A Study in Contrasts: The Inspector and Mr. Birling as Complete Opposites

In An Inspector Calls, Mr.Birling and the Inspector are complete opposites of each other and are used to support different ideas of the themes in the play. Their importance in terms of awareness of society, consideration for the community, and philosophies about political ideas are completely different. Priestley has mainly done this in order to make the audience see the right path to a better society while seeing what the other wrong path looks like in the form of Mr.Birling’s character.

Priestley has characterized Mr Birling and the Inspector very differently. Physically they are similar; the Inspector has an “impression of massiveness” and Mr Birling is a “heavy-looking” man. Mr.Birling is however called “heavy-looking” almost like a burden to society as he is described as “heavy”. Playwrights like Priestley were often known to craft the characters audiences were meant to dislike as grotesque; Mr.Birling’s description as “heavy-looking” does just that by making Mr.Birling seem like a burden. Moreover, Mr.Birling is a “portentous” man which is in contrast to the inspector’s “impression of massiveness”. Due to Mrs.Birling being the “social superior” of Mr.Birling, he feels “portentous” and constantly wants to impress. Mr.Birling’s constant need to impress is undermined by the Inspector’s attitude of “looking hard” at and holding power through dialogue like “there might be”. His simple short sentences show the Inspector’s control of the situation and Mr.Birling’s lack of it. The ambiguity of ‘might’ shows that he can control the amount of information, without feeling the need to please the Birlings. Additionally, “looking hard at the person” suggests he will look closely at things and we learn through the play that he sees through the images of being a “hard-headed practical man of business” that Mr.Birling tries to put on. He refers to himself in this way twice which shows how strongly he believes it. This shows how he believes it’s a good thing, but ‘hard’ also makes us think he’s hard-hearted. He is also not a ‘practical’ man in the real world in terms of social morals, and his pretence of being “practical” is disproved when he is talking about “lower costs” on the evening of his daughter’s engagement, using her as an asset or bargaining chip that can be bartered through marriage. Priestley highlights this difference through timing in this play, as seen when Mr.Birling’s capitalist speech is interrupted by a “sharp ring” of the doorbell due to the entry of the Inspector. This makes the audience question why the Inspector’s entrance is so “sharp” and the audience is made to understand that the Inspector will be exposing Mr.Birling’s false pretences of being a “practical” man.

The Inspector is Priestley’s mouthpiece in terms of political views; Mr.Birling is the antithesis of Priestley’s philosophy. Mr.Birling has capitalist beliefs and says “a man has to make his own way”. Mr.Birling is individualistic and thinks of himself as a self-made man who has “made his own way” into the socially superior class by simply marrying Sybil. This actually makes his struggle to “make his own way” seem like no struggle at all and the audience does not sympathise with his attempt to evoke respect for him making “his own way”. Moreover, he refers to a singular ‘man’, not ‘men’ which highlights that it’s down to the individual to take care of themselves. Priestley goes against this views by making a fool out of Mr.Birling through dramatic techniques like dramatic irony. When he calls the Titanic “absolutely unsinkable”, the audience of 1942 already know about how the Titanic sunk, making them unsympathetic and against Mr.Birling’s views. He is made to seem even more foolish by his confidence when he calls it “absolutely” unsinkable and is so sure of his predictions. On the other hand, the Inspector’s beliefs are a reflection of Priestley’s socialist views of society. The Inspector says “we’ll have to share our guilt”, emphasising the need to “share” in society. This links to Priestley’s socialist ideas, further highlighting the Inspector’s use as a mouthpiece for Priestley’s philosophies. There is an emphasis on “we” in the Inspector’s speech and last few lines, which portrays the importance of togetherness and socialism. Additionally, in the final speech, the Inspector states “they will be taught in fire, blood and anguish”. The “they” here are people like Mr.Birling with capitalist views. Fire and blood and anguish’ brings up images of the two wars fought just before the play was written. Many of Priestley’s initial audiences would have been directly affected by this, so the images created are emotional as well as violent. This could also be related to the Russian revolution, in which poor workers in “anguish” took over the state and exacted a “blood”y revenge against the capitalist society who had treated them so badly. “Fire” also draws up images of hell, showing the enormity of the consequences of capitalist actions. Priestley highlights differences between the characters’ views by changing lighting. On the entry of the Inspector, the lights are changed to “harder” and “brighter” white lights. These lights are normally used in theater by practitioners as “anti-illusionary” devices to prevent the audience from being carried away by the play and instead question the main message of it. In this case, the Inspector’s actions are making the audience think, and thus more importance is placed on his character through lights.

Mr.Birling and the Inspector have contrasting views on responsibility. Mr.Birling thinks it is his “duty to keep labour costs down” and “cannot accept any responsibility” for problems to do with anyone outside his family. However this “duty” is not the kind of responsibility Priestley wants the audience to take. This “duty” is one that is towards himself and other businessmen who make money. He is not doing his “duty” to workers like Eva who need a living wage. Moreover Mr.Birling cannot “accept any responsibility” when it comes to helping others in the community despite their class. The fact that he cannot accept “any” responsibility shows he is not willing to take up even a little bit of responsibility, highlighting his stubborn costs. His bias towards fulfilling his “duty’ to keep “labour costs down” properly showcases how the capitalists like Mr.Birling would choose what they favoured as their responsibility and “duty”. The Inspector on the other hand considers everyone as “members of one body”. While Mr.Birling considers responsibility as something he can “accept” or decline, the inspector has a more serious and compulsory view on taking responsibility as he calls everyone a “member” using a more formal tone. The formal terms “member” and “body” are used to refer to simple people in society, which highlights the compulsion and seriousness of taking up responsibility as opposed to simply treating it as a choice which Mr.Birling thought he could prevent and not “accept”.

The two characters are, in the final analysis, portrayed as complete opposites. This is due to Mr.Birling’s foolish over-confident attitude contrasting with the Inspector’s “massiveness” and strong impressions left on the audience of 1942 through use of lighting, characterisation and structure of dialogue. Additionally, both characters have different views on socio-political aspects; Mr.Birling is a capitalist with views contrasting with the Inspector’s socialist views. Moreover, since the Inspector is used as a mouthpiece for Priestley’s socialist views on society, his character is presented as more respected and given more importance than Mr.Birling.

