An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls, a Play by J. B. Priestley: Sheila’s Ideology and Language
By the end of An Inspector Calls, Sheila Birling has developed significantly as a character, certainly in comparison with her parents.” Discuss this view of the play, paying specific attention to Sheila’s ideology and language.
In Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls which is set in 1912, Sheila Birling is portrayed as self-centred and spoilt who, over the years has become the product of the environment in which she lives in. She is a wealthy young woman who emanates from a middle class family.
At first, Priestly starts to portray Sheila as a self-centred and spoilt character in the audience’s eyes. She’s depicted as a playful young girl, the apple of her Daddy’s eye, who is ‘pleased at life’ and a ‘pretty girl in her twenties’ which elucidates to the fact that she is expected of nothing more than to be a pretty face. This advocates to the audience what kind of patriarchal society that Priestly was trying to illustrate which also has deeper meaning of what his judgement of it was at the time. Sheila’s infancy is presented in a childish quotation, when she addresses her father, saying, ‘I’m sorry Daddy.’ The word ‘Daddy’ is typically seen as what children would say to address their parent but people of her age should typically adopt a more mature characteristic. In addition to this Sheila’s ignorant traits are shown in her remark of ‘you talk as if we’re responsible,’ which leaves her to believe that the social level that her family possesses is better or more superior than everyone else due to having no experience with the outside world. The main reason why she acts this way is because of her parents’ infantilastion of her and sugar-coating of the world. Preceding this introduction of the Inspector’s interrogation, the audience can tell by the language of Sheila, that she owns unsophisticated and adolescent characteristics. These characteristics generate disgusted emotions from the audience to Sheila. In addition to this there is a bigger picture, the melodramatic irony of when the play is set, and then of when the play was written. The writer had fought in WW1 and lived through WW2, he understands that the war had torn Europe to pieces which is foreshadowing what may happen in the future to the Birling family as Sheila develops.
In act two, Sheila’s nature evolves progressively, this is revealed when she realises the responsibility and affect that she had on Eva Smith’s death, this start of her enlightenment is due to the hard truths which the inspector throws upon her about playing a part in it. This different trait of Sheila’s character is much preferred by the audience but she still has traces of her naivety and self-centredness. This is revealed when Sheila complains to Gerald “except for all last summer when you never came near me” this shows that the type of language and tone which Sheila used is that of a child and shows her single minded thoughts when all Sheila cares about is being with her partner, due to her parents’ infantilisation towards her. Mrs Birling opposes this comment with “you’ll have to get used to that, just like I have.” This shows that like her mother, women are seen as lower people in society and must make themselves occupied until they are needed and must not complain if they are not required. Sheila shows a concern for someone other than herself when she says ‘oh how horrible, was it an accident,’ the fact that she requests for an insight further into what happened, tells the audience that her character is gradually changing. ‘I can’t help thinking about this girl,’ due to her having the tiniest thought of Eva Smith shows that she believes that she holds partial responsibility for her death. In arrears to this chain of actions this further supports the idea of her development due to the realisation that her action have serious consequences and repercussions and how Sheila is shifting into a better person.
Steadily, Sheila’s character changes and the audience discover a more sympathetic and appealing side to her. Sheila’s manner and composure during the Inspector’s interrogation shows her in a much better light. As the inspector is introduced, we see a change in Sheila, which also reflects what change Priestley, wants in society. She begins to become enlightened and develops into a ‘beacon’ for a generation which rejects old manners and ways (of her parents) who have been living in a ‘bubble’ and have not been aware of the outside world. Evidence of this is when she shows a sincere concern for someone other than herself ‘was that her name, Eva Smith?’ which shows how much Sheila has taken responsibility and realised her place in the whole situation. It also demonstrates how much Sheila can mature being under slight pressure. This climax allows the audience to prefer Sheila’s new individualities than to the ones she had at the start of the play, Priestly does this by using her antithetical nature between her relationships with her parents. They begin to tolerate her further as well as side with her against the old traditions and her capitalist parents.
In the third act, she is presented as a less foolish and naïve character as opposed to when we were first introduced. She is enlightened and now appears to be an honest, compassionate lady who is not afraid to admit guilt when it comes down to it. After realising the hard truths, she is now focused on convincing her parents to realise their capitalist patriarchal actions which led up to the death of Eva Smith. Sheila had taken time to think when she said ‘and now… and I believe… and it was,’ the fact that she took time to think about what she was going to say supports the remorse that she possesses. Her language has shown her rejection to the patriarchal world she lives in, within her conversation with Gerald. As he explains to her that, he had a relationship with Eva Smith, she doesn’t react angrily at first as her first character would do. This tells the audience that she is morally superior than she was before and can overcome old characteristics. Priestly uses an imperative in the quotation, ‘Daisy Renton then,’ Sheila’s tone of voice suggests that she is agitated and distressed.
