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    The play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly

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    The play is set in the Birling’s house; as it is a safe place where life is secure and sheltered. The inspector takes the illusion of their life away and shows the Birlings what they previously prefer to overlook, the horrors and troubles of the real world. The play is set in 1912 but was written in 1945 after the Second World War. In the play there is lots of dramatic irony, which to an extent it relies on. Mr Birling flippantly brushes of ideas people have about a war in sight, dismissing them as “silly little war scares”. He also comments on the worker’s strikes and feels confident that they’ve “passed the worst of it. We as the audience know that since 1912 there have been two Worlds Wars, the likes of which the world had never experienced and in the 1920’s there were huge worker’s strikes, which sent the country into chaos.

    The Georgian period in which they lived was a time of wealth and prosperity for the middle and upper classes and relative relaxation and security. Mr Birling proudly boasts about the progress that has been made, “auto-mobiles making headway” and a ship, “the Titanic” which is about to set sail and will make “New York in five days – and every luxury – and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. Again as the audience we know Mr Birling has misplaced his confidences and the terrible end that “unsinkable” ship came to when she met her nemesis and lies still and silent at the bottom of the frigid North Atlantic. In 1912 there was no welfare state in Britain, and poor people like Eva Smith often depended on charity organizations. Wealthy people such as Mrs Birling usually controlled these organizations. Mrs Birling would have worked for the charity out of her desire to be seen as charitable rather than out of a sense of responsibility and concern for those less fortunate than her self.

    Also during this period the upper class, represented by the Birlings and Gerald ruled the country, owning all the main business, with no thoughts accept for them selves, which lead to consequences for the working class, the “Smiths”, represented by Eva Smith. The inspector comes into the play, to try and find out who is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith death and to try and make them understand their responsibility to others. All the characters in the play had some connection with Eva Smith, which contributed towards her unpleasant death.

    Mr Birling was the first to contribute towards Eva’s downfall. At one time he employed her in one of his “machine shops for over a year”. He admits that she was a good worker, and she was even going to receive a promotion, but after the holidays in August, she and a group of girls came back to work and “decided to ask for more money” so they were averaging at about “twenty-five shillings a week” instead of “twenty-two shillings and six”. Soon the strike came to an end as they had been on holiday and had little money left.

    Mr Birling let the strikers’ comeback to work for him, apart from the “five ringleaders who started the trouble”, including Eva Smith, they had to go. After being sacked by Mr Birling, Eva Smith after a time of unemployment managed to get a job at a good quality shop, called “Millwards”. There she encountered the wrath of Sheila Birling. Shelia had gone to Millwards one day to try something on, her mother and the shop assistant had been against it, but she insisted.

    When Shelia tried it on she knew they had been right and it didn’t suit her, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Eva Smith, the girl who had brought the dress up for her to try on, smiling, as if thinking “Doesn’t she look awful. ” Shelia was upset and embarrassed and spoke rudely to her. She then went “to the manager of Millwards” and told him if Eva Smith wasn’t sacked she’d never “go near the place again and would persuade” her mother to close the account. Eva Smith, through no fault of her own is now unemployed again.

    As many girls did, she decided to change her name to Daisy Renton, and make a fresh start. As there was no other work, and was in desperate need money. She turned to prostitution, as many women of the working class had to. One day Gerald met her at the Palace music hall, where he had gone to get a drink, and is “a favorite haunt of women of the town. ” He saw Eva, or Daisy being bothered by Alderman Meggarty, a prominent member of society. He recognizes that she is young and pretty not like the other women.

    Gerald decided to help the girl and managed to distract Meggarty enough, by saying the manager needed to see him, to get the girl away. He got to know her and then set her up at a friend of his’ house and kept her as his mistress. It was a mutual benefit, as she needed money and food, which he provided. Gerald liked the idea that he was the most important person in her life, but after a while go bored and had to go of on a business trip and told her she had to go as his friend was coming back. Eva Smith knew that what she had with Gerald would not last and she was just a convenience to him. She went away” by herself “for about two months. To some seaside place”, so she could be alone to try and make her affair with Gerald “last longer” and savour the memories of their time together. As she could again get no work and in urgently need of money she again turned to prostitution and worked in the palace bar. This is where she met Eric Birling and his puerile behaviour and lack of responsibility. She was pretty, not like the other “fat old tarts”, so he decided to buy her a few drink, although he was already inebriated.

    Later that night he insisted on going back to her lodgings and we are lead to believe that when he was there he forced himself upon her, using his physical strength and power over her. They met again a few times and Eva told Eric that she was pregnant with his child. Eva insisted, that she did not want to marry him as she saw him for what he was, a spoilt child and treated him like he was “a kid. ” Eric then offered her financial support, which she also refused as she had found out that the money he used was stolen and “refused to take anymore”.

