The play An Inspector calls

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‘An inspector calls’ is a morality play written by the author JB Priestly set in 1912, but was actually written in 1944. The whole idea behind the play was to convey a moral message to the audience. The play was set in 1912, as society was extremely different at the time Priestly wrote the play. Priestly was a socialist. He wasn’t fond of the division between classes. He wanted society to change, to improve in fact. Priestly wanted the audience to realize the division between classes was not acceptable. And the idea of someone being better then another individual due to his or her class needed to be changed.

Priestly tries to convey this through each individual character in the play, where each character represents a different mind set at the time. The Inspector’s character seems to reflect the voice of Priestly, echoing Priestly’s message. The play is set one evening, at the home of the Birling family. Under interrogation, every member of the Birling family turns out to have a shameful secret, which links them to the suicide of a girl named Eva Smith. Mr. Birling is depicted as a selfish, obnoxious man who cares about none but his own.

Mr. Birling was a Capitalist; Priestly depicts a very strong image of Capitalist through Mr. Birling. Mr. Birling does not play much of a role in this act and seems to have very little to say. At the start of the play Mr. Birling is very confident when speaking to the inspector, he believes he has done nothing wrong and doesn’t seem to care about the poor girl Eva. His pride shines through him even after knowing he was the start to Eva’s struggles! However, during Act two Mr. Birling’s confidence has slightly evaporated. During the first revelation that Eva asked Mrs. Birling for help, Mr. Birling’s reaction to his wife denying Eva’s request for help isn’t one of disgust towards his wife.

He doesn’t seem the slightest bit appalled or ashamed. Instead he seems to be more disgusted at the fact that Eva used their family name. “And I should think so! Damned impudence” – Here Mrs. Birling reveals that Eva used their name. Mr. Birling speaks of Eva in a terrible way; bare in mind the girl he speaks of has just died a terrible death. Mr. Birling’s reaction to this first revelation gives the audience an idea of Mr. Birling’s selfish mindset. A girl has died a terrible death, whilst all Mr. Birling thinks of is how Eva used his family name.

During, the second revelation when the inspector reveals Eva was pregnant Priestly depicts Mr. Birling’s arrogance and pride. ‘I must say, Sybil that when this comes out at the inquest, it isn’t going to do us much good. The press might easily take it up” – At this point Mr. Birling seems to be forgetting what has happened to the poor girl, instead he thinks of the press. His thoughts dwell on what the community will think; he knows it’ll lower his position in society, which reflects his constant pride. Shouldn’t his thoughts dwell on the unfortunate girl Eva Smith!? During the third revelation, when the inspector reveals Eric is the father of Eva’s baby we see a side to Mr. Birling we have not seen before.

We see traces of fear. ‘(Terrified now) Look inspector you’re not trying to tell us that – my boy is mixed up in this-? ‘ – Here Mr. Birling’s described as ‘terrified’. The description of Mr. Birling isn’t the only thing that gives away the state of Mr. Birling at this point. The dashes represent worry and pauses in Mr. Birling’s speech. The pauses represent Mr. Birling’s broken speech due to worrying and fear. At the beginning of the play Priestly portrays Sheila’s character almost identical to her father’s. She is portrayed as an unbearable, selfish young woman.

During Act two we see a different side to Sheila. Unlike her pompous father, Sheila does in fact have a heart. The presence of the inspector makes her realize what is really before her eyes. Which leads her to open her heart. Sheila’s sorrow and repentant attitude is depicted through her emotional state when mention of Eva Smith’s awful cause of death. ‘No, no, please! Not that again. I’ve imagined it enough already’ – After the inspector describes the unbearable state Eva was in at the infirmary Sheila shows her sympathy towards Eva as well as regretting what she’s done to Eva.

When the first revelation is exposed Sheila shows nothing but disgust towards her mother as well as pity towards Eva Smith. ‘(With feeling) Mother, I think it was cruel and vile’ – Here Sheila enlightens her mother of what she felt about her mother turning down Eva Smith’s request help. The stage direction isn’t the only the information that gives away how Sheila was feeling, the adjectives she used to describe the behaviour of her mother are extremely powerful.

The adjectives “vile and cruel” are normally used on strictly awful circumstances; Sheila’s use of these words shows how disgusted she is at her mother’s attitude towards a woman in need of help. Yet again we see Sheila’s consideration for other people’s feelings unlike her father she does care about the misfortunate experiences of others. Sheila’s sarcasm towards her mother gives the audience an idea of how disgusted and annoyed she is at her mother. ‘For letting father and me have her chucked out of her jobs’ – Here Sheila sarcastically replies to her mother whilst her mother claims she has done nothing immoral.

The audience acknowledge Sheila’s regretful position as well as her feelings towards her mother. During the second revelation Sheila is horrified at the idea of thinking about Eva expecting a baby. ‘No! Oh – horrible – horrible! How could she have wanted to kill herself? ‘ – The dashes indicate the broken speech of Sheila. When a person is in distress their speech tends to break like their mental state. Sheila’s speech reflects how she feels about Eva being pregnant; it affects her so much her speech is almost broken. Unlike her parents Sheila is much wiser.