Sheila’s manner continues to grow openly in the audience’s eyes, as we progress into the final acts of the play. She seems to have understood the Inspector’s purpose in making her realise her actions, she steadily begins to adopt an independent characteristic, which is leaching her away from societal norms. She behaves this way because her social conscience has been awakened and finally realised her and everyone else’s equality in the harsh patriarchal world that she lives in. Sheila is a much more appealing character as opposed to when we were first familiarised with her, she’s acquired more self-knowledge and developed a social conscience. She continuously opposes her parents showing her independence. Her apprehension is shown when she says, ‘I know, I know,’ advocates to the audience that she is remorseful and shows sincere guilt. The repetition exaggerates her remorse and tells us that she is distressed. The enlightenment of Sheila’s character is again, shown in her language when she opposes her parents, in the quotation ‘don’t interfere,’ we can see that she doesn’t run to her parents every time she is in trouble anymore, which demonstrates her independence.
Towards the end of the play, Sheila’s character has most been affected by the melodramatic series of events leading up to the solution of Eva Smith’s death that the Inspector has brought upon her. The radicalness about Priestley’s portrayal of Sheila here, is the sudden change in character from her; she has taken upon qualities of responsibility and independence. ‘I behaved badly too.’ Sheila has acknowledged the significance and seriousness that her actions can do, this tells us that she is feeling rather remorseful. ‘The point is… you haven’t learnt anything,’ this quotation tells the audience that Sheila is taking a stand for herself by opposing her parents.
On page 59 of the play, Sheila moves further along the road to independence: she shares her parents’ suspicions about the Inspector’s identity but, unlike them, she doesn’t take this opportunity to absolve herself of the blame. The fact that she doesn’t put any effort in trying to rid herself of the partial censure of Eva’s death represents a great deal of independence and maturity. It would be much easier for her to deny everything that happened (following her parents’ views) but she doesn’t because her social conscience has been awakened and she finally realizes that it’s wrong. The quotation ‘I’m going anyhow’ shows that she is not a child anymore – again showing independence. ‘Trying not to face the facts’ – At this point Sheila has reached a point where she has gotten extremely agitated and then starts to take out the anger on Mrs. Birling. This action of opposing her mother indicates to the audience that Sheila will not turn a blind eye to her parents’ wrongdoings. It helps us understand the concept of duality within her character because Sheila can be nice, caring and empathic but also has a clever side to her which is indicated through her protection of Eric who is still susceptible to being dragged into the old traditions. When Sheila says ‘I suppose we’re all nice people now,’ her tone of voice indicates that she is being sarcastic and has effectively given up on reforming her parents into better people. By opposing Mr. and Mrs. Birling it shows the audience that a younger, more compassionate generation is coming through, to lead society to equality and out of the patriarchal world. Sheila wants them to see the bigger picture and make them acknowledge what they did, take responsibility and apologize.
To conclude, Priestley presents Sheila at the start of the play as a single-minded girl with no ambition except to follow her parents’ way of life and remain uneducated. But as the play progressed she gradually changed when the Inspector is introduced to the family, which brings out the individualistic side to her character. The play is ridden with animosity and bitterness which reflects the time which it was set in (1912) which was just before WW1. This idea correlates with the main ideas stated above as Priestly had written the play in 1945 knowing that WW1 would come. The writer effectively suggests that the old traditions of the patriarchal and capitalist way of living played large part towards the commence of WW1.
Relationships Between Two Generations in Priestley’s an Inspector Calls
How are the relationships between the two generations presented by Priestly?
One of the main themes presented by Priestley in “An inspector calls” is the divide between the two generations who both have different ideas in response to taking responsibility or changing their actions in the future. This is shown through the direct relationships between characters of different generations and the tension created which is presented through the change in tones of voices towards other characters and the development in the way they interact. The concept of different generations is also explored more generally which at the time would have the audience questioning the idea of a segregated society with clear divisions between the different classes which was very topical when the play was first performed in 1945.