An Analysis of the Inspector in ‘An Inspector Calls’

In the play ‘An Inspector Calls’, the character of the Inspector is used as a dramatic device in a number of different ways which all help the play to become more interesting and gripping. In this essay, I shall aim to analyse and explore these dramatic devices. Our perceptions of the genre of this play often change throughout its course, beginning as a ‘whodunit’ play and developing into a didactic one with a strong moral message. The Inspector is crucial to the play as he is the one that helps us to see the transition between the genres and allows it to take place. This is only one of many roles that the inspector plays; he works as a narrator, he acts as a catalyst for action, he is used as a vehicle for socialist views and he conveys Priestley’s own political views.

The Inspector is used to convey the viewpoints of Priestley and the overall socialist viewpoint. This political view was one that was shared by Priestley, and so, by making the most dominant and interesting character represent these ideas, they are conveyed directly to the audience through the language used and the overall actions and movements of the Inspector. Most of these ideas are shown in the final two speeches of the Inspector where he says that ‘we don’t live alone,’ ‘we are members of one body,’ and ‘we are responsible for each other.’ These are prime examples of where the Inspector is not only talking to the other characters, but also to the audience directly therefore conveying the socialist viewpoint in much more clarity and with greater effect. Further still, the omniscience of the inspector helps to both emphasise the socialist view and criticise the capitalist views. Using strong emotive language like ‘fire and blood and anguish’ and linking that to the ignorance of man really helps to perform both of these tasks simultaneously and effectively. The prediction of the upcoming war, which contradicts Birling’s earlier statement, suggests that the Inspector is not all that he seems. It also contradicts Birling’s previous ideas, further emphasising Priestley’s hatred for capitalism and introduces the idea that he is a visionary who can predict the future.

The Inspector’s name, Goole, may symbolise some sort of ghostly presence, and this is backed up further throughout the play by the Inspector’s actions and his omniscient abilities. Priestley may have used this name to convey to us right from the beginning of the play that this character is not all that he seems, and that he will be a mystical character. The language that he uses is also very strange, using phrases that insinuate his knowledge, such as ‘because what happened… driven her to suicide.’ This statement shows that the inspector already knows everything that has happened, he knows what each family member has done and he knows how to force them to blame each other for this. All of this adds to the theory that the Inspector is a very ghostly and eerie presence who is omniscient and omnipresent, and who knows how to manipulate the room to add dramatic effect.

In addition, the lighting changes when the inspector enters from a pink, cosy light to quite a cold blue one. This adds effect as it sets the tone for the character of the inspector as soon as he enters and it shows the clear divide between the cosy life of the Birlings and the hard reality that the Inspector brings. The final speech of the Inspector, which is only one of two extended sections of monologue that he has, greatly imposes Priestley’s ideas and views upon the audience. It is at this point that we begin to see this play as being didactic and begin to understand the message that the play is trying to convey. This final speech also acts as some closure to the Inspector’s overall narration and control of the play so far. Up to this point, Goole has been controlling the other characters, ‘cutting in, massively,’ ‘massively taking charge,’ and doing it all ‘with calm authority.’ These stage directions help us to clearly see that the Inspector is intended to dominate a situation and take control over what happens. He only hears what he needs, and when he has done with what he needs, he cuts in and asks another question or makes another statement. This, therefore, means that the play is quite fast paced. As he only lets the other characters say what he wants to hear, he gathers all of the necessary information and moves on rather hastily and this is another way of Priestley showing the dominance of the Inspector and that he is an unstoppable force. He also acts as a sort of puppet master, controlling when the other characters enter and exit, which helps to, again, show the dominance of the Inspector within the setting of the play.

Priestly often uses dramatic irony in ‘An Inspector Calls’ to show that the Birlings are egotistical narcissists with no real understanding of current affairs, contrasting with the Inspector’s own interruptions and insinuations that contradict those of the Birlings and turn out to be true. Mr. Birling thinks that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’, whereas the Inspector, in his final speech, contradicts this with a correct statement that hints at war, in that men ‘will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.’ This use of juxtaposition of these statements and the overall juxtaposition of the Inspector in that environment add tension and irony to the play, making it more enjoyable and exciting to watch. It also further exaggerates the Inspector’s overruling personality by expanding it to include intellect as well as just physical actions and mind games. The language that the inspector uses to contradict the birling family is another way in which dramatic effect is achieved in this piece, and one such example of this is ‘I don’t play golf.’ This shows that the Inspector is telling Birling that he does not care for any threats from him and that he will carry out his duty no matter what. It is an example of when Birling has tried to assert his authority, but has been immediately shut down by the Inspector, further emphasising his pure dominance of the room. In addition, the longer phrase ‘Miss Birling… with her responsibility’ shows how the inspector is pinning the blame on everyone, not just one person.

The order in which the Inspector chooses to interrogate the family creates a lot of dramatic effect also, as he chooses to interview them all in a chronological sequence except for the final two people, which is again done to add effect. Priestley enjoys manipulating time in his plays, and I believe that this is an example of where he does that superbly. By putting them into some sort of order, the Inspector is showing that he knows more than he is letting on, and this adds tension as we begin to realise that the Inspector is not all that he seems. However, the final two interrogations are the wrong way around chronologically, but they work together to create an impressive dramatic effect. By hearing Mrs. Birling’s side of the story first, the Inspector manages to turn her against her own family, making her say that ‘he should be made an example of’ and that ‘it’s due to him’ that all of this happened. This is very clever writing from Priestley, as it makes the family turn against one another and this adds dramatic effect to the play. The timing of the Inspector’s actions in the play, for example ringing the doorbell immediately after one of Birling’s speeches, act as a way of discrediting everything that he has just said without blatantly opposing it. One thing Priestley does well is that he hides his political agendas in his plays, only insinuating his message but rarely ever stating it. Birling has just stated to Gerald that ‘a man has to look after himself and his own’ and then the one character who opposes these views ‘cuts in, massively.’ The way in which time is used in the play is fascinating, and it suggests a more eerie atmosphere to the entire play, especially when the phone rings again at the end and time seems to repeat itself.

Another key role of the inspector is to act as a catalyst for action in the play. He is often seen to be speeding the action in the play up and forcing the confessions out of the other characters. This helps to keep the play flowing and means that all of the action can be linked more easily, and overall this makes the play more enjoyable and watchable, especially when this genre of play can seem to ‘drag on’ a little. Priestley uses this speed to help to convey his message to the audience as quickly as possible and ensure that they all absorb all of the information available in the shortest time possible.