    Eva Smith was now desperate and turned to the only possible hope she had, “the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization”, where she encountered Mrs Birling and her preconception. Mrs Birling was a “prominent member” of the charity with lots of “influence”. Eva, lied at first, when she was informing the committee of her case, pretend she was married, and called Mrs Birling. After a while Mrs Birling managed to get the truth from her, but was still not convinced as she had already lied and was prejudice towards her as she had used the name Birling, so she used her influence in the committee to cause Eva’s case to be rejected.

    Eva now had no hope, “the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization” had been her last resort and she had been rejected. She must have though the whole world was against her and wanted to end her life. Before the inspector’s arrival Mr Birling has been giving young Gerald and Eric some advise about how to act and gives his limited view of responsibility. He says “a man has to make his own way in life – has to look after himself – and his family too, of course when he has one – and so long as he does he won’t come to much harm. This sums up exactly what Mr Birling’s attitudes on responsibility is, only to care for yourself, and those close to you, no mater what the consequences are for those around you.

    He is a capitalist and does not see how socialism would benefit everyone, he criticizes the way some “cranks talk and write”, as though “everyone has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense. When the inspector first arrives and they have established that Eva was dismissed from Mr Birlings work about “18-mounths ago” and the inspector tells Mr Birling that he started the turn of events that led to her horrific death, Mr Birling is appalled and amazed that anyone would suggest such a prospect, and he wouldn’t accept any responsibility for her death as he thinks “if we were all responsible for everything that happened to everyone we’d had everything that happened to everybody, we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward” and there is every excuse for what he did, and “it turned out unfortunately”.

    He feels that it is his “duty to keep labour cost down” and doesn’t consider the workers as real people with feelings with a right to try and get the highest possible price for their services, as Birling tries to get the highest possible prices for the merchandise he sells. Perhaps Mr Birling feels this way as he is a self made man and has had to work his way up from scratch and feels if he can do it others can as well and they don’t deserve any compensations as none was given to him.

    Shelia immediately felt pathos for Eva when she had heard what had happened to her, and when she realizes she had something to do with her downfall is distraught. Before Shelia finds out what is happening she is worried by the inspectors tone, as he is talking as though they are responsible. When she realizes how she helped cause Eva’s demise which eventually lead to her death she immediately takes responsibility for her actions and thinks what she did “was a mean thing to do” and perhaps “spoilt everything for her. At the time when she had caused Eva to be dismissed from Millwards “it didn’t seen to be anything very terrible” but she still “felt rotten about it at the time and now” she now she knows what has happened to Eva she “feels even worse”, with a thick layer of guilt on lying on her conscience. She knows her previous actions were foolish and spiteful, and knows she is partly to blame for Eva’s death and is “desperately sorry. ” Gerald takes the same attitude towards responsibility s Mr Birling and thinks that Mr Birling was perfectly justified in discharging Eva, for creating chaos and willing other workers to stand up for their rights to receive more pay for their work, as a trouble maker is no good, however hard they usually work.

    He reassures Mr Birling, that he was in the right assuring him that “Crofts Limited” would “have done the same thing” and that Mr Birling had nothing to do with her unfortunate death and it was “what happened to her since she left Mr Birlings work that is important. Gerald also used her as a mistress and then disregarded her when he got bored, he never loved her, but he enjoyed the way that he was the “most important thing in her life” and had no regard for her feelings when their affair had to come to an end. Mrs Birling takes the same attitude towards responsibility as her husband and Gerald. Although Mrs Birling had dismissed Eva’s case from the committee she still thinks that Eva “only had herself to blame” and “in spite of what had happened to the girl since” she considers she did her duty.

    When she discovered that Eva knew whom the father of her child was Mrs Birling advised her, that “it was her business to make him responsible. ” She feels she was “perfectly justified in advising” the “committee not to allow her claim for assistance” and “can accept no blame” for anything that happened to Eva afterwards. Mrs Birling is also good at passing the blame onto someone else. In this case she passes it onto the father of the child as she does not suspect, or even consider that it could be anyone she knew or a member of her family.

    Eric feels he same way about his prior actions as Shelia, now he knows that his actions helped to cause a fatality. He also uses Eva, as the end for a drunken evening. He doesn’t not even consider the thought of loving her but “she was pretty and a good sport,” so Eric used Eva with no thought for her feelings or the consequences of his actions. He is upset about what has happened and is ashamed of his actions, but also blames his mother as Eva went to her to protect him and was turned away, he feels that his mother “killed her” and “his child” her “own grandchild” she “killed them both”.

