What is the dramatic function of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls

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‘An Inspector Calls’ opens with the Birling family holding a dinner party celebrating their daughter’s engagement to Gerald Croft. When the Inspector arrives, he tells them the news of Eva Smiths death, and subsequently questions them all on the matter. The Inspector has a different effect on the different members of the family, and they all find they are connected to Eva in one way or another. This relates to Priestley’s opinions as he tried to incorporate his socialist views into his plays.

Priestley felt there was a lot of social injustice in Britain due to the capitalist society; he felt that many ordinary people were ill treated in the work place and were not given any respect from the higher classes of society. This is shown in the play as Eva Smith could represent all lower class women and when she is treated the way she is, it is a wake up call for the younger generation; whereas the older generations care much more about their reputation than regretting their actions.

The dates are significant in the play because there are references to the future but it is written in the past. The play is set in 1912 but was written in 1945 and there are references to the Titanic, strikes, and war. The inspector could be there for several reasons; firstly he could be inspecting society through the family’s actions and decisions. Secondly he shows Priestley’s socialist based views and portrays them to his audience. He does this because he has strong political views that he wishes for others to hear and think about through the medium of theatre.

The Birlings’ world appears harmonious before the Inspector arrives as they are sitting around the table together celebrating Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. They are happy and are joking and talking between themselves. Mr Birling is hoping that he will be on the next honours list and is going up in the world, much to his pleasure. The lighting sums up the scene as Priestley says that it should be “pink and intimate” before the Inspector arrives. None of the family sees any problems or worries in what they are doing and feel they have no regrets for their previous actions.

However there are underlying tensions under the happy exterior; there is an imminent war, “Just because the Kaiser makes a speech or two … you’ll hear some people say that war’s inevitable. ” the unsinkable Titanic will soon sink, “the Titanic – she sails next week… and every luxury… – and absolutely unsinkable” and strikes are soon to occur, “… miners came out on strike, there’s a lot of wild talk about possible labour trouble in the near future. ” These quotations show that Birling is a well-informed man. Birling knows about the likelihood of these events occurring.

Birling denies all of this as he is an optimistic man who would much rather believe in the likelihood of good events taking place than the contrary. This could stem from Birlings own success as he wasn’t always very well and therefore he can appear a slight pompous as events have usually taken a turn for the better for him. I think Birling tries to sound knowledgeable to impress the family and show off his high-class status. The audience understand the dramatic irony of what Birling says, as they understand what will happen in the future, as it is the history they have already lived through and witnessed.

As the audience knows there will be a war, we begin to doubt Mr Birling’s judgement. They think: If he is wrong about the war, what else will he be wrong about? The point at which the Inspector arrives is significant as Birling is talking to Gerald and says “But what so many of you don’t seem to understand now, when things are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too of course… ” This shows that Mr Birling does not want to take responsibility and would rather just look after himself than look out for other people.

Birling adds about his family as an after thought rather than his main priority, I think he doesn’t like the way Britain is turning out and would rather be in a very class divided system. In the National Theatre version, the Inspector enters through the audience; this makes the audience feel like they know him better than the characters on stage as they seem very distant. In the National Theatre version, the Inspector wears a costume from the 1930s; he looks smartly dressed in a suit complete with a hat and briefcase.

The Inspector seems to have a certain power over the Birlings in the way he speaks to them and the presence he has over them. The Inspector has power from knowledge; he seems to know a lot about the Birlings’ history and asks short, direct, open questions. He does not directly threaten them, but they feel compelled to answer openly, truthfully and honestly. He is quite a cold personality and the characters do not feel that he’s a very kind and considerate person towards them. By making them answer the questions truthfully, this could be seen as his dramatic function.

The Inspector makes the Birlings review their behaviour, actions, thoughts, and what’s on their conscience and subsequently has different degrees of response from all five of them. The younger generation take more responsibility for their actions and regret what they did. The older generation take it as a fact of life, what’s done is done, and there is no use regretting it or learning from their mistakes.

Mr Birling’s is quite rude to the Inspector in his responses. After he has found out how he had contributed to the girl’s death he says, “Still, I can’t accept responsibility… Mr Birling does not like taking responsibility, his number priority is himself, and he doesn’t want to change that. This quote shows how self-centred he really is. Mr and Mrs Birling represent the middle class of the present. Priestley is trying to say that this is how the middle class act and this depiction shows how self centred and arrogant Priestley thinks they are. Priestley tries to summarise all the middle class by these two characters and how they react to the Inspector and the situations faced by them.

Mrs Birling has a very similar reaction to Mr Birling as she doesn’t see what she has done wrong, or that the girl should have lived a better life. She says “But I accept no blame for it at all. ” This quote also proves how she doesn’t want to take responsibility for her actions and would rather lay the blame with someone else. Gerald, Sheila, and Eric have rather different reactions after finding out what they have done. The younger three represent the future classes; to a certain extent they show remorse although they do not all change their ways drastically.