In conclusion, the character of the Inspector is used in many ways as a dramatic device, both to convey Priestley’s real world political views and the Inspector’s own agenda within the setting of the play. He controls and dominates the situation at all times and acts as a ‘puppet master’ figure in the play, allowing him to interrogate the family as he wishes. He also creates much tension in his language and in his actions, and he is an almost omnipresent character within the play’s universe.

Gerald and the Ideology Behind Him in “An Inspector Calls”

In the play An Inspector Calls, the character of Gerald Croft is extremely significant, as he is the only perpetrator not to be a part of the Birling household. He is also the character who knew Eva Smith most intimately and has many significant ties to all of the Birling family, the largest of those being with Sheila. Yet he is also significant on a deeper thematic level: he is central to conveying playwright J.B. Priestley’s ideas of collective responsibility and acts as one of the harshest examples of the unacceptance of these ideas.

At the beginning of the play, Gerald is introduced as a member of the upper class whose position in society is held by ‘old money’. He almost flirts with Mr. Birling at his engagement dinner, and when Birling puts forward the idea of lower wages and higher prices, in a private conversation with Gerald, Gerald applauded the idea, saying “Hear, hear!”. Here, Priestley is trying to convey how the upper class’ ideals revolve around money. Gerald’s outburst of joy signifies this, as the audience may infer that he is ecstatic to the idea of further business resulting in further prosperity for himself. An audience in 1945 would be appalled by this, after a world war where the middle and lower classes fought together and learned of the working class’ struggle. However, a contemporary audience may be less affected by this, where they are living in a world of billionaires only looking to further increase their own wealth. Gerald’s reaction is also significant as it shows his disregard for Sheila, where Priestley is again highlighting the unfair, capitalistic ideologies of the upper class.

Later on in the play, Gerald reveals an emotive exterior, when he is found to have known Eva Smith. In his recollection of events, he describes Sheila as having “Big, Dark eyes”, conveying his admiration of Eva. The fact that Gerald can remember Eva’s feelings so clearly signifies his feelings towards her, and that he actually cared for Eva Smith. Priestley is trying to sow the audience that the upper class are people with feelings, and although they may be privileged and protected, they can still be sympathized with. This may bring that exact sympathy from the audience, where Gerald has taken a huge social risk in front of the Birlings to have been identified with a member of the working class. This confirms again the true nature of Gerald’s feelings for Eva. However, Priestly is still highlighting the underlying problems with the way that Gerald thinks. He describes Eva’s features, signifying his misogynistic beliefs as he portrays Eva’s physical attributes as the only ones of value to discuss, suggesting Gerald may value not actually value Eva as a human being, due to the objectification she receives from him. Priestley is again highlighting the upper class’ lack of change and development in their ideas.

Toward the end of the play, Priestley uses Gerald to illustrate how the world with such class barriers in place will have a very conservative nature. After discovering that no girl has been taken to the hospital, he says how “Everything’s alright now.” This one line destroys any hope of development and movement forward of the ideas that are held by the upper class. Gerald is clearly relieved, and so the audience can infer that the only worry he ever held was about the potential tarnishing of his reputation. He did not care for Eva. He did not rejoice in her being alive, only to rejoice in the preservation of his position. His own self-centered intentions will disappoint the audience hugely, with an audience in 1945, being angered by his lack of empathy, reminding them of the upper classes often dodging of any fighting during World War 2. Priestly is driving the audience to campaign for social change, illustrating that the upper class are incapable of making any positive change possible, and so the responsibility of the bridging the class gaps lies with the masses. This would motivate an audience from 1945, who had recently been buoyed up by the introduction of the welfare state.

Overall, the role of Gerald in An Inspector Calls is very similar to the role of Sheila Birling, since both characters are included in the story motivate the audience and make them leave the theater with increased acceptance of Priestley’s socialist ideals. While Sheila is used as an audience’s surrogate to move the audience through the play, Gerald acts as a negative pressure for the audience to retaliate against, ultimately motivating them further than Sheila. He does so potently yet indirectly: he creates an opponent for the audience to target.

Surprising Sympathy: Eric and His Audience

Throughout the opening scenes of Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, Eric is portrayed as little more than a drunken child (‘only a boy’, as his Mother would have put it). If the work is considered to be a morality play, then Eric is perhaps guilty of the sins of lust, gluttony and sloth. Later in the play, however, despite the revelations of his poor treatment of Eva Smith, the audience does gain some sympathy for him as we realise he is a sensitive and rather ‘lost’ character, who perhaps longs for a more supportive and fulfiling relationship with his family.

Even at the opening of the play, Eric appears to be an outsider. The opening stage directions describe him as being ‘not quite at ease’ and Priestley emphasises that he is ‘half-shy, half-assertive’ and therefore at odds with the other characters, i.e. the ‘easy well-bred Gerald’ and the ‘heavy-looking, rather portentous’ Arthur Birling. Eric says very little in Act One – speaking only to congratulate and tease his sister on her engagement (‘she’s got a nasty temper sometimes – but she’s not bad really’.) and to laugh at their solemnity (‘Eric suddely guffaws’). Indeed, throughout Act One there are a number of hints that Eric has had rather too much to drink (‘You’re squiffy’) and it is implied that this is a coping strategy he employs to avoid confrontation or criticism (‘Could I have a drink first?’). At this point, he seems rather a weak and self-indulgent character with whom the audience would not sympathise.

it is, however, clear that Eric commands very little respect in the family and, when he tries to challenge his father’s rather old-fashioned and short-sighted views about the likelihood of war, he is met with short shrift.

Mr Birling: Everything to lose and nothing to gain by war.

Eric: Yes, I know- but still-

Mr Birling: Just let me finish, Eric.

The fact that Priestley employs dramatic irony here (an audience in 1945 would have been all to aware that war did, in fact, break out in 1914) may improve the audience’s opinion of Eric. He has, at least, more insight than his seemingly stubborn and ignorant father.