    The inspector’s role in the play is to try and get the characters to see the errors of their way of they life and to accept responsibly for their actions and the consequences they cause. Mr Birling ironically tells the inspector that he wasn’t “asked to come here to talk to” him “about responsibilities. ” As this is exactly what the inspector’s role in the play is to remind them that “public” people “have responsibilities, as well as privileges. ” In the play, there are many different techniques used to add to the dramatic effect.

    In the play, there is only one theme; this keeps the audiences attention and stops them getting side tracked with other plots. The inspector builds up the tension well by only allowing one character see the photograph at a time, and lays traps, which they all fall into. In particular the inspector sets a trap for Mrs Birling, when he asks her if she is not to blame for Eva’s death then who is and she enthusiastically lays the blame on the young man who is the father of Eva’s unborn child and tells the inspector to “find this young man and then make him confess in public his responsibility. She is happy to dismiss any responsibility she may have and pass it onto someone, she thinks is far away from her family and her. Almost immediately we find out the father is Eric and she has implicated her son as being entirely responsible for the death of Eva Smith. The inspector scrutinizes one line of enquiry at a time, so again the audience does not lose track of the play and its storyline. The inspector also controls the behaviour and actions of the other characters, deciding if they can leave or not.

    He undermines Mr Birling’s authority, when Eric ask if he can have a drink before he begins to tell his story of the events which he was involved in with Eva, Mr Birling says no, but is quickly contradicted by the inspector who says that “he needs a drink now just to see him through. ” The inspector seems to be omniscient, but actually makes all the characters confess to their crimes. Perhaps the inspector is a supernatural agent for the conscience and the name Goole makes him appear spooky and other worldly.

    Maybe the inspector has foreseen a suicide about to happen and if the Birlings have a change of heart it could be prevented, but the chance is missed and the suicide occurs. In the text their are many clues which hint that the inspector is not really from the police and in the end the Birlings and Gerald manage to pick up on this, but some of them try dismiss it as a joke. The name Goole sounds like a ghoul, which is an evil demon, that eats the flesh of the dead, or it can be used metaphorically meaning a person obsessed by, or profits by, another’s death.

    When the inspector has left, he is said by Birling to have exploited Eva’s death, to frighten the “victims” of the alleged practical joke. But there are also hints that he is good, perhaps a messenger from God, as he says, “we are members of one body” like we say in the Eucharist service, reminding us that everyone is the same in Gods eyes. It does not mater whether the inspector is supposed to be good or evil, or what he really is, as the importance of his role is in what he says.

    The inspector altered Shelia and Eric’s views and makes them aware of the responsibility they have for others. Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald refuse to take any responsibility for their actions and when the inspector has left expect life to carry on as before, believing that the inspector was a hoax, they represent the past and how the world is in desperate need for change. The end of the play suggests hope of the future as Shelia and Eric who represent the younger generation have learned to accept responsibility and that all actions have consequences.

    At the end of the play the inspector gives his wide view on responsibly, which contrasts with Mr Birling’s narrow view on responsibility that he gave at the beginning of the play. Before the inspector departs he leaves the Birlings and Gerald with a thought “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. 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 soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson in fire and blood and anguish. ” The inspector, in his speech is telling us that things must change and “the Smiths” representing the lower and working class should not be used and abused by “the Birlings” repressenting people of power. He is also referring to the Second World War, as the audience knows, this lesson was learnt through “fire blood and anguish” and can not be allowed to be forgotten.

    The main theme of the play is responsibility. You must be responsible for other people as well as your own actions, and think of the consequences your actions may cause for others. In the play, there isn’t anyone who is fully to blame for the death of Eva Smith. All the characters were involved in some way, which lead to her death and therefore are all equally responsible. The political message in the play is everyone must realise that there are always consequences for one’s actions and everyone has a shared moral responsibility.

    The play was written in 1945 after the war, to present Priestly’s views that the world was in desperate need of a change. When the inspector was at the house it symbolizes the Second World War, when everyone started to learn a pulled together for one cause. During that period all people were thrown into the war or working back home to aid the war effort regardless or class and social status. After the war there was a danger that people would recede back into the old ways, where there were prominent social divides and Priestly is trying to remind people how things were and how well they worked.

    People saw the need for change when the voted for Labour and Clement Attlee in 1945 who stood for a new way of life and change, against Winston Churchill who offered society restarting where it left off. People saw how the war had changed everything, and things would never be the same again as something as horrific as the Second World War could never be forgotten and voted for Labour which resulted in their famous landslide victory of May 1945. An Inspector Calls is an idealist play and is always relevant, as the theme of responsibility is still as germane today as it was a hundred years ago.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The play An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly. (2018, May 26). Retrieved from

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