hoose a play which deals with an issue of importance to society today. State what the issue is and go on to show how, through the plot and characters, the play increased your understanding of the issue. “An Inspector Calls” is a drama written by JB Priestley in 1945 and set in 1912. Priestley’s convincing plot, characters and dialogue bring to light a central theme which is just as important an issue in society today as it was then.
Priestley strongly emphasises the difference between upper and lower class and the message he conveys to the reader is that in order for society to function successfully, we must take responsibility for one another. “An Inspector Calls” is a moralistic play which tells the story of the upper class Birling family who are enjoying a dinner to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft. On first impressions the family seem rather pleased with themselves until an Inspector arrives to enquire about the suicide of a young girl named Eva Smith.Order now
Tension begins to surface from each family member when, one by one, it is revealed they have been involved with the girl and therefore, played a part in her death. Arthur Birling, factory owner and head of the household is a character with strong opinions which he takes pleasure in preaching to his family. He is the first to come under Inspector Goole’s questioning when it is uncovered that he sacked Eva Smith from his factory when she requested a moderate pay rise. Birling is of the opinion that you should look after number one.
“But 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… a man has to mind his own business and look after himself… ” This quote illustrates Birling’s extremely Capitalist and pretentious viewpoint. The imagery Priestley uses of being “mixed up” in a beehive with lower class people shows his distaste towards lower class people and that he sees himself as separate and superior to them.
Birling’s use of he term “cranks” also highlights his derogatory opinion of socialist ideals of equality and fairness. Birling clearly does not believe in community, kinship or mutual responsibility and sees no wrong doing in his sacking of Eva Smith. He is solely concerned with looking after himself in order that he can progress in business. JB Priestley has been successful in creating a believable narrow minded character that shows no compassion. The dialogue forces us to consider our own attitudes towards responsibility and others in our community.
Sybil Birling, wife to Arthur, is another character who, it transpires, was involved with Eva Smith before her suicide. We discover she refused a pregnant Eva aid money – when it was completely within her power to help her as chairwoman of a woman’s charity organisation – because Eva used their family name as her own. Mrs Birling accepts absolutely no accountability for her dealings with Eva Smith. “I’m very sorry. But I think she had only herself to blame… she’d impertinently made use of our name…
I did nothing I’m ashamed of or that won’t beat investigation… I consider I did my duty… I accept no blame for it at all. ” These cold and unsympathetic words undeniably prove that Mrs Birling deems her treatment of Eva as completely acceptable. Her snobbish and arrogant manner towards Eva – a girl from a lower class than herself – causes her to show no compassion for her. She believes Eva is not deserving of her aid simply because she had the audacity to use her surname as her own.
Much like Arthur Birling, Priestley has effectively constructed a character determined to keep up the appearance of respectability by absolving themselves of any responsibility towards the girl. This also leads the reader to believe that the older generation of the family are stuck in their old-fashioned ways of thinking, unable to be open to changing their behaviour. Inspector Goole is the character who shakes things up and tries to bring realisation to the family members of their responsibility for Eva Smith.
“Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. Often, if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line. ” This quote denotes the central theme of the whole play. It shows the Inspector’s opinion that there is no clear divide between people in society – no upper and lower class. Ultimately, we are all part of humanity and Priestley is unquestionably educating us that we must accept responsibility for one another and treat people fairly if we are move forward as a society.
Sheila Birling, daughter of the household, is a character who begins to recognise the part she played in contributing to the eventual suicide of Eva Smith. Being jealous of Eva’s pretty looks, Sheila uses the power she possesses to have her fired from her job in a clothes shop. “(rather distressed) I cant help thinking about this girl – destroying herself so horribly… but I felt rotten about it at the time and now I feel a lot worse… I’ll never, never do it again to anybody. ” This stage direction and dialogue clearly expresses Sheila’s guilt and remorse.
Her emotional reaction conveys an open and honest acceptance of her responsibility. As an audience, we believe her regret is genuine. This positive response to the Inspector’s questioning in is complete contrast to her parents’. Priestley here is effectively demonstrating a generation divide. I believe Priestley is using the younger family members to symbolise hope for the future. In conclusion, my analysis has shown that “An Inspector Calls” by JB Priestley is a play which highlights an important issue in society about taking responsibility for our treatment of others.
Priestley is trying to teach us that it is vital we treat people fairly and with respect if we are ever to succeed in moving forward together as a community. In the play the younger family show more sympathy and concern for Eva, whilst the older generation is unwilling to change their attitudes and is merely concerned with their own wealth and status. The characters, plot and dialogue of the play make clear Priestley’s view that we must make a conscious effort to improve our relationships with others and endeavour to perform our moral duties towards our fellow citizens. We must work together and help others in need.