To both of his parents, Eric is little more than a ‘boy’ who has ‘a lot to learn’, rather than a young man who can face up to consequences. His opinions are not sought in the Birling household and he is frequently treated like a child. When he challenges his father about the unfairness of his actions in punishing the workers from his factory who went out on strike, Birling tells his son that his views are ‘rubbish’ and advises him to ‘keep out of this’. In this way, then, the audience does have some sympathy for him, as it is clear he is desperately unhappy in his job and in his role in the Birling family.

On the other hand, Eric is later revealed to be involved with both the suicide of Eva Smith and, in addition, stealing money from his father’s firm. He openly admits to treating Eva ‘like and animal, a thing, not a person’, which revokes most feelings of sympathy towards Eric- the audience sympathised with him up until this point as he wasn’t valued by his family, however he has revealed he had no respect or value for this young woman either. He was no better than the other members of his family; he was simply abusing his status to take power over a young woman. Eric tries to justify his use of Eva as well as the stolen money by saying he would provide Eva with the care she needed. All in all, he played a significant part in Eva Smith’s death – he met her at the Palace Bar, forced his way into her home and got her pregnant becaus he ‘was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty.’ He then stole money from his father’s business in order to support her. If this became public, the family’s reputation would have been ruined.

Regardless, Eric regains sympathy in the final act of the play. He does genuinely seem apologetic and, to and extent, traumatised by the consequences of his actions. He understands his role and outcome in the ‘chain of events’ leading to Eva’s suicide (‘The fact remains that I did what I did’), and he and Sheila – the ‘impressionable youth’ – are the only ones who show remorse, but continue to express it when the Inspector was shown to be a hoax. These solemn acts of sorrow and acceptence of guilt make the audience have an increased level of sympathy towards Eric. It isn’t Eric’s actions that make him a sympathetic character, but the emotions he displayed. He is, throughout the play, a deeply emotional character, and this helps guide the audience to not only ultimately sympathise with him, but have a very small feeling of respect towards him.

The Interconnected Nature of Society in An Inspector Calls

In An Inspector Calls, J.B. Priestley expresses the importance of the interconnected nature of society through his exploration of how his characters react to their responsibility; this theme is also addressed through ideas of society present both at the time of writing and when the play was set. Priestley chiefly uses the character of Inspector Goole to convey the theme of interconnectedness and responsibility, who catechises to the Birlings the belief that, ‘We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other’. Through statements such as this, the play demonstrates how the Inspector believes that every member of society is affected by every other.

There is no way to escape association with others, as the Birlings believed at the beginning of the play. The short, definitive sentences create an imposing and authoritative tone that matches the Inspector’s ‘massiveness’, as he is originally described. The Inspector continues to warn that ‘if men will not learn [this] lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.’ This reinforces the Inspector’s message and carries a powerful and threatening tone that confronts both the Birlings and the audience alike. The use of a syndetic list of three, ‘fire and blood and anguish’ evokes images of divine retribution, therefore making the Inspector the ultimate force of good against the evil of complacency and selfishness. Furthermore, the use of the syndetic list shows to the audience that the Inspector is impassioned and angry. This demonstrates how ardently the play criticises a society where one is responsible only for themselves. ‘Lesson’ shows how the Inspector is an didactic or possibly sanctimonious character, who can be said to be a representation of Priestley with his message of the need for an interconnected and fair society. In fact, Priestley had strong socialist and left-wing views that the audience can view has having been transferred to Inspector Goole. At the time of writing, in post-war Britain, the public had been exposed to the abundance of poverty in the country and there was a call for a fairer society, resulting in the Beveridge Report and the creation of the welfare state. Priestley witnessed the creation of the welfare state; therefore, An Inspector Calls was written with the idea of social equality as a fundamental theme of the play and indeed the as the chief axiom of the Inspector’s lecturing. A 1945 audience would recognise the Inspector’s call for social responsibility and see the proleptic irony in the Birlings’ original contempt towards lower classes in society. This is especially poignant considering that the period of the play, 1912, is immediately before the outbreak of WWI and therefore is just before the beginning of changing attitudes and the desire for an integrated society.

Another way in which the play stresses the need for an interconnected society is by highlighting the Birlings’ complacency and arrogance. In Mr. Birling’s Act 1 speech, he states that ‘a man has to make his own way—has to look after himself’, showing how he is selfish and only cares about himself. Birling is then immediately interrupted by the Inspector’s arrival, foreshadowing the way the Inspector contradicts Mr. Birling’s ideologies and beliefs later in the play. This could also be said to relate to the difference between capitalist and socialist beliefs and the tensions between the two ideologies at the time of writing, with the election of a new labour government, but also at the time the play is set, when socialism and communism were becoming more prominent throughout Europe, culminating in the Russian revolution of 1917. In this way, the dismissal of Birling’s philosophies could reflect the decline of capitalism and the rise of socialism at the time of writing. The audience is led to immediately dislike and disagree with Birling and his ideas of self-sufficiency and consequently the play praises an interconnected society, the opposite of what Birling stands for. Birling continues his speech to declare that ‘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.’ This demonstrates how Birling believes in segregation by social class, therefore complying by the Edwardian view of the social structure. The simile ‘like bees in a hive’ could be a reference to him being a factory owner, and therefore would show how he is complacent and leaves the work to those he deems less important than himself. At the time the play is set, factory workers were rebelling against their unfair work conditions and it was only by the time of writing this was taking effect and the idea of workers’ protection was improved. Therefore, in some ways, Mr. Birling is forecasting his own future by criticising the idea of a community working together – a socialist idea held by Priestley and assumedly the majority of the audience. Furthermore, the proleptic irony in the reference to ‘these cranks’ could be referring to left-wing politicians, which makes Birling appear foolish as the audience knows that in a few years those ‘cranks’ would be in power. Alternatively, Birling could be referring to liberal writers such as Priestley, which is also an example of irony, as Priestley, the author, holds all the power over the play and his representative, Inspector Goole, holds the power within the play.

Finally, the play shows the importance of an interconnected society by demonstrating the effect of being detached from others. Throughout the course of the play, the characters are found to be at least partially responsible for Eva Smith’s suicide, resulting in indignation or guilt. The Inspector states, ‘we’ll have to share our guilt’, foreshadowing at how all the characters will share responsibility eventually. The older characters, Mr. and Mrs. Birling, deny their guilt, but Sheila and Eric are emotionally disturbed by the knowledge of what they’ve done. By the end of the play, Eric reflects, ‘I did what I did. And Mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her. It’s still the same rotten story.’ This shows how he has accepted his culpability and cannot forget about it, despite the Inspector’s dubious credibility. While the family are cleared of legal guilt, they are still morally in the wrong, which will inevitably affect the family’s relationship and life in the future. As Sheila states, she ‘can’t help thinking about this girl,’ suggesting that the memory of Eva Smith will haunt her conscience for a long time. This acts as a warning to the audience to be mindful of their actions and take into account the repercussions on others, therefore demonstrating how the play stresses the importance of the interconnectedness of society.

