Essay on "An Inspector Calls" by J B Priestley

“An Inspector calls,” by J. B. Priestley was written in 1946 and set in 1912. Priestley was a politician and a socialist who believed in equality and equilibrium for all, sex, race and class. Priestley had a long but arduous life, 1894-1984. He lived through both world wars, the unsinkable Titanic sank in 1912, the general strike in 1926, labour government resigning in 1931, and the two destructive atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. Priestley deliberately set the play in 1912 because the audience watching the play had to have lived through all of this and would have empathised with him.

Priestly tried to put his non-capitalist views across to the public through different mediums giving 10 minute radio broadcasts and writing articles in the news papers, however using these means, he could never be sure of his audience. He couldn’t know if they were paying their full attention listening, or if they were just skimming his articles or even if they were being read or listened.

Hence Priestley decided to use the theatre for his plays, where he had the full undisrupted attention of his audience.

An Inspector calls,” is a play which highlights the importance and relevance of equality and social respect in the community, the story is interesting and gripping with a twist. Priestley is trying to show us how a moneyed, status freak middle class family of the Edwardian Society of 1912 acted, upon their values and their morals. The mysterious Inspector Goole reveals by his interrogation how all of the different Birling family members contributed to the suicide of a low classed, unsupported, innocent, young girl, Eva Smith, and how they have all, in their own shameful way, let her down and killed her through a chain of events.

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Priestley shows us how these different family members react in different ways and learn different lessons from their experience. Inspector Goole is believed to be the voice and substitute of J. B. Priestley. Inspector Goole in many ways is a regular and ordinary police man but in some ways his personality and behaviour is very mysterious. The Inspector uses various dramatic and purposeful methods of solving this case, some are normal, and some are odd.

His name sounds like ghoul, his body language and physical presence, his sarcastic, dramatic, repetitive and suspenseful way of speech, his different attitudes and behaviour to different characters, his moral speeches, his tactics of solving the case, his timing, of speech, entry and exit to the play, his impression on youngsters and the way he behaves like a catalyst, splitting the family in half, all are very peculiar, thus creating drama and tensions.

The Inspectors timing of speech, entry and exit to the play is crucial in how the Inspector creates drama. The Inspector entered to interrogate the Birling family of a beautiful girl, Eva Smiths suicide; he entered while the Birlings were happily celebrating their daughter’s engagement to a rich man, Gerald Croft, ironically the Inspectors interrogation lead for that prosperous day to turn sour and horrid just like Eva’s life. The Inspectors entry to the play was very Ironic, as Mr Birling selfishly said, “… man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own-and-,” the Inspectors call stopped Birling from saying any further of his speech and the irony is that the Inspector carries on stopping Birling from his methods throughout the rest of the play, making the play engrossing and exciting. The timing of the Inspectors exit was too very engrossing. He left after interrogating all the family, delivering a few moral speeches but most importantly before the final phone call arrived and before Gerald returned.

I know it wasn’t coincidence because of this quote, “my trouble is I haven’t much time,” and because at first he was patient and always in control but as his exit neared he grew more and more anxious and edgy, “I’m loosing all patients with you people… I warn you,” showing the Inspector was aware of Gerald’s crucial return and the phone call. The Inspectors timing of speech also creates drama and suspense; as he enters, the stage directions describe his way of speech as, “carefully” and “weightily. ” This method creates drama throughout the play.

An example of this is when the Inspector purposely revealed Eva Smith’s name slowly, “her original name – her real name – was Eva Smith,” creating suspense and inpatients among the characters and audience. Inspector Goole used various tactics of unravelling this case; many were normal however some were very odd. One ordinary and “sensible” tactic the Inspector employed, “One person and one line of inquiry at a time. ” This showed the Inspectors sophistication, and his control of the plan and situation.

Another ordinary ploy he applied was his clever usage of questions, “It’s my duty to ask questions,” showing the Inspector fully made use of his badge and was aware of the job he needed to do, hence creating drama and a sense of fright among the characters. The Inspector chose to solve this case in a peculiar order. He began solving this case in an ordinary fashion, chronological order. However then in methodical order skipping Eric’s crime and purposely moving onto Mrs Birlings crime because of another unusual tactic Inspector Goole conducts while interviewing a character.

