What would Priestley’s ideal world be
‘An Inspector calls’ is a play, set in 1912, which works on many different levels. On the surface it is a play about an inspection in to the suicide of a girl called Eva Smith and how everyone in the play is involved in the down fall of this girl. However, if you look deeper into the play there is another meaning. It is about the characters having an inspection of their consciences. If you look deeper still, it is a play is not only about Eva Smith alone but about all the people that get hurt by other people’s actions.
It is about how people abuse their power, status and use their money to achieve what they want and do not think or care about the consequences of their actions. It gives us an idea about what Priestley’s ideal world would be and how we should and shouldn’t act, by showing the mistakes that the characters make. Priestley makes it very clear that he doesn’t like the way that the characters abuse their power and status. Mr Birling abuses his power because although he could have given a pay rise to Eva Smith and the other girls he decided not to.
He says ‘They wanted the rates raised to twenty shillings a week. I refused, of course. ‘ This shows that although it was in his power to give the girls a raise and make their lives easier he decided that they had enough already. He then goes on to sack the girls who came to him asking for the raise, saying ‘she’d had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go. ‘ Again he abuses his power because he decides that she had spoken out so he was going to discharge her.
Although Eva Smith had done nothing wrong, Mr Birling decided that he would prove that he was the person with the power and that when they tried to speak out and ask for a raise, he would not allow it and he proved this by making sure that the ‘four or five ringleaders’ did not come back, although he did let back the people that went on the strike but were not the ones who actually asked for the raise. This is another example of how the people who spoke out were the ones who were punished.
He tries to threaten the inspector by saying that the chief constable ‘is an old friend’ of his. Mr Birling tries to intimidate the inspector by saying ‘I’ve half a mind to report you’. He does this because he doesn’t like the way that the inspector has the power and is controlling the situation where as Mr Birling likes to be the one in charge and with the power. We know that Priestley doesn’t like the way Birling acts because from early on in the play Priestley establishes that Birling is some one to be ridiculed and that he is someone whose words mean nothing.
For example, when he says ‘there isn’t a chance of war’, however, the audience knows that this is not true because ‘An Inspector calls’ was written soon after the second world war. Similarly, Mrs. Birling tries to intimidate the inspector by reminding him that her ‘husband was Lord Mayor only two year ago and that he’s still a magistrate. ‘ She tries to abuse the power and status that comes with the post of magistrate and Lord Mayor in an attempt to make sure that the inspector knows that she has more power than him. She also uses her power to sway the Brumley Women’s Committee to refuse Eva Smith help when she asked for it.
She says ‘I used my influence to have it refused’. Mrs. Birling could have helped Eva Smith; however, she decided to use her influence to refuse the help because Eva called herself Mrs. Birling and she believed it was ‘a piece of gross impertinence’. Sheila also uses her power to get Eva Smith sacked from Milwards. She says ‘I told them if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them’. Here Sheila uses her power as a highly regarded customer to get Eva Smith sacked from Milwards.
She only uses this power on the spur of the moment unlike Mr. Birling who plans to use his power against Eva Smith. Eric also abuses his power over Eva Smith, although, unlike the other three it was physical power rather than power through status. He ‘threatened to make a row’ in order to get into Eva’s room. He uses his physical strength as a man and because Eva did not want to make a row. Another trait that Priestley doesn’t like is the way that money is often used for wrong reasons and how money features very highly in each of the character’s lives.
Money and his business are very high important to Mr. Birling. Even when it is his daughter’s engagement party he talks about how he hopes ‘Croft and Birling are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices’. In this way it is revealed that Mr. Birling sees the marriage between Gerald and Shelia as more of a business deal rather than marriage. It also shows how he is more concerned in Crofts Limited and Birling and Company being ‘brought together’ and making money through their marriage than his own daughter’s happiness.
It also shows this because he starts to make speeches saying how he is ‘delighted about the engagement’ but he ends up talking about business and ‘increasing prosperity’. Mr. Birling also shows that he is more concerned with making money than about how he fired Eva Smith who later went on to kill her self. He shows this by saying ‘it’s my duty to keep labour costs down’. This shows how he doesn’t care whether the girls he employs have enough money to survive on or not. He cares more about making money and building up his business.
Even after he finds out that his son has used Eva Smith for sexual purposes, he is only worried about the money that Eric stole to help Eva Smith and wants to make sure that ‘every penny of the money’ Eric stole gets paid back. When the inspector does eventually make Mr. Birling feel bad about how he has treated Eva Smith he thinks that the solution to the problem is to pay off Eva saying ‘I’d give thousands, yes, thousands’. This is because he rates money very highly so he believes that he can show how sorry he is by saying he would pay thousands to make things better.
He believes that the way to solve problems is with money. The Inspector shows how Priestly does not feel that paying money is a way of making things better. The inspector says ‘You’re offering money at the wrong time. Mr Birling. ‘ This reveals how Priestly feel that no amount of money can make up for Mr. Birling’s mistakes. Similarly, Gerald also believes that the way to make things better is to pay off Daisy Renton. Gerald gave her ‘a parting gift of money’; this suggests that he does this as a way to make himself feel better because he didn’t feel that if he gave her some money that he had done her as much wrong.
Therefore, he uses money as a way of paying off his conscience. Eric also believes that he can pay off Daisy Renton and his own conscience with money. Eric steals money from his father’s office in order to give Daisy ‘enough money to keep her going’. As with Gerald, this suggests that he gives her this money not just for her benefit but because he too feels that if he gives her some money, things will be better and he will not feel as bad. Sheila also uses money for the wrong reasons but she uses money to get Eva Smith sacked from Milwards. She threatens the manager that she will ‘persuade mother to close our account with them’.