The Birlings seem to be changed permanently and that signifies the changing of society. Gerald’s reaction is that he says, “Sorry – I – well, I’ve suddenly realised that she’s dead -. ” This quote shows that it has had some impact on his life and his conscience. I think Gerald is affected less than Gerald and Sheila, but more than the older Birlings. Sheila is the most distressed of all of them; she feels she is mainly to blame for the death of Eva Smith and she immediately repents her actions. She says “… but I felt rotten about it at the time and now I feel a lot worse.

This shows she repents her actions and wishes she hadn’t done the deed. Eric is also quite badly affected as he was closely connected to Eva Smith he “Come on, don’t just look like that. Tell me – tell me – what happened? ” Eric knows that he is just as much to blame as the other four and he wishes that he could have helped Eva Smith more. He is disgusted at his parents behaviour, especially his mother’s as at that time Eva Smith was expecting his baby. In the black and white film version this is shown with Sheila looking in the mirror after she is shown the photograph of Eva Smith.

This means she was looking for some kind of truth, as this is one of the theatrical metaphors used in plays. In the National Theatre, at the end of the play it rains upon Sheila, showing a cleansing after she has repented her previous actions and has learnt from her earlier mistakes. This production takes it one step further as Sheila subsequently takes off her dress. The dress symbolises all the clothes and riches she took for granted when she was in the house, in taking it off she was showing how she had changed and she wished her future to be different now she has seen the error of her ways.

The house is also depicted as the place where things haven’t changed and the people going back in there have not learnt from their mistakes; at the end of the play the older generations go back inside the house, whereas the younger generations stay outside. The Inspector could be seen as a catalyst as he triggers the Birlings to see what they were doing wrong. If the Inspector had not been there, the family may not have seen their wrongs. Even with the Inspector there, the older generation still don’t repent their actions whereas the younger members of the family immediately do.

He reveals a lot about the Birling family, how it operates and about what they find important. It is very easy to see that they all find money very important and their reputation needs to be good. Mr Birling is distraught at the fact other high-ranking members of society may find out that the family do not have a clean record. The Inspector reveals a lot about the society at the time the play was set. He reveals how unequal society is, and how a woman cannot be independent, she must have a man to rely on. He shows how badly treated the poor are and how they can often be taken advantage of and he shows how immoral men of power can be.

For example Alderman Meggarty was well known in the town but often messed around with women in the Palace bar. The Inspector’s identity could be put in doubt at the end of the play, as he is not a member of the police force, as was originally presumed by the fact he was investigating Eva Smith’s death. When Mr Birling phoned the infirmary, there was no one under the name of Eva Smith or Daisy Renton who had committed suicide; but they soon received a call from the infirmary telling the Birlings of such an incident.

This quite spooky as it made the characters and audience wonder that the Inspector really was and how did he know what was going to happen. The Inspector could be a number of things: a ghost, namely because of his title – Inspector Goole – which sounds like ghoul meaning ghost; he could be God, the Inspector seems omniscient and omnipotent and makes it clear to the Birlings that they will suffer and regret their actions; and lastly it could be their individual conscience, the younger Birlings regret what they did quite quickly and Eric comments, “He was our inspector. ”

I think that when the play was written, it would have affected people, as the audience would have been middle class therefore they would have no trouble with empathising with the characters in the play. “An Inspector calls” is a very powerful play and draws the audience in, I think it would have made the audience of the 1950s think about what the play was trying to portray and would have made them think twice about the way they act. Present day audiences are also affected by the play, even though they are not just the middle classes that have watched the play, they still empathise with the characters and reassess their own lives accordingly.

I think Priestley hoped that his audience would feel guilty and that they would change their lives as a result of the play. I think Priestley intended for the Inspector to make people wonder about who he was and where he came from. The inspector could represent a number of different things and people: god; Daisy Renton/Eva Smith’s child; individual conscience; a ghost and this makes the inspector much more personal as it is one’s own opinion as to what he really is.

I think Priestley wants the Inspector to prey on the audience’s conscience and make them feel guilty for the way they have acted and will change their future opinions and actions. Priestley wants the audience to be affected in the same way the younger generation of the Birling household was. I imagine the Birlings could represent every middle class household in Britain; with the same views and opinions, and same approach to responsibility.

Saying this, I feel that Priestley thought that the audience would hope they were like the younger generation and more open to change rather than the older who were self centred and arrogant. I think Priestley’s aim is to put his views across about social injustice through the medium of theatre. Priestley felt very strongly about such things as lower class working conditions, and “cheap” labour; thus he felt this was one of the ways he could put his point of view across to the people of influence.

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