatment of workers. The inspector, is he real or not and is not does it really matter. These questions pervade the final few pages of act 3, during which the whole family is involved in a great debate about it.
The first person to put the question forward is Sheila “Was he really a police inspector”. after which all the characters of the play state the opinion that he is not. This is reinforced in two ways. First when Gerald first returns he states that “that man wasn’t a police inspector” he then continues to validate this by saying” I met a police sergeant I knew……. on the force here”. After this Birling again strengthens this belief by ringing the chief inspector , after which he announces “there is no Inspector Goole on the police….. we’ve been had”.
All this establishes that the inspector isn’t real, but the question remains. If he isn’t real then who is he? Eric describes him as one of the “cranks” (meaning socialists) which Birling refers to at the beginning of the play. This would suggest that the Inspector was a friend or colleague of Eva Smith’s sent to aggravate the Birlings. However I think that a more plausible explanation is defined by the inspectors name “Goole”. This would insinuate that the inspector was a spirit. Perhaps he is the spirit of justice, the ultimate “inspector”.
Perhaps not but I don’t think that it matters whether he is real or not as Sheila said “He inspected us alright” in other words he still made the younger Birlings realise that their behaviour previous to his visit had been inappropriate and abusive of their position. This all ties in with Priestly’s believe of the hope for the future lying in the younger generation. John Boynten Priestly was born in Bradford in 1894. His father was a teacher and he grew up in a middle class circle of friends. He worked as a wool clerk before the war. Once the war broke out Priestly joined up almost immediately.
He was wounded in action on the Somme, his was cited in dispatches for his valour. He spent a number of months at home recuperating but once able he re-enlisted almost immediately. He was again wounded, gassed and buried alive by a German shell. These experiences had a profound affect upon him and his writing style. He was appalled by the lack of concern from the aristocratic generals in sending working class battalions “over the top”. He became a socialist on his return to Britain. He completed a degree at Cambridge and set to work as a journalist. These experiences all created the attitude which was portrayed in An Inspector calls.
He felt that it was not fair that working class people could not get the education and opportunities that the higher classes could receive. Priestly’s main aims in an inspector calls were to highlight the gross exploitation of the poor by the upper classes. To sum up I believe that it would be true to say that An Inspector Calls is an allegorical play. I think that the main meaning of An inspector calls is that of caution for the upper classes, Priestly is saying that they must change their behaviour otherwise they will be “Inspected” as the Birlings were.