He lets them talk big of them selves (usually in opposite or against the crime they’ve committed), “building up a wall that is sure to be knocked down,” so when he reveals their crime its “harder to bear,” therefore creating drama. An example of this is when the Inspector was interviewing Mrs Birling; “I blame the young man who was the father of the child… entirely responsible… he shouldn’t escape… made an example of… the girls death is due… to him… dealt with very severely… onfess in public his responsibility,” these two tactics combined, made it far more difficult for Mrs Birling to bear Eric’s crime and it created more suspense, drama, tension and sympathy for Eric. Throughout the play the Inspector spoke influentially, carefully and critically. He purposely used different tones of voice for more effects, repetition to allow you to zoom in listening to the most important part of the speech, sarcasm, and ambiguity both for criticism.

The Inspector had an annoying but suspenseful habit of answering questions, ambiguously, partly or with another question, this was immediately proven when he entered and Mr. Birling narrow-mindedly asked, “Some trouble about a warrant. ” The Inspector replied, “No,” but he still did not reveal his reason for being there, causing impatiens and suspense among the characters and the audience. The Inspector did this again when Gerald asked, “Any… reason why I shouldn’t see this… hotograph,” the Inspector replies with a part answer, “There might be,” creating drama and suspense. Another example of this was when Mrs. Birling said, “She was claiming… feelings and scruples … that were… absurd in a girl in her position. ” The Inspector replied ambiguously, “Her position now is that she lies with a burnt-out inside on a slab,” this is a very powerful and critical sentence creating drama and a sense of fear among the characters and audience.

The Inspectors tone of voice revealed a lot throughout the play, when the Inspector found out Gerald was going to “marry” Sheila, the Inspector “gravely” said, “Then I’d prefer you to stay. ” The audience would immediately notice the Inspectors quote, especially “Then,” because Gerald was going to marry Sheila he must stay, this conveyed there might be something fatal to happen between their engagement, this was concluded by the “gravely,” grimily and sternly tone of the Inspector, thus creating and maintaining drama.

When Birling proudly said he plays golf with the “chief inspector,” the Inspector “dryly,” said, “I don’t play golf,” understating and ignoring Birlings relation with the chief inspector. This shows the Inspector isn’t corrupt and will not budge, not even for the chief inspector, creating drama, suspense, and making the Birling’s and Gerald very anxious. Repetition in language and speech allows you to zoom in and notice the most important and relevant part of the speech. The Inspector used repetition for this very purpose when Sheila asked a simple question, was Eva Smith “Pretty? The Inspector replied repeating, “she had been pretty – very pretty,” making the audience concentrate back on Sheila’s unnoticed question and trigging questions in their minds of why the Inspector chose to answer in this dramatic and suspenseful way. Finally, the Inspectors sarcastic language was also very dramatic.

When Mrs Birling was narrow-mindedly and triumphantly pinning all the blame onto the father of Eva Smith’s baby, not knowing it was Eric, the Inspector sarcastically said, “Don’t worry… I shall do my duty,” making the audience curious and causing them to sit on the edge of their seats. The Inspector then continued this sarcasm by repeating word for word Mrs Birlings punishment upon the father of Eva Smith’s child, “No hushing… make an example… public confession of responsibility, eh,” maintaining the drama and irony. Body language can reveal a lot and is just as meaningful as vocal language, if not more. A body and facial expression can mean more than a hundred words. I studied this play in writing so I couldn’t see how the Inspector used body language.

However the play’s directions allows me to imagine and illustrate the Inspectors movements. One example was when Birling was showed the photograph of Eva Smith; he stared at the photo “with recognition. ” He then attempted to ignore the situation and diverted his concentration onto Eric, “You’ve had enough of that port, Eric. ” However the Inspector was fully aware of Birinlg’s sly movements and “is watching Birling and now Birling notices him,” The Inspector allows Birling to know he’s being watched.

I know this because when Birling noticed the Inspector, the Inspector still kept on looking at him, letting Birling and the audience know the Inspector was aware of Birlings crime. This one movement causes a lot of tensions and drama. After convicting Birling of his crime, Birling and Gerald tried to get rid of the Inspector, “It’s what happened since she left Mr. Birling’s works that is important… Obviously… And we can’t help you there because we don’t know. ” The Inspector replied “Are you sure you don’t know. He looks at Gerald, then at Eric, then at Sheila. Implying at least one of them were guilty of some sin related to Eva, causing the three of them to feel uneasy, and making the play engrossing and suspenseful. The last example is when the Inspector revealed that Eva Smith “changed her name to Daisy Renton. ” Gerald was clearly guilty of something when he anxiously said, “What? ” Knowing this the Inspector intentionally left the room to go and meet Birling; on his way out, “the Inspector looks from Sheila to Gerald,” showing the Inspector recognized that Sheila knows too of Geralds crime.