One way the relationships between the two generations is clearly presented to the audience is through the interaction between Shelia and Mrs Birling, whose relationship arguably shows the most development. At the beginning of the play Sheila refers to Mrs Birling as “mummy” but by the end of Act three she simply calls her “mother”. This distinctive change from colloquial to more formal language may reference that Sheila has grown up out of her immaturity and naivety. However, an alternative interpretation is that she has become more distanced from her mother as he disapproves of her actions and her denying her involvement in the accident of Eva Smith. Furthermore, during the three acts Sheila becomes more independent and stands up for what she believes in. Mrs Birling says “[After a pause recovering herself] Sheila I simply don’t understand your attitude”. The concept of young women speaking against their mothers in a more aggressive manner and speaking for themselves may mean that in this play Sheila is a symbol for the drastic change in the role of women in society and the idea that they can stand up for themselves. Furthermore, Sheila is also shown to the audience as being more mature than her mother in regards to her understanding of the fact that class and social status will not change the situation they are stuck in. Sheila states “We’ve no excuse now for putting on airs and if we’ve any sense we won’t try”, stating that no matter the position they hold in society it does not change their actions or give them an excuse for acting the way they did. So therefore, one way in which Priestley presents the generation gap is between the development of individual character relationship such as Sheila and Mrs Birling and their different views on ideas such the importance of social class.
In general, the relationships between the two generations and not presented to the audience in a positive light and generally hint towards a lack of love and closeness. There is an overall lack of community and familiarity within the family itself first presenting to us through the stage direction “The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable but not cosy and homelike”. This quote shows how the Birling’s use the accumulation of their possessions to show off their status or an alternative interpretation is that their home is seen as fake and pretend and therefore may be inferring to the audience that they buy possessions to make up for the love they don’t have. This idea of there not being any intimacy in the relationship is heavily emphasised in the relationship between Eric and his parents. When Eric is first presented to us he is said to be “[Not quite at ease]”, indicating that he is not comfortable sitting with his family also suggesting it is a rare occasion that they are all together. Furthermore, the idea that Mrs Birling was unaware of Eric and his drinking problem insinuates that she is not involved in his life as she is described as being “[shocked]”. Additionally, Eric is described as saying “[bitterly] you haven’t made it any easier for me mother”, the adjective “bitterly” implies that he doesn’t have any real love for her. As a result, this idea of a lack of caring between the two generations is shown to the audience through actual stage directions as well as the involvement Mrs Birling had in her son’s life.
Priestley also explores the relationship between the two generations in general by presenting different reactions and ideas towards concepts such as responsibility and being forced to recognise the significance of their actions and the consequences they had. The two characters belonging to the younger generation, Sheila and Eric, both show willingness to acknowledge their roles in the incident, for example, Sheila says, “I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it”. This greatly contrasts with Mr and Mrs Birling who are both unable to the see the importance of the actions presented to the audience clearly through Mrs Birling saying “I accept no blame”. Furthermore, Sheila and Eric and both more moved by the incident involving Eva Smith and are seen as more empathetic with Sheila being described as “[distressed]”. The younger generation also seem to be more in touch with their human emotions and face their consciousness, yet the older generation seem to be unable of evoking pathos as they ultimately resort to money to solve everything. Mr Birling offers to pay “thousands and thousands” in order to right the death of Eva Smith suggesting that he does not think there is another way to express his guilt which he ultimately ends up denying. Therefore, the two generations are brought together by Priestley when they are faced with concepts such as responsibility and the way they deal with their guilt. Furthermore, how they express their emotions, whether they are more in touch with their feelings or if they are clouded by materialistic objects such as money.
The two generations are also related as a whole and the differences between them are compared when it comes to the idea of people changing their ways, mostly explored in the end of Act Three when the prospect of the Inspector being a hoax arises. The younger generation are opposed to the thought of them reverting to their selfish ways shown through Sheila saying “[passionately] You’re pretending everything is just as it was before”. Sheila and Eric are both willing to accept the consequences and as a result change their ways and become better people. This juxtaposes with the older generation who admit their actions yet still they refuse to change their ways and are “ready to go on in the same old way” pretending as nothing ever happened. This unwillingness to change also shows that they think they can get away with their actions and nothing will ever happen but also disregard what happened because the girl was of a lower class in comparison to them. Therefore, the willingness to change is something that relates the two different age groups together with the younger generation willing to become better people in the future. This clearly shows Priestley’s message that some people who are stuck in their traditional ways are only concerned about themselves and not with others and the world will only begin to change for the better when people adopt Sheila and Eric’s point of view.