The third revelation doesn’t clearly highlight Sheila’s opinion on Eric being the father of Eva’s unborn child however she seems to have figured out Eric’s role in Eva’s life before her parents. She tries to warn them, but they do not take any notice of her, which again illustrates her parents’ arrogance. ‘(Distressed) Now, mother – don’t you see’ – Here Mrs. Birling finally understands Eric’s role in Eva’s life and Sheila makes clear to her mother what she’s been warning her about all along. The adjective used to express Sheila’s state gives the audience a glimpse of an idea of Sheila’s feelings about Eric being the father.

She is obviously suffering, knowing her brother’s stupidity could have added to Eva’s death. If one were to place a mirror in front of Mrs. Birling, the reflection she’d be staring at would be Mr. Birling, that’s how similar Priestly portrays the couple. Mrs. Birling’s character reflects her husband’s. She too is a woman swollen with pride. Due to her high class Mrs. Birling feels as if she’s superior to everyone around her. Throughout Act Two Mrs. Birling shows nothing but arrogance and egotism. Mrs. Birling is immune to the inspector’s intimidation; after all she strongly believes she has done nothing wrong when in fact she has.

Her attitude towards the inspector is exceptionally foul. Just like her husband, her reaction to Eva Smith’s death lacks sympathy. The first revelation does not affect Mrs. Birling at all. The inspector’s unknown collection of knowledge about Mrs. Birling’s affairs does not affect her either. One would think Mrs. Birling would be shocked by the inspector knowing she denied Eva Smith help – However Mrs. Birling leaves no traces of shock or fear of the inspector’s knowledge. Her arrogance leads her to believe her actions are perfectly normal. Yet again, the second revelation doesn’t have a negative affect on Mrs. Birling, as she was already aware Eva Smith was expecting a baby. Her knowledge of the second revelation does not lead her to feel any fraction of guilt or sympathy. During Act two the inspector exposes Mrs. Birling’s character effectively.

Through the inspector’s questions we see a strong image of the mind of a high-class woman (Mrs. Birling). ‘You admit being prejudiced against her case? ‘ – Here the inspector questions Mrs. Birling’s prejudice against Eva’s case. I believe Priestly deliberately made Mrs. Birling prejudice against Eva’s case clear so that the audience could understand the mentality of high-class people in 1912.

Mrs. Birling’s high authority influenced the other members of the committee to agree with her decision of denying Eva help. Behaviour like this was extremely common during 1912; people were less favoured because of their class. People like Mrs. Birling took one glance at people like Eva and judged them instantly – making sure everyone else shared their same views. Whether the views were unfair or fair did not matter to people like Mrs. Birling. If you had wealth, you had power! During the third revelation is when the audience would get a greater image of the mindset of capitalist women.

Before Mrs. Birling is aware Eric is the father of the child the inspector exposes Mrs. Birling as a hypocrite. Priestly uses a number of dramatic devices during his play. The main device at the end of Act two is the use of dramatic irony where the audience knows more then some of the characters. At this point of the play the audience would have gathered Eric is the father of the child. Mrs. Birling has dug a hole for herself by repeatedly saying what should happen to the father of Eva’s unborn child (not knowing it’s her own son of course). Secondly, I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have.

If, as she said, he didn’t belong to her class, and was some drunken young idler, then that’s all the more reason why he shouldn’t escape. If the girls death is due to anyone, then it’s due to him’ – Here Mrs. Birling exposes her feelings towards the father of Eva’s unborn child. She makes it clear how much he is to blame in her eyes. If she knew it was Eric would she be saying the same thing? Would the same rules apply for one of her ‘own’?

Although the inspector hasn’t yet revealed the news, the audience may have gathered (due to the dramatic devices) Eric is the father of the child. Mrs. Birling rants about how the father of Eva’s baby should be held responsible. Unaware the ‘father’ she rants about is her own son. Whilst Mrs. Birling is deprived of knowledge of her son’s secret affairs the audience would have already worked out Eric’s private life. ‘Her story was that he’d said something one night, when he was drunk, that gave her the idea that it wasn’t his money’ – Here Mrs. Birling explains Eva’s claims of the state the father of the baby was in.

The ‘drunken’ state would reflect on Eric immediately as in the previous Acts Eric is described as an alcoholic. The dramatic irony of Mrs. Birling trying to push the blame onto the father of the child ‘And was some drunken idler, then that’s all the more reason why he shouldn’t escape’ would not be lost on the audience. Furthermore, Mrs. Birling’s conversation with the inspector gives the audience more of an idea that Eric is the father of the child. ‘If, as she said, he didn’t belong to her class’ – Eric wasn’t of the same class as Eva, Eric was of a high class and sadly Eva wasn’t.

This would indicate Eric’s role in Eva’s life, as they are both of a different class. Inspector Goole could be seen as a ‘God’ figure. God’s come down to earth as a spirit to warn the Birling family, to make them aware of the wrong they’re doing in life. I personally believe Inspector Goole is a representative of Priestly himself, echoing Priestley’s views on socialism. Inspector Goole reveals all three secrets therefore they do not affect his character. However, what he reveals would have a strong dramatic impact on the audience, as all three revelations are extremely effective and shocking.

An Inspector Calls gave me a better understanding of the mentality of people during the early twentieth century. The character of inspector Goole gave me a clearer vision of the mindset of a socialist. On the other hand, the character of Mr. Birling gave me a clearer vision of the mindset of a capitalist. The play explores the theme of responsibility and makes me appreciate the current lifestyle we all live. I personally feel the play has a message for everybody: rich or poor, small or tall, black or white – we are all equal in the eyes of God.

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