Priestley’s play therefore stresses the importance of an interconnected society by demonstrating the effects of guilt on the human conscience and the consequences of denying responsibility. However, Priestley also draws on contextual references to both 1945 and 1912 to evoke to the audience the need for interconnection. This drama thus teaches its viewers how the significant lessons from the play should be applied to the real world.

Generation vs Generation

There are drastic differences that are seen in people who are born in different generations. One may argue that the younger generations are more impressionable and naive while the older generations are very hardheaded and assertive. By creating characters like Sheila and Eric with a large age gap between Mr. and Mrs. Birling in the play An Inspector Calls, tension is created through their differences clashing. J.B. Priestley’s use of contrasting characterization within the Birling family in the play An Inspector Calls creates tension and communicates his theme that one must take into consideration the consequences of their actions and take responsibility for them.

The Birling’s children, Erica and Sheila, are presumed to be very naive and still listening and agreeing with their parent’s words due to their ages. Yet, thought the play both Eric and Sheila prove to be mentally mature and responsible while directly reflect the inspector’s message. Eric Birling was caught up in the complicated situation relating to the death of Eva Smith through his role in impregnating her. Although he is ashamed, he steps up to the plate and confesses his actions and even admits to the fact that “I wasn’t in love with her or anything”, yet he understands that his actions did produce consequences and he takes responsibility for them. He insists on giving her enough money to keep her going, even though it included stealing money from his father (Priestley 50). This action was done unjustly, yet it shows how determined Eric was in order to fix his mistake and take responsibility for his actions- exactly what the Inspector teaches. Sheila Birling, the sister of Eric, also starts out by admitting to her role in the death of Eva. She expresses her sorrow and regret for her actions stating how “It was my own fault… and if I could help her now, I would” right away (24-25). Even though she did not take action like Eric did, she still takes responsibility for her actions and shows that she really does care about the consequences she was unable to attend to. As the play continues and everyone finds out that inspector Goole was a fake, the parents of Sheila and Eric both start to downplay the events of that evening. Suddenly the tension starts to rise as soon as the children speak directly against their parents stating “if you must know it’s you two who are being childish” (55). Sheila is so disgusted by the actions of her parents, that her character takes an unpredictable turn and she evolves into a brave young woman annoyed enough to scold her own parents. Even Eric states directly to his parents that “well, I don’t blame you. But don’t forget i’m ashamed of you as well. Yes- both of you” (54). The characters Sheila and Eric create tension in the play through their differences regarding their view on taking responsibility that contrasts greatly with their parents. The fact that the younger generation is standing up to the older generation and doing unconventional actions like scolding them, the main theme of the novel is clearly represented.

The older generation in the Berling family consists of strong characters: unlikely to sway in their ideas easily, hard headed, and arrogant. Arthur too is confronted about his dealings with Eva Smith, but immediately states that “the girl has been causing trouble in the works. I was quite justified (19). Here, he is seemingly ok knowing that she was forced to kill herself all because of something that started out with him originally and a sign of regret is not to be found. The younger generation, prominently Sheila is verbally pointing out her contrasting viewpoint directly saying (to Mr. Berling) “I think it was a mean thing to do” (21). Tension is created as a result of her comment, but in a way she forces her father to re-examine at his actions by him hearing an opposite viewpoint and internally contemplate her and the Inspector’s message. Another situation that increases the tension overall is when Sheila hears her father describe Eva as cheap labor, and automatically she jumps in stating “but these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people” clearly showcasing the differences in the mindset of the two generations (19). Lastly, Mrs. Birling gets confronted with her mistake and does admit to her actions. Her arrogance shows through when she plainly lays out her thoughts to the inspector that “if you think you can bring any pressure to bear upon me, Inspector, you’re quite mistaken. Unlike the other three, I did nothing I’m ashamed of or that won’t bear investigation… You have no power to change my mind” and like Mr. Birling does not have a hint of regret in her (44). Sybil Birling is blinded to the problems within her household and herself, and therefore tension is created when she directly contradicts the viewpoints of her children. The theme of the play is brought out because of this, when the children start to argue their point about accepting responsibility for their actions’ consequences.

Through tension between the characters, the main theme that we don’t live alone, are members of one body, and are responsible for each other is revealed. Sadly for this to be revealed, tension is built greatly dividing the Birling family- the younger vs the older generation. The children desperately try to get their parents to accept what they believe is the inspector’s lesson and purpose for visiting, yet Arthur and Sybil are set on the idea that they are just “the famous younger generation who know it all. And they can’t even take a joke” (72). Although it may be true that the inspector is not real and the older generation will never learn, the main theme is being communicated successfully to the audience. By looking at Mr. and Mrs. Berling and the way they instigate an attack on themselves by their children, the audience feels disgusted by them and the theme reaches the audience.

What is the importance of the characters Sheila and Eric?

In the play “An Inspector Calls” by J B Priestley, the characters of Sheila and Eric are used to represent the younger generation in Edwardian England, a time when traditional Victorian values were beginning to become obsolete. Priestley uses these characters to criticize and contrast with the older Birlings, and as a result they have a large impact on the course of the lay and are both complex characters themselves.

Priestley represents Sheila as a typical upper class woman at first, yet allows her to develop into a self-sufficient and experienced woman through her experiences with the Inspector. We see in the opening stage directions that Priestley describes her character paralinguistically as “young” and “naïve” as well as “excited”. What is more, Sheila is totally subservient to her father and Gerald, and even when she does dare to be critical she is only “half-serious”. These descriptions of Sheila show her to comfortably fit in to the expected role of a daughter of a wealthy man in Edwardian; to be seen and not heard. By the end of the play however, Sheila’s stage directions are in stark contrast to the beginning; she speaks “bitterly” and even “interrupts” her male family members. She feels she is able to do this due to the moral superiority she has gained by accepting her responsibility for Eva Smith’s death, demonstrating Priestley’s own view of acceptance of guilt and learning from experience as empowerment.