In conclusion, the idea of the contrasting two generations is one of the most prevalent ideas Priestley explores because when the play was performed in 1945, it was a time of women holding more importance as well as the divisions between social classes diminishing, something that the two different generations held distinctive views on. This concept is explored through characters being symbolic such as Sheila representing the new role of women in society and the two younger characters holding beliefs that they need to change their ways and attitudes towards the lower class by accepting responsibility for their actions as well as facing their consciousness. This then allows them to feel empathy for others something the contrasting older generation seem incapable of doing. Not only does Priestley explore the overall relationship between the two generations by seeing the way their views contradict, but he also explores it more deeply through individual relationships of characters. In these two ways, he effectively presents to the audience the idea of the opposing generations and their relationships.
Portrayal of the Abuse of Authority in J.B. Priestley’s Play An Inspector Calls based on Main Characters
Abuse of Authority
Some individuals possess greater authority than others. The possession of authority is beneficial and makes life more pleasant but although it brings so much ease to life, it can easily be abused to bring harm to others. In the play, An Inspector Call by JB Priestley, there are three characters that abuse their authority on a weaker character. Eric abuses his physical power, Arthur abuses his economic power, and Sybil abuses her power of social connections on Eva Smith.
Firstly, it is apparent that Eric abuses his physical power on Eva Smith. Eric do not love Eva but he gets with Eva just to fulfill his desire: I wasnt in love with her or anythingshe was a good sport. (Priestley, 49) He sees Eva as a sexual object and not as another human being. He forces himself on her, and takes advantage of her while he is drunk: I was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty- and I threatened to make a row. (Priestley, 49) Erics wrongful act is carried out by the excessive consume of alcohol, which takes away his control over himself, thus making him to create a big mistake. Eric abuses his physical power on Eva, resulting her to get pregnant.
Secondly, Arthur abuses his economic power over Eva. Even though Arthur is wealthy, he is not willing to share little bit of his wealth with those who work hard to run his factory. He rejects their request when they ask for three more shillings: I refused. Said I couldnt consider it. We were paying the usual rates, they could go and work somewhere else. Its a free country, I told them. (Priestley, 12) Arthur cannot care more about anything but money so he rejects Evas request for three more shillings and instead he fires her for it, even though Eva was one of the hard working employee. Arthur is a big capitalist who believes that he does not have responsibility to help anyone, and so he does not consider what situation Eva is in, when he fires her. Arthurs abuse on Eva puts her in a desperate situation by economically bankrupting her.
Lastly, Sybil abuses her power of social connection over Eva. Sybil is the character that leads Eva to commit suicide by rejecting Evas last cry for help: I didnt like her manner. Shed impertinently made use of our name, though she pretended afterwards it just happened to be the first she though of (Priestley, 42) Sybil is from a high class and she is even more pompous and arrogant than any other characters in the play. She has social connections, which provide her with great authority that can annihilate and torture someone as weak as Eva. Evas request for help in the Brumley Womans Charity Organization is the last help she asks for as a poor lady in the streets who is about to go through her labour. Evas explanation to Sybil about her desperate situation does not convince Sybil at all and Sybil rejects to help her just because she dose not like Evas manner, the fact that Eva introduces herself as Mrs. Birling. As a lady working in the charity organization, Sybil is suppose to help anyone who asks for help, but she rejects Eva with no apparent reason. It is not reasonable excuse for Sybil to reject a poor persons request for help, just because the persons manner bothers her. Sybil cares more about her family name rather than saving someones life. The rejection from the charity organization brings Eva down to where she could no longer carry out her life. Like other characters, Sybil also parts in leading Eva to her death, but Sybils responsibility over Evas death is somewhat greater than the other characters, since she works in a charity organization.
There are people who use their authority in helping others and creating a better place for everyone, but some people like Eric, Arthur and Sybil abuses their authority to bring harm to others who are weaker than themselves. The victim in the play is Eva Smith who gets physically abused, gets fired and gets rejected from a charity organization. Individuals like Eric, Arthur and Sybil have choices as to help or to reject to help others, and in the play the characters chooses not to help a weaker character. Around the world, there are millions of people like Eva who suffers from poverty, hunger and fear, and if everyone refuses to give them help, how will the world be like? Nobody is responsible to help other people, but some people help others even though they dont have to.
An inspector’s call: A look at the theme of surprising sympathy as shown by 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 transformation of Sheila as illustrated in An inspector’s call
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.
An analysis of the theme of generational gap in An inspector’s calls
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.
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.
The role played by the characters Sheila and Eric in An inspector’s call
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.
