An Inspector calls
In the play ‘An Inspector calls’ JB Priestley tries to put a message across to the readers that everyone should be responsible for everyone else. In this essay I will be explaining how he sends this message to the readers by using the characters as bad examples and saying the message through the characters in the play.
In the play, the Birling family were of very high and important class. However Priestley despised the higher classes of that time in 1912, so he showed most of the Birling family to be selfish and stuck-up people, who appeared to be very full of themselves as a higher class. They looked down on the lower classes and took advantage of them whenever they could.
However he was extremely fond of the lower classes as he thought they were kind-hearted people. So he showed them as gentle and considerate.
J.B Priestley makes the character Arthur Birling (the head of the Birling House) seem like he always thinks he’s right; for example when Arthur says that there definitely wont be a war and that the titanic wont sink because it is unsinkable. He was determined to be right but in the end he was completely wrong. The audience knew that he was mistaken, but he and his family had no idea what would happen. This is called ‘dramatic irony’.
Mrs Birling is shown as patronizing her children because she still sees them as children, not as adults in their 20’s who can take care of themselves.
Priestley gets his message across to the readers by using every member of the Birling family. He shows them as not taking good responsibility towards other people when they are in a desperate situation and need help.
Mrs Birling refused helping Daisy Renton (Eva Smith) when she came to her for help, because Daisy had claimed that her name was Mrs Birling. Mrs Birling had been very insulted by this so she refused to give her any help, although this was the time when she was most vulnerable and in need of help. Mrs Birling says “I didn’t like her manner”. She also thought that she had done nothing immoral, as she says “I’ve done nothing wrong” and refused to take any responsibility for Eva Smith’s death.
Mr Birling discharged Eva Smith when she asked for a raise as one of his employees, showing that he doesn’t handle situations the right way, when a form of responsibility is required. He also said that because she was very helpless at that time, she would come back to work in his company, but she never did. “She had a lot to say, far too much, she had to go” was what he said.
Mr Birling claims that he his a “hard-headed” business man but in fact he comes across to the audience, as a “hard-hearted” businessman. This is because of the way he treated Eva Smith and the other workers who asked for a raise in their salary. He discharged them, thinking that they would come back, in desperate need of money. But he didn’t think before he spoke. He soon discovered that he had made the wrong decision on sending Eva and the other employees away because they didn’t come back to work for him and Eva was a very good worker. Mr Birling knew that Eva was a very poor women, and yet he still fired her without thinking of the consequences. This is an example of J.B Priestley showing that the high classes were in fact very terrible and irresponsible people.
In the Inspectors final speech before he leaves the Birling household, he talks of how WW1 and WW2 have affected the wealthy families. He says that if the rich do not start acting nicer towards other people such as the lower classes and the poorer countries then it will lead to violence, anger, blood and suffering. He says that the Birling’s have all taken part in causing the suicide of Eva Smith, but there are many other people in the world like Eva Smith, and who are in exactly the same situation as her. If she committed suicide then many other people like her probably will too, unless the people causing them change. Priestley shows again that they are irresponsible and that just because of the way they act towards other people, it is creating huge havoc.
The Birling’s are demonstrating the worst characteristics and virtues of their class and setting very bad examples towards the rich and wealthy in 1912.
However Mr and Mrs Birling’s attitudes towards life do not change at all after the inspector had spoken to them, and after they realised that he wasn’t actually an inspector. They thought that if the death of Eva Smith didn’t occur, then it didn’t matter, and that they could carry on living their lives the way they had before even though they had done wrong and had treated people terribly. They didn’t think to start giving the lower classes a little bit of respect and to care for them, better than they had done before the inspectors visit.
By doing this Priestley tried to show the audience that even if something terrible had happened, that someone of a high class had caused, and then they realise that it might not have happened, then it still wouldn’t change their views on life and how to behave towards other people in a kinder manner. This shows Mr and Mrs Birling as selfish and stubborn.
Gerald’s character imitates a high class, middle-aged man in the time of 1912, and how they would behave towards different people. Before marriage, women were not allowed to be sexually active. However most men wouldn’t like this and would get sexual attention from somewhere else. They would seduce poorer women of the lower classes and in exchange for this; the woman would get material rewards that the higher classes and the rich might not find very nice-looking anymore, maybe an old possession of theirs that they no longer wanted.
Gerald’s relationship with Eva shows that the moral attitudes of his class at this time were that men used women, purely because they could and they had the power to. It also shows that women were less privileged and honoured than men because the men were allowed to be sexually active before marriage and women were not. Men were probably allowed to do a lot of other things that women couldn’t as well, and had more advantage than them.