Priestley then takes Sheila’s development one step further by having her take on the role of the Inspector and conduction her own ‘moral’ inspection of the Birlings. She encourages Gerald to confess his affair and even warns Mrs Birling of the consequences of lying, using the metaphor “building up a wall” which the Inspector “will break down”. This idea is furthered by another metaphor concerning the Inspector: “giving them rope so they’ll hang themselves”, again uttered by Sheila. Sheila’s self-knowledge elevates her above the other Birlings and allows her to become morally superior. This transition is epitomized when Sheila rebukes Mrs Birling, saying that now “she’s the one being childish”. The use of the word “childish” is particularly significant and ironic as Mrs Birling had called Sheila a “child” repeatedly at the start of the play. This turning of the tables dramatically highlights Sheila’s growth and the importance of self-knowledge, a major theme throughout the play.

Eric is initially used by Priestley to probe beneath the surface of the Birling family façade and hint at the secrets which will be revealed later. Eric foreshadows Sheila’s tantrum at Milwards by warning Gerald of her “temper”. He suggests that there is something more to Sheila’s character than the “naïve” girl initially presented. Furthermore, Eric questions his father’s opinions and political statements. During Birling’s dinner speech, Eric prompts him with the question “what about war?” which leads Birling into his anti-socialist rant about “cranks”. This is ironic as the Inspector arrives immediately after the speech and Eric later points out that “one of those cranks turned up”. In addition, Eric’s question of war prompts Birling to make some predictions about the future in which he dismisses the possibility of war as “nonsense”. The dramatic irony would have been particularly effective for a 1946 audience (when the play was first staged), having just survived two World Wars, and would have highlighted Birling’s distinct lack of foresight and understanding, and demonstrating that Eric had unearthed some of the key flaws in the Birling family.

Priestley also uses Eric’s character to bring Eva’s tale of degradation to its climactic finale. By using proleptic irony, Priestley skews the chronology of Eva’s story to allow Mrs Birling to condemn the father of Eva’s child only for it to be later revealed that it was Eric all along. This use of proleptic irony creates great tension for the audience and amongst the characters of Eric and Mrs Birling, with Eric saying she “hasn’t made it any easier for him”. Additionally, through Eric’s experiences with Eva, he has gained a slight moral education thanks to contact with the working class. This newfound moral fibre allows him to, like Sheila, accept his responsibility and learn from his experiences. He says that he is “not likely to forget”, showing that the Inspector has succeeded in his attempts to encourage self-knowledge and communal awareness in Eric.

In conclusion, Priestley uses the characters of Eric and Sheila to highlight the importance of learning from experience, the key theme in “An Inspector Calls”. He uses them in contrast with Mr and Mrs Birling which is clearly shown by Eric and Sheila’s use of affirmatives like “Yes, “I am to blame” and “he’s right, whereas the Birlings frequently use negatives such as “no”, “I’m not” and “I don’t. Both Eric and Sheila learn to challenge their parents’ philosophies, as Eric tells his father “it’s not a free country if you can’t go anywhere else”, and Sheila compels her mother to accept her guilt, accusing her of “not understanding”. They are used by Priestley to preach his message of the importance of the younger generation and socialistic progress and highlight the irrelevance and injustice of class tradition.

Sheila’s Evolution in An Inspector Calls

Sheila’s character changes massively throughout J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, often in a manner that registers increasing maturity. At first, Sheila is presented through stage directions as a ‘pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited’; she is pictured as a ‘childish,’ young girl who ‘bickers’ with her brother, calling him ‘squiffy’ and acting in a manner that does not quite suit a young adult. However, as an evolving woman, Sheila matures and becomes more independent towards the end of the play, thus reflecting some of Priestley’s ideas on social equality between genders.

When Gerald first presents Sheila with an engagement ring, she exclaims, ‘Look Mummy- isn’t it a beauty’; this statement presents her character as still childish, since she is whimsical with her mother and is still ‘half playful.’ Her character begins to evolve when she gives her own opinion about Mr Birling’s way of running his business. As she states, ‘but these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.’ In 1912, women’s views were thought irrelevant in such matters, as is evident earlier in the play where ‘she (Mrs Birling) and Sheila go out’ and Mr Birling speaks alone to the men. Mr Birling also highlights ‘we business men’ in his speech, and by doing so he indicates how women do not fit in the business category; however, in her remarks on labor, Sheila is giving her own view on the matter and is actually contradicting a man’s way of running his business. This scenario reflects Priestley’s ideas on social equality of genders, as he begins to present Sheila as the woman who will lead women to the right to vote and to the same status enjoyed by men. It also shows two contrasting women, one who is dependent on her husband and parents and one who is breaking free and is becoming more independent.

We know that Sheila’s actions leading to Eva Smith’s second dis-employment were carried out because she was in ‘a furious temper’ and because the item of clothing she was trying ‘suited her (Eva Smith)’ better instead. This chain of events suggests that Sheila’s spoiled upbringing has resulted in her jealousy towards ‘pretty’ women like Eva Smith and implies that she abused her power as ‘the daughter of a good customer and also of a man well known in the town’ to sack Eva because she felt she was ‘better’ than another woman. Sheila thus reveals a childish attitude that led to serious consequences, demonstrating her negatively young character as she was not able to look ahead of her or act more maturely. However, her use of dramatic language in the statement, ‘we killed her,’ shows her definite acceptance of her guilt and collective responsibility. She becomes more independent as the play progresses as towards the end; everyone is ‘triumphant’ and ‘pleased’ with knowing that the Inspector was a fake and that perhaps a collective image is saved. Nonetheless, Sheila replies with, ‘(bitterly) I suppose we’re all good people now,’ and shows her sarcasm as she continues, ‘So nothing’s happened, so there’s nothing to be sorry for, nothing to learn.” Her words show how she has become a woman, contradicting all members of the family as she realizes that honesty and truth are more important than keeping the family name. Sheila shows how she has learned from her experience and, unlike the others who turn back to normal by ‘pretending as if nothing has happened,’ she seems to be the most mature character in the play. She is more open to change than the other characters, especially those of the older generation.

