The ways in which Priestley conveys a socialist message in An Inspector Calls

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An Inspector Calls is set in 1912, just before the beginning of World War One, however it was written in 1944-5, and was first performed in 1945 as the Second World War ended. Priestley survived the First World War, but bitterly disliked it. So when the Second World War came around, he began to question the point of the first war. So many men died, yet seemingly for nothing because this scene was re-enacted; just a replay if you like of the first. He began to question the point of leadership, and the belief in the power of leadership; they did nothing to prevent the first war, but even worse, they allowed the second to go ahead.

He did not think there was a point in fighting another war simply to be recognized as the victor, or to gain land; the war could only be viable if it led to some good happening as a result. He believed that it should have resulted in society being improved, which is one of the main socialist ideals. So he chose the setting of this play to be before the Second World War, to show how foolish the capitalist British upper classes were, and showed how similar the experiences of the two wars were.

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. ” Margaret Thatcher, 31 October 1987 This quote perfectly outlines the general view of the capitalist classes pre-WW1; although 60 years later, the capitalist message still held strong, although this was what Priestley hoped to prevent. The play was set in the past to highlight through retrospection the failure of capitalism to the lower classes, and argue for the improvement of life for all in the future.

It is also thanks to the little mentions of historical events that were great calamities to many humans thanks to the capitalistic society. It is all done quite subtly; the Inspector never tells them bluntly to be communist. Priestley appears to have made the play highlight the faults among society as it was. He wanted more general understanding by the public and by turning them on the upper class characters, he hoped to gain sympathy for socialism. Socialism also has its proven successes in the past, as the USSR showed.

It is such an easy concept to grasp, and benefits so many of the lower classes, that of course it would be readily welcome by them, and even the audience to some extent. To convey his message of socialism, he had to make the characters believable, based on real perceptions of their class, yet also look down on class boundaries and turn the public against their type. He made the characters very carefully; some would be liked due to their socialist realizations, and some disliked due to their stubborn attitude towards the change of time and ideals.

Priestley conveys his socialist message in a number of ways; firstly he gets the audience to dislike the capitalist Birlings and try to exempt themselves from any blame, that even when the audience realizes that it is the Birlings’ fault, the Birlings couldn’t care less. Mr. Birling’s comment at the start that everyone should only be looking out for themselves is at direct contrast with the Inspector’s very subtle socialist comment at the end of the play. By that point the Inspector has completely swayed most of the audience into his point of view, so we can criticize Mr.

Birling for his blatant capitalism. Mr. Birling’s attempt to deny the Inspector’s existence, and therefore morals, at the end of the play, makes him a figure of fun as well as closing the case that socialism is better than capitalism. Mrs. Birling would rather accuse someone else of crimes than accept responsibility herself. She cares for her family, her place in society and her aristocracy. She is by no means a socialist, though although she runs a refuge for young women of lower classes, she only does that selfishly to elevate her own social status.

She does not care what happens to the young women she turns down; as long as she gains respect that is fine by her. So when she tries to foist the blame for Eva Smith’s death onto someone else, she expects it to be foisted onto someone she has had no dealings with. This is because she believed the father of her baby was someone ‘un-important’, whereas in fact she unknowingly blamed her son for her death. Mrs. Birling’s capitalism clearly shows when she shows no emotion to being told that Eva Smith was dead; instead, she only cares that no one in her family is blamed.

So when the audience feel remorse for Eva, they see how crass Mrs. Birling is, and turn slightly more to socialism. Priestley creates the Inspector, who is the introducer and enforcer of socialism, and gets the audience to empathise with him throughout the play. It proves how well the play was written by the fact that we never turn to capitalism once in the play. The Inspector’s statement, “We are members of one body,” drives home the fact that we are all responsible for each other. This is more than a statement. It is also a question which most of the members of the audience would ask themselves.

The message is put across much more convincingly than if it was said in a speech; as who would expect to hear a piece of half political, half personal propaganda in a form of entertainment with many listeners? Subtly suggested, as the Inspector does not question them directly, it is openly put; to what extent in today’s society do we follow this advice? Sheila is a member of the capitalist Birling family, however we her after she realises the error of her previous capitalist way of life. She is the one of the few who sees the error of her ways and asks for forgiveness.

Sheila feels even worse after she realises that Eva was a human being, a young woman very similar to her in a lot of ways. She then works almost with the Inspector to try and get the rest of her family to see from the same viewpoint. Her parents stick fast with their capitalism, while Sheila remains socialist. Although this is to no avail, we respect her for her attempt. Gerald seems to be very selfish. He did not care about Eva Smith really; he only worried about whether his social status changes. He was having an affair with Eva Smith, yet did not know that her real name was Daisy Renton.

However Sheila did not know about this. And when told about her death he only remembers how pretty she was. But even though the Inspector highlights his faults, he still has not changed by the end of the play. He has not gained a sense of social responsibility; he is still a capitalist and not a socialist, which may be why Sheila is unsure whether to take back the engagement ring. Eric is the one on whom all the blame is placed by the end of the play; his mother, so desperate to take the blame off herself, blames her son unwillingly. Eric fully accepts he is to blame for her death, and feels immense guilt.

For although he tried to support her, when he could not, she accepted this. We feel sympathetic towards Eva, but also to Eric, for trying to save her to the very extent of his limit. And when finally he turns towards the socialist method, and tries to get their parents to agree as well, we feel very proud of him. Eva Smith is a lower class girl, who had socialistic ideals, but when she clashes with the capitalist characters, she dies for trying to be socialistic. She is the scapegoat of the story. We never come across Eva as a character in the play, but instead only find references to her from when she was alive.

The audience feel very sympathetic towards her from the start, and therefore turn to the message she was enforcing; the socialist message. Priestley uses Eva Smith and her tragic death to make us turn more towards the socialist method. The manner at which she suffered because of the capitalists makes the audience empathise with her, although she never appears on stage, her weaknesses are never named and she is dead. It is also done by means of irony; Mr Birling says at the start that everyone should only look out for themselves, like the common capitalist phrase “look out for number 1”.

But at the end of the play, the audience can clearly see that the Inspector is right when he says that everyone should look out for everyone else. Priestley conveys the socialist message by a number of methods in this play; although sometimes rather bluntly done, and not at all subtle, it still allows you to feel for Eva Smith, support Eric and Sheila who turn to the socialist method, and makes you turn on the older Birlings. Socialism, by the end of the play, seems like the only true way of life to follow.

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