It wasn’t right for Gerald to have an affair with Eva Smith (who had by then changed her name to Daisy Renton) because he was going to get married and it was not fair on Sheila Birling, his wife to be. He had no intention of marrying Eva, which made his affair even worse, and he didn’t love Eva as she loved him, which was also unfair on Eva, and it gave you the idea, and gave way the fact that he was just using her. This shows him as very ill-hearted and disrespectful.
Gerald could not marry Eva Smith because they were of different classes, he was not permitted to marry a lower class than himself and it was much disapproved. The whole marriage in general was not fair on Sheila because Gerald did not really love her, but it was very necessary for him to marry her because she was the same class as him, and was born into a very wealthy and successful family, just like his own. Sheila was also very beautiful and was a good woman to marry for show, and to keep up his appearance.
Gerald also thought that his life could just go back to normal when he found out there was no suicide. He also came up with the idea that the Eva Smith/Daisy Renton could be different people because the inspector didn’t show any two people the same photograph, assuming that there could be 4 or 5 different girls, making the inspector distrusting. The inspector was asked by Mr Birling; “what did you say your name is inspector?” suggesting that he did not trust inspector Goole and questioned if he was an inspector or not.
The point that J.B Priestley was trying to make here was that Gerald also came from a wealthy family of a very high class, showing that, middle-aged men of his time and class were also very egotistic and full of themselves. They didn’t want to be in a bad or embarrassing position and would never be shown up by anyone else.
Sheila made Eva get fired from Millwards’ because she saw Eva smirking when she tried on a hat. She therefore threatened the manager that if the next time she came to his shop and Eva was still there; she would never come to the shop again, and would close her family’s account with the shop; “I went to the manager at Milwards, and told him to get rid of that girl”.
The manager could not let this happen, because Sheila’s family made very good business with his shop and bought things from there a lot. Therefore he could not afford to lose them as customers because they were very wealthy and brought good money to his business.
This tells the audience, that only a few wealthy families could make a massive impact on somebody’s life.
Eric also had a relationship with Eva Smith (whom he knew as Daisy Renton). He also used her, but he was not in an affair with her. He used her as a plaything. He then left her because he could not marry her, as she was a low class and she had also refused his proposal. Eric had given her money, but after a while she refused to take anymore from him and when he departed from her she became very poor. “She hadn’t a job, she’d no money left”; Eric had said.
Sheila and Eric were both very ashamed and humiliated by what they had done.There were not many caring people of the higher classes, so their personalities may have come to a shock to the audience, because they were the complete opposite to how Priestley was trying to demonstrate the high class of 1912. The personalities they have after the inspectors visit, compared to the rest of their family, tells us that they are younger and can learn easily from their mistakes; Sheila says “I know I’m to blame and I’m desperately sorry”.
Sheila and Eric’s attitudes change very much after the inspector had come. They know that what they had done was extremely wrong and would certainly not do anything like that again. They would treat everyone with respect, especially the lower classes. They wanted to treat everyone equally and in a gracious and respectable manner.
The Inspector’s quotation about responsibility is that everyone is responsible for everyone. He tries to show that everybody should look after each other conscientiously and to remember that whatever they say or do to one person can affect them in many different ways, even if it is something very minute and subtle.
The inspector reflects JB Priestley’s own views because Inspector Goole does what Priestley probably would have done to that family and tried to make them feel guilty about what they had done and what sort of people they were. He would attempt to make them change into improved citizens, and realise how bad they were as people and how they acted towards other people.
Overall I think the play is extremely effective. It shows the characters of the different types of people and classes in 1912 and how they treated various classes. It also shows how a few small bad things can add up to creating something dreadful (subtle things can turn out to be very large and affective). However the ending alters the entire play because it becomes a mystery to the audience and exceptionally confusing. It creates a lot of different questions. The readers then begin to think that inspector Goole was in fact not an inspector at all, but they query who he was.
This play could have a relevance to why it was set in 1912 because it was just before the war, and the rich were very wealthy, but the poor were extremely unprivileged. This changes after the war and I think he might have been trying to compare Britain’s citizen’s attitudes before and after the war and how before the war Britain had a completely different outlook on life.
Overall J.B Priestley gets his message across very clearly to the audience and shows them that people are responsible for the people they meet and how they affect them. He shows that every little thing we say or do to someone can have an affect on them, or even their lives.