An Inspector Calls Report
In An Inspector Calls, Priestley portrays inspector google as a peculiar mysterious man. His name Goole having the same pronunciation as “ghoul”, in another word a ghost/spirit. This suggests perhaps someone who has an interest in death and maybe is sent as Eva’s afterlife to haunt the guilt of the Birlings. Somehow like a supernatural almost. He is an omniscient character meaning he has unlimited knowledge which therefore explains the idea of him taking control of the situation and slowly breaking down the truth creating a story of a “chain of events”.
To start off, in act 1 Priestley conveys the appearance of inspector Goole through the use of stage directions. As the inspector enters, Priestley introduces him as ‘a big man’ who “creates at once an impression of massiveness,solidity, and purposefulness”. This line illustrates to the audience the importance of his role because he creates an impression of dominance. This is because it is not his appearance that adds tension, but rather his presence/manner that creates a sense of fear towards his suspects. In other words, he overpowers the Birlings with his presence. Priestley further empowers inspector Goole through the use of the adjectives “ massiveness” “solidity” and “purposefulness”, which is a tricolon technique.
Priestley’s use of “solidity’ represents the Inspector’s ability to remain composed even when characters breakout. The effect on the audience is that they would be curious to find out more of him and how he is going to develop the play. Another way Priestley presents the role of inspector google is through his dialogue, him (inspector google) being Priestley’s dramatic tool. He controls the pace and tension in the play with “one person and one inquiry at a time” This reinforces the idea of authority. He methodically works and investigates chronologically from one person to another, developing the conversations all linking them up together to make a “chain of events”, therefore he creates tension and suspense. The repetition of the noun “one” recommend that a person is protruding to express their guilt in many ways. It suggests to us how he does things his way and knows the whole story relating to Eva Smith’s death.
In act 2, Priestley conveys his socialist views through inspector Goole using him as a mouthpiece. During his conversation with Mr. Birling, he comments “ Public men, Mr. Birling has responsibilities as well as privileges.” This shows that the inspector looks at everyone equally which then relates to the theme ‘social change’ and how it developed. He doesn’t approve of the class division and is directly aiming to Mr. Birling who is from the upper class, that wealth and social standings need to be used properly. Towards the end, Inspector Goole delivers a message to the birlings, almost as if him being a god-like figure giving a lecture. In his final speech, he mentions “We don’t live alone, we are members of one body, we are responsible for each other”. This simply highlights Priestley’s socialist ideals through the inspector, as he is trying to reference that we are all part of one group/community, so we should help one another especially those who are in need and vulnerable. He states “members of one body” as if referring to a human body where if one of the organs don’t work then the rest of the body does not function, meaning everyone should work together to prevent any difficulty in life. This is also a metaphor. Furthermore, the pronoun “we” suggests everyone has responsibilities including him. The term “member” is utilized as its a way of saying that you are a part of something special. From this quotation, Priestley shows how powerful inspector google is by portraying the social responsibilities that we have to look after. Priestley’s intention to the audience is how everyone should behave morally and not let the harsh reality beat you down. In addition to act 3, Priestley develops the importance of inspector Goole through a vivid but honest speech. Inspector Goole’s closing line states “If men will not learn that lesson then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”.
This quotation simply indicates the consequences of not obeying the social responsibility of each other and reinforces the idea that, people need to learn how to cope with such conditions or else they’ll result battling in hell-like catastrophe. Priestley uses dramatic irony about the horror of ww1 (when the play was set in 1912) and during the ww2 (when the play was written in 1945). This shows that the problem of the ruling classes is that they did not learn the lessons of the first world war resulting in the massive slaughter in ww2. In reference to inspector google’s importance, Priestley uses him to communicate and send his message and viewpoint to the audience, making the character seem like a prophet. This last line is seen as a warning for the future. Furthermore, the use of ‘fire’ and ‘blood’ gives the audience a vivid imagery and leaves them thinking about our responsibility and what it could result to if we disobey. In conclusion, inspector Goole plays a really important part in the play as he is the main character besides Eva. As I mentioned before, he is Priestley’s socialist voice, his vector, and his mouthpiece. His function was to make a change towards the selfishness of wealthy privileged people, for example, the Birlings. Inspector Goole not only does he force them to admit their guilt/responsibility but also tests their relationship strengths as a family.
Overall, I think that Priestley is successful when it comes to displaying his socialist views and ideas because he uses dramatic dialogue, stage directions, and characterization to show how everyone should be treated equally/fairly, no matter who they are and which class he or she is from. He awakens the audience about the moral social responsibilities and its consequences.
Defining the character of Gerald and his ideology 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.