She uses her power as a customer who spends money regularly in Milwards to get Eva Smith sacked. Priestley also shows how he doesn’t like the way that people abuse alcohol. Eric abuses drink and has ‘been steadily drinking too much for the past two years’. Eric’s abuse of alcohol means that when he meets Eva Smith he is very drunk and in his own words ‘I was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty – I threatened to make a row’. However, if Eric had not been drunk he wouldn’t have done this and wouldn’t have used Eva for sexual purposes.
Eric also uses drink as a comfort; for example, when Eric knows that he is going to be questioned on his relationship with Eva Smith he asks ‘could I have a drink first? ‘ This shows Eric’s reliance on alcohol and uses it as a way of making himself feel better. Similarly, Gerald also uses drink as a type of comfort, for example before he is about to be inspected and interviewed he asks Shelia ‘D’you mind if I give myself a drink? ‘. This shows how Gerald is similar to Eric in the sense that he has a reliance on drink and uses alcohol to make himself feel better.
Priestley also shows that he doesn’t like the way that people don’t feel responsible for their actions. Mr Birling doesn’t feel responsible for the demise of Eva Smith after he sacked her from Birling and company. Even after it has been brought out that Birling has sacked Eva Smith for speaking out, he still says ‘Rubbish! If you don’t come down on these people they’d soon be asking for the world. ‘ This shows that even after his abuse of power has been revealed he still thinks that he did nothing wrong and even thinks that his actions are justified.
Similarly, Sybil also feel that she did nothing wrong. Even after she has admitted that she was prejudiced towards Eva Smith’s case, when Eva came to Brumley Women’s Charity for help, and that she used her influence to refuse Eva help. Sybil still believes that ‘she [Eva Smith] had only herself to blame’. This shows how Sybil does not feel that she did anything wrong refusing Eva help and believes that she did nothing ‘that won’t bear inspection’. Another trait that Priestley dislikes is that people believe that we shouldn’t look after each other; Mr. Birling is one of these people. He believes that ‘a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too, of course’.
This shows how he doesn’t think we should look after each other and that looking after your family comes second. It shows this because to Mr. Birling looking after his family is an after thought. Mr. Birling says he dislikes the way that some people talk ‘as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense’. This is another example of how he believes we should only look after ourselves.
Mr. Birling believes that ‘if we were responsible for everything that happened to everyone we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward’. This shows how he does not like to take responsibility for anyone else. Priestly shows that he does not like the way people only believe they have to look after themselves because just as Birling is talking about how a man has to ‘look after himself and his own’ the inspector enters. This shows that when Birling says this he needs the inspector to come in and tell him that he is wrong and that he needs to think differently.
Priestley also believes that no one should be prejudiced towards anyone else or look down on someone else because they are of a lower status. Sybil is prejudiced towards Eva when she comes to the Brumley Women’s Charity for help calling herself Mrs. Birling and even admits it to the inspector; saying ‘naturally that was one of the things that prejudiced me against her case’. This shows how Sybil is prejudiced and knows it but believes that she did nothing wrong. Sybil also looks down on others for their class saying ‘as if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money’.
This is ironic because she herself has married a working class man, Arthur Birling. Similarly, Arthur Birling looks down on others, for example ‘the half-civilised folk in the Balkans’ and ‘Russia, which will always be behindhand’. This shows how Mr. Birling believes he is better than anyone else and when he asks about what happened to Eva Smith after she left his factory he asks did she ‘get into trouble? Go on the streets? ‘ This shows how not only does he believe he is better than other people he also thinks the worst of people.
Priestley doesn’t like the way that many people do not think about the effect of their actions. Sheila doesn’t think about what effect her actions will have on Eva and doesn’t think what she had done seemed ‘to be anything terrible at the time’. Her lack of thoughtfulness and awareness of other people cause her to do things she later realises have had a detrimental effect on other people’s lives and wishes she hadn’t done. Priestley also dislikes people using and abusing other people. Arthur Birling uses Eva Smith ‘she’d had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go’.
Arthur uses Eva to prove to his other employees that he has the power and they do not and that if you speak out against him or ask for a raise you will be sacked. Similarly, Gerald also uses Daisy Renton; although he uses her for sexual purposes. When the inspector asks ‘But she became your mistress? ‘ Gerald replies ‘Yes’. This shows how Gerald kept Daisy as his mistress, knowing that he is doing the wrong thing. Eric also uses Eva Smith because he uses her weakness and drunkenness to force his way into her room.
When the inspector asks ‘was she drunk too’ Eric replies ‘she told me afterwards that she was a bit’. He uses her drunkenness at the time to over power her and because she was too weak to fight back he succeeds in getting into her room. In conclusion, there are many faults that people make Priestley shows these faults through the mistakes that the characters make. Many of the faults are to do with abuse of power, money, status and people. All of the mistakes that the characters make have a significant effect on the victim of their actions, whether or not Eva Smith is one person or lots of people.
In Priestley’s ideal world no one would abuse their power money or status; no one would be prejudiced or look down on other. People would think about the consequences of their actions and would avoid doing anything that hurt another person. However, I do not believe Priestley’s ideal world will ever by reality and it certainly is not today as people are still hurting other people and people are still making the same mistakes as Arthur, Sybil, Shelia, Eric and Gerald made in An Inspector calls.
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