Eventually, Sheila begins to realize the difference between right and wrong. Priestley presents how Sheila has changed towards the end from a girl ‘pleased with life,’ self-centered and attractive, and how she develops a conscience and feeling of regret over her dealings with Eva Smith. Priestley’s idea of social equality of genders has also been articulated clearly as Sheila’s status has been elevated; she now stands against her parents and for herself. Her declaration that ‘I am not a child’ shows how a woman has been made of her and how Sheila is no longer below Gerald or her father in status. She is after all the only one who had developed mostly as a young girl, accepting her responsibility and reminding the members of the family of the Inspector’s message that men ‘will be taught in fire, blood and anguish’ if their actions are not changed. She reflects Priestley’s view on responsibility as she has now accepted her guilt and is now becoming like the Inspector, asking questions and getting to the bottom of the truth.

Social Responsibility in ‘An Inspector Calls’

An Inspector Calls’, though set in 1912 in the Edwardian era, was written by J.B Priestley in 1945 as a piece of socialist propaganda to embrace the socialist views becoming more prominent in society, in place of capitalism. The theme of social responsibility is one of the main foundations of the play and contrasting beliefs towards this attitude are presented through each character.

Mr. Birling is presented as an embodiment of capitalism, with a lack of social responsibility and an arrogant attitude towards the lower classes. During his lecture to Eric and Gerald in Act 1 of the play, he orates that ‘A man has to make his own way…has to look after himself’. Here Mr. Birling is implying that everyone should be self-centred and only strive to better themselves. He explicitly expresses his capitalist view here and this is an iconic part of the play because it is at this exact point at which the Inspector arrives. The Inspector’s physical arrival cuts short Mr Birling’s capital rant and perhaps Priestley purposefully used the dramatic device of the ‘sharp ring’ of the doorbell to foreshadow how the Inspector will contradict Mr. Birling’s views and attempt to change them. After the Inspector’s entrance, Mr Birling very agitatedly mentions ‘(Rather impatiently) horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here.’ During the dialogue with the Inspector, Mr. Birling immediately dismisses any sort of responsibility without even knowing what he might be blamed for which illustrates his intolerant behaviour towards accepting responsibility. The stage directions ‘(impatiently)’ display his almost childish behaviour for accepting any blame and suggest he wants this ‘socialist crank’ out of his house as soon as possible and he does not agree with his views at all. Through his character, Priestley presents the heartlessness and callous behaviour of capitalism and is a symbol of the older generation who are unwilling to accept any form of responsibility. Priestley wanted to explore the exploitation and oppression that existed in the country in the Edwardian era and continued to exist at the time of him writing the play in 1945. It was people like Mr. Birling not accepting their social responsibility that led to a huge divide in society, causing many of the working class citizens to be wrenched further into poverty down to higher prices and lower wages for the workers. Priestley utilises the character of Mr. Birling to stress throughout the play the importance of social responsibility and that a lack of it will lead to a downfall in society as shown by the two world wars that the audience would have experienced prior to this play being performed.

The Inspector is presented as a representative of socialism, preaching the message of social responsibility to the Birling family and warning the characters and the audience of the dangers of not embracing socialism and everyone’s collective obligation as a society. The Inspector mentions to the Birlings and Gerald that the incidents leading to Eva’s death were a ‘chain of events’. Chain imagery is created in the audience’s mind, and the Inspector emphasises through this imagery that everyone is responsible for each other and that Eva’s death was due to a lack of social responsibility and an individualist mentality. The noun ‘chain’ suggests the bonds between everyone are unbreakable and that not accepting your social responsibility as a member of society is inevitable. This key message is magnified at the end of the play again by the Inspector when he leaves the Birlings with the message that ‘there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths…all intertwined with our lives’. Here, ‘Eva’ and ‘John’ are metaphors for the working class and interestingly the name ‘Eva’ derives from the name ‘Eve’, the first woman in the Bible, and the surname ‘Smith’ being not only the name of an occupation associated with hard labour work but also one of the most common surnames in the UK. This exemplifies the importance of Eva in the play and here the Inspector is saying that everyone needs to be aware of their actions as it will impact many, just like Eva Smith. The repetition of ‘millions’ intensifies the Inspector’s message of how many working class labourers there are in this world and that people need to start being more socially responsible to help these people, but could also indicated the vast number of people which could be affected by the actions of one family. The verb ‘intertwined’ exaggerates the imagery of the ‘chain’ even further and stresses to the audience how important it is for everyone to be equally responsible for their actions. Priestley uses an author surrogate to plant himself and his views into the character of the Inspector to deliver his message of social responsibility with more success. As a political Labour supporter and socialist, Priestley was particularly dismayed at the period between both world wars, which brought widespread poverty, economic depression and political extremism. He purposefully released the play to be performed first in 1945, at a time where WW2 has just ended. During the blitz, the evacuation of city children both poor and rich meant that people were thrown together in an unusual way. Society united together to fight for the common goal of ending the war which meant people of different classes and genders bonding as one and looking after each other. Due to this, social responsibility was accepted and judgement based on someone’s position in the social hierarchy was ignored during this time. Priestley believed that we are all a community and have a responsibility to look after each other, and this crucial message is showcased through the character of the Inspector, the mouthpiece of Priestley.

Priestley presents the younger generation as a beacon of hope for a change in society as they are the only ones able to accept their social responsibility. As Sheila is being interrogated, she immediately realises the impact of her actions and swears that she will ‘never, never do it again’. This instantaneous feeling of shame and guilt expressed by Sheila indicates how genuinely terrible she feels about having contributed to Eva’s death and is the first to fully admit her part of the blame. The repetition of ‘never’ emphasises how immoral she feels and from this point onward in the play, she works on building herself back up again by supporting and siding with the Inspector for a better society. Although, some audiences might find Sheila’s intense plea of forgiveness as a sign of a good moral character, to some audiences it could be seen that Sheila’s immediate wave of guilt seems quite unrealistic as her instant blame goes to herself, which seems almost too good to be true. Further on in the play, the Inspector mentions that the young ones ‘are the most impressionable’ which is explicitly seen by change of both Eric and Sheila’s attitude towards society and the working class. Throughout the course of the interrogation of the Birling family, the gap between the younger and older generation is widened due to the change in views between the children and the parents. Sheila accepts her social responsibility fully, and Eric partly, and take on the views of the inspector to try to persuade their parents to admit their part in Eva’s death too. Priestley has effectively presented the divide between the Birling family, to perhaps indicate the split in the upper class, where the arrogant parents keep living in their old selfish ways with more progressive values of the younger generation. The 1945 society have experienced many rigid changes and was developing in terms of social boundaries. There were many different changes to the society, like women being able to vote thanks to the Suffragette movement or there being a slight decrease in gender inequality due to the women proving during the war period that they can do the same jobs men can do. Priestley would have partly aimed this play specifically at the younger generation to shape their knowledge of society and plant them into the socialist mind-set so as to avoid making ignorant mistakes like Eric and Sheila have done before. The younger upper class would have found this play intriguing to some extent as it contrasts directly to what they have been taught prior to the war and would have led the audience members to start being more independent in terms of their own views and what they believe in. Although the class distinctions are not so apparent in the modern day, this message is still relevant in today’s society, where many of the wealthy people’s primary concern is themselves. Priestley meticulously presents the younger generation in an optimistic light who not only accept their social responsibility but combat for a fairer society.

