An Inspector Calls
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.
A contrast essay on the character of Mr Birling and the inspector in An inspector’s call
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.
Analysis Of Eric Birling’s Changes Throughout The Play An Inspector Calls
In J.B Priestley’s timeless, symbolic sermon about social conscience, he explores the change in Eric Birling: from an intractable and pompous juvenile to a mature and increasingly confident socialist. His transformation is perhaps the easiest for the audience to relate to: he blames the world for his mistakes but gradually accepts his social responsibility.
In the opening stage directions of Act One, Eric is presented as an obnoxious and juvenile boy. Priestley wrote the play during 1912 and he believed in many philosophers, one being John Locke who theorised that all human beings are born with ‘tabula rasa’ (empty minds) and are then shaped by nurture rather than their inherent nature. Indeed, Eric is initially presented as an immature man through the stage directions: ‘early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive’. The adjective phrase ‘early twenties’ could suggest that he may not have many life experiences because of his young age, however, later in the play he does have a growing independence from his family (instigated by the Inspector) and Priestley does this to show how the younger generation have a malleable mind set, perhaps foreshadowing his inevitable change. Another interpretation of this stage direction is the juxtaposition between ‘shy’ and ‘assertive’ which instantly tells the audience that he is flawed from the beginning and is an awkward outsider as he ‘suddenly guffaws’. The audience is made to feel nervous and suspicious that Eric is hiding something from his family. Moreover, the juxtaposition can highlight his drunkenness which is revealed later in the play. That Eric mixes these worlds together: his wild drinking and conservative, capitalist household, suggests he wants to escape from capitalism. This makes the audience sympathise with his obnoxious yet nervous outlook as, after two devastating world wars, the people in 1946 yearned for a more peaceful and socialist future.
Secondly, in the rising action of the play, Eric appears to emulate Inspector Goole through his use of religious imagery, yet also takes on the role of a man who has revealed and repented his mistakes, implying that he is in the process of purging himself of his former capitalist beliefs. J.B Priestley also believed that nihilism was created from a lack of moral conscience and faith in God. As the Inspector rails against nihilism we can see his direct influence on Eric’s persona, enacting his change from an obnoxious, recalcitrant juvenile to a free minded and socialist man: ‘And that’s when it happened. And I don’t remember – that’s the hellish thing. Oh my God!’ The lexical field of Hell and Heaven can be viewed through the words ‘hellish’ and ‘God’, indicating that through the Inspector’s moral conscience, he has been reminded of his moral obligations to the vulnerable and prompted to reject his previously immoral behaviour. However, it can also emphasise the reckless sin of lust he has committed yet he refrains from the topic using the euphemism ‘it’. This induces the audience of 1946 to be angered due his lack of religious and social awareness towards women (although during 1912 women were viewed as possessions). Another interpretation of the lexical field is that it could allude to a second major Christian sin of sloth because Eric was too lazy to see or analyse his own actions and how they affected the life and livelihood of Eva Smith. Priestley uses the characternym of Eva to highlight how Eric corrupted the innocence of ‘Eve’ and it makes his sins seem more horrific. The audience in 1946 would be predominantly Christian and so would accept and understand Eric’s utter regret – emphasised through his fragmented and broken down language. Eric has changed through the Inspector’s visit and now understands the society around him; the audience can see him shifting through his cry to God – a symbol of his utter regret and remorse.
Finally, in Act Three, the audience witness the complete change in Eric Birling through his socialist persona as he becomes confident and fluent in his language as opposed to his previous polite and euphemistic statements. During 1946, a left wing party growing in popularity epitomised the victory of liberal political thinking: the Labour Party. This benefited much of society, mainly the working class who fought for equality and rights to vote as power. We can see this socialist attitude in Eric’s demeanour: ‘(shouting) The girl’s dead and we all helped to kill her – and that’s what matters!’ The active verb in the stage directions, ‘(shouting)’ highlights him fighting like those in the Labour party did and presents him as a confident and changed man. Priestley fought for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised and was an advocate for socialism – hence he uses Eric as his mouthpiece to convey his opinions. Another interpretation of ‘(shouting)’ conveys how passionate and enthusiastic Eric is about social responsibility and further highlights his change and shift towards socialism. Within the dialogue his language: ‘dead’ and ‘we all’ highlights him emulating Inspector Goole as he prompts those around him to accept their own responsibilities. The audience can feel his presence on stage and the didactic lesson of social responsibility resonates with them.
In conclusion, there is a stark contrast between Eric’s initial introduction as ‘half shy’ which shows he is immature and undeveloped in his attitude towards others and sense of social responsibility to how his character develops over time. Towards the denouement of the play, his confidence highlights his change. Priestley uses Eric as a reliable symbol to teach the younger generation that they can change. A deconstructive reading would highlight that the audience are given a dichotomy between the younger and older generation – Eric teaches the audience in 1946 that they have the large capacity to change and transform society through this shattering of the middle class illusion of respectability.