Analyse the role and function of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls.
An Inspector Calls is a play with lots of political messages as well as social messages. J.B. Priestley believed in socialism and he used large amounts of his plays to try and convince people to his way of thinking. The Inspectors name is Goole which sounds like ‘ghoul’ meaning someone who has a morbid interest in death or a spirit. His appearance in the play is a result of the girl’s death. Goole is also a seaport town and perhaps suggests that he is going to fish for information. Both explanations could be a reason Priestly chose the name Inspector Goole, to give the reader a hint on the character itself.
The inspector, straight from his introduction, is commanding and authoritative. Upon his entrance, he creates, “…at once an impression of massiveness, solidity, and purposefulness.” The inspector continues to create this impression as he progresses through his speeches and through his in the interrogation of the family. The inspector remains confident, sturdy and composed, while people around him crumble and fall to pieces. His ‘solidity’ is proven by the fact he remains on task despite numerous attempts from Birling to digress from points he is making. The inspector is told to appear ‘purposeful’; this is shown where he explains to Birling that Birlings way of thinking “Every man must only look out for himself,” is not the case, and all warps of society are interlinked. The view is best illustrated in the Inspector’s final speech, where he says, “We don’t live alone…We are responsible for each other.” This idea that Priestley himself believed in deeply, and much of Priestley’s writing shared this very theme.
The time of this play was written helps us to understand the views and feelings expressed by Priestley. Priestley had very socialist views on the world and wanted to diminish differences in social classes – a complete contrast to the views of main characters, namely Arthur Birling. For example, the Inspector outlines the ways each of the Birlings have influenced someone from a completely different background and social class. Furthermore, the Inspector is also there to persuade the audience that the pursuit of power and riches are destructive. We should notice how much control the Inspector has over the Birling family, in their own home and how sympathetically the Inspector is presented in the writing whereas Birling is shown to be extremely foolish in his actions. This is a way of demeaning the Capitalists. Priestley has made his point subtly but clearly; this is a key role of the Inspector.
Continuing from the Inspector showing Birling the error of his ways, the Inspector is the one and the only person who makes things happen and keeps his and the overall story moving. Without the Inspector it is virtually assured that none of the secrets that were exposed would ever have come to light without the gentle nudges from the Inspector which knotted the storyline together. However, the Inspector never explicitly accused anyone of any mishap, instead, it is the characters whom, themselves fill in the missing gaps in the Inspectors story. For example, it is shown, on page 55, the Inspector and Eric discuss who it was who killed Eva Smith. To start with Eric assumes that he killed her because of the situations with the baby, but it is then suggested by the Inspector that it is, in fact, Mrs. Birling who influenced the death of Eva Smith. This is closely related to the Dunne’s Theory, which states that you can look back into the past to see how your actions lead to a situation and you can look into the future to see how this will affect people in times to come. Mrs. Birling looked back into the past to see how her actions affected the lives of a young lady and she subsequently saw that she had been responsible for shaping the life of that young girl, that is the link to Dunne’s theory.
The inspector because of his massiveness, purpose, and solidity, manages to not only outline the characters the wrongs which they have done but he also manages to connect the actions. This leads to him being more solid because not only does he have a few accusations but he can fit them into a connecting storyline in which every member of the family has a part and so no one can escape the ‘truth’. The series of events build up to the final part of Eva Smith’s life where she commits suicide as she feels there is no hope left for her.
On a symbolic level, the Inspector is perhaps not human at all; he could be some kind of ghost. This is perhaps suggested within his own name, Goole. This has obvious meaning with the word ‘Ghoul’ meaning ghost. It is also suggested by some people that the Inspector could be some kind of angel or messenger, which is trying to convince the family to mend their ways. The Inspector could be a manifestation of the ghost Eva Smith, however, this is unlikely as no one actually dies until the very end of the play, but this may be forewarning the family of the troubles to come.
Through his writing Priestley involves the reader or audience, his character’s discussions are to each other but they unintentionally involve the audience. For example, he uses the final speech of the play made by the Inspector to summarize his views. Priestley wanted this speech to make the audience listen carefully. You can see it is a speech from the way it is structured and the language used. For example, his final speech is very powerful as the points are made quickly and sharply -perfect for an audience to hear and take in. The speech goes on to talk about how we are all responsible for each other and if we don’t learn this we all “be taught in blood, fire and anguish,” which refers to war.
In conclusion, the role and function of the Inspector in an Inspector Calls is colossal. He instigates the majority of the discussion and he commands proceedings because of his solidity and convincing tone. He is essential to the play because of his air of authority and the way he speaks with complete and utter conviction. Overall I think that the inspector plays the role of God, as he knows everything and wants the other characters to confess their sins to him, without him asking them. His message is that you can’t hide your secrets as they will soon be revealed.
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