Overall, the changing attitudes of social responsibility are exemplified by Priestley through the different characters in the play, and he uses his influence to persuade the audience that a shift in society’s attitudes towards each other is needed for civilisation to better itself.

How J.B. Priestley Creates Sympathy for Eva Smith in “An Inspector Calls”

In “An Inspector Calls”, J.B. Priestley uses the characters and attitudes of the Birling family, especially Mr. Birling, to make the audience feel sympathy for Eva Smith. The family is “prosperous” and “comfortable”, and Mr. Birling’s ostentatious posturing emphasizes their good fortune. In the opening lines of the play, he is found discussing port with Gerald, immediately giving the audience a sense of the family’s financial security. When Mr. Birling tells Gerald and Eric that a man should “look after his own”, and not listen to the “cranks” who talk about “community and all that nonsense”, it becomes obvious that he has no interest in the welfare of people like Eva Smith. By making Mr. Birling so arrogant and pompous, JB Priestley renders his character deeply unattractive and encourages the reader to sympathize with his oppressed workforce.The entry of the Inspector causes a dramatic shift in the play’s atmosphere, drawing attention to his shocking news. He almost immediately announces that Eva Smith has “died in the infirmary” after swallowing “strong disinfectant” that “burnt her inside out”. This language provides a striking contrast to the family’s previous conversation, where things were implied, but never directly stated. The Inspector does not use euphemisms to shield the family from the unpleasant images, but says that Eva died in “great agony”. Especially in juxtaposition with the comfortable atmosphere and obvious wealth displayed earlier in the play, the Inspector’s vivid description of Eva Smith’s suffering captures the attention and pity of the audience.Mr. and Mrs. Birling’s uncooperative responses to the Inspector’s questioning increase both the audience’s feelings of distaste towards the Birlings and their sympathy for Eva Smith. Mr. Birling’s initial response to Eva’s death is an impatient “yes, yes. Horrid business”, and even that is said more out of social convention than any real dismay. He sees the Inspector’s questioning as a rude intrusion on his personal time, and is convinced that there is nothing “scandalous about this business”, as far as he “is concerned”. He seems to think that he is above the law, telling the Inspector that he “doesn’t like” his “tone”. He also repeatedly tells the Inspector that he doesn’t think these events are “any concern” of his. Mr. Birling tries to intimidate the Inspector by telling him about the “close” friendship he shares with the chief constable, and then to “settle it sensibly” – in other words, to try to solve the problem with money. Mrs. Birling also tries to intimidate the Inspector, albeit in a more subtle manner than her husband. Mrs. Birling calls his investigation “absurd”, and says that he is “conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner”. She reminds him of her husband’s powerful position in society, as if this absolves the family from any need to cooperate with the Inspector. Mr and Mrs. Birling’s attitude towards the investigation only increases the audience’s sympathy for Eva Smith. It turns the play into a struggle between their viewpoint, and that of the Inspector. This conflict encourages the audience to side with Eva Smith, and with the working classes in general. The Birling family’s refusal to accept responsibility also gives the audience a glimpse of the abuse that Eva suffered at the hands of those in positions of power.The story of exactly what happened to Eva Smith unfolds throughout Act One, as the audience learns that each of the Birlings has hurt her in a different way. First, the audience learns that eighteen months before her suicide, Mr. Birling dismissed her from her job because she’d had “far too much” to say on the subject of her unfair wages. Later, it emerges that Sheila had her sacked from Milwards, mainly because she was in a “furious temper” and “jealous” of Eva. Eva is described as “a lively good-looking girl, country bred”, and “a good worker”, and by Sheila as someone who looked like she could “take care of herself”. These personal details show the audience that Eva’s death was a tragic waste. While questioning the Birlings, the Inspector repeatedly reminds them of her gruesome death, saying that “she wasn’t very pretty when I saw her today”. The contrast between the Birlings’ description of Eva and the Inspector’s account of “what was left” of her in the infirmary emphasizes how thoroughly the Birlings have destroyed her life.One detail in particular rouses the audience’s sympathy towards Eva Smith: the fact she had to change her name. The Birlings use their family name as well as Gerald Croft’s to try to intimidate the Inspector. To them, these names guarantee wealth, respect, and a place in upper-class society. Eva’s situation starkly contrasts with this: the fact that she can so easily change her name shows that she possesses nothing, and has nobody to help her. To people like the Birlings, she is just one of “so many girls” that “keep on changing”, and her name is irrelevant.Another way that Priestley reveals the misery of Eva Smith’s short life is by contrasting it with the happy, protected existence of Sheila Birling, who is about the same age as Eva. Sheila is shallow, childish, and naive. She calls her dad “mean” for sacking Eva Smith, and exclaims that girls like Eva are “people”, as if she has never really thought about such things before. These characteristics are intended to show what a sheltered life Sheila has led. While Sheila is poised to marry a rich and respected young “man about town” and will never be expected to work a day in her life, at the time of her death Eva had already been sacked from two jobs, and had fended for herself for several years. At several points throughout the play, Sheila’s parents try to send her away so that she will not be shocked by the details of the investigation. This only clarifies the double standard present in this situation: the Birlings expect working-class girls to experience things that they do not want their daughter to even hear about. By drawing attention to Sheila’s privileged lifestyle, Eva’s life is made to seem even more pitiful.