The Inspector let them talk about it because it would be intriguing for the audience to see if Gerald can live with the guilt and continue trying to put a sheet over his crimes and lies, after Sheila had interrogated him, thus causing suspense, irony and drama. Even though Inspector Goole entered the Birling home as an Inspector, his actions and behaviour conveyed he was much more than that. He was always trying to influence and change the ways of the moneyed and status-freak Birlings and Gerald. He always gave moral speeches; he tried to show them how and why they were wrong and what they could do to prevent this misshapen again.

However they all didn’t take a shine from the Inspector; it was always the youngsters who were influenced, which lead to a split in the family. The Inspector knew this, “young ones… more impressionable. ” Inspector Goole always preserved Eva Smith and people from the lower classes as the victims. He gave moral speeches to the Birling’s to make them empathise with these not so fortunate humans. “It would do us all a bit of good if… we tried to put ourselves in the place of these… women counting… pennies in… dingy little… edrooms,” Another speech, “If there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt,” and “Public men, Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges. ” All of these speeches were also meant for the audience which makes the play very involving and engrossing. The Inspector delivered the most important speech just before his exit, in Act three. At the climax of the play, time was running out for the Inspector, he had interrogated everyone, the speech, central to the themes of the play and he was the centre of attention.

The Inspector is a substitute for Priestley as he spoke like a politician, shared socialist views and began summing up the evening like a judge. He begun with an imperative, “But just remember this,” grabbing the attention of the characters and audience. He spoke of their being “millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths,” explaining to the characters and audience that to never make these mistakes again, and that there are many more unfortunate humans who affect us, who we can be a help to. He used repletion to make the speech meaningful, “We don’t live alone.

We are… one body. We are responsible for each other. ” Also these are short sentences for slowing down the pace and creating an uncomfortable pause, therefore making the speech more effective and dramatic. He spoke in threes, to make it engrossing and persuasive, “think and say and do… their lives, their hopes and fears… fire and blood and anguish. ” The Inspector used irony in “fire… blood… anguish” as terms for war, making the audience empathise with the Inspector and persuade them to change their ways because they have too lived through both World Wars.

The Inspector slowed down his speech for maximum impact by using “and” 10 times, using dash, commas, and lots of sentences. He spoke in an instructive and political tone of voice, for full purpose. All in all these tactics made this final speech far more effective, dramatic and empathetic. The Inspector tried to revolutionize and better the self-esteemed and arrogant thoughts of the Birlings and Gerald; consequently he behaved like a catalyst in the family, creating a split between youngsters and elders.

Sheila splits with Gerald and Sheila and Eric contradict views with Birling and Mrs Birling, “If you had any sense of loyalty,” Birling says to Sheila. The dramatic irony was that the Inspector knew what he’d done, “When I’ve gone… adjust your family relationships,” consequently creating drama. Before the Inspector arrived, Sheila conveyed to be a spoilt and proud child, speaking “(with mock aggressiveness)” however, when the Inspector arrived with his persuasive attitude, Sheila became a new reformed character, “But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people. Sheila did not only become a new person, she began to understand the Inspector psychically, his attitude, his tactics, his angle on life and his objective to better society.

For example, when Gerald was told Eva changed her name to Daisy Renton, he completely gave himself away, but only the Inspector and Sheila noticed, “You gave yourself away as soon as he mentioned her other name. ” Another example is when Mrs Birling was giving advice on how to punish the father of Eva’s child, not knowing it was her own son Eric but Sheila immediately recognized the Inspector manipulative approach, “Mother – stop – stop… on’t you see. ” One very important tactic Sheila noticed, was how the Inspector left you speaking big of yourselves, (usually in opposite to the crime which is revealed), “building a wall that is sure to be knocked down flat… makes it all the harder to bear,” Sheila explained to her mother.

All these examples add to the drama. When the family found out that the Inspector was a hoax, the elders started acting as if nothing had happened and they didn’t commit the crimes they had confessed to, “They just won’t try to understand… he difference between… this coming out in private and a downright public scandal. ” However the youth were so influenced Eric tried to explain to the elders the reality of what they all had done, “Whoever the chap was, the fact remains that I did whatever I did… and the rest of you did what you did to her,” Sheila agreed, “That’s just what I feel, Eric,” maintaining drama, even after the Inspector had left.

Many aspects of the Inspector were very peculiar, however none more questionable than his name, “G-o-o-l-e,” which I believe is just a pun and witticism for ghoul, meaning, A person morbidly interested in death; of a strict nature; likes evil; or a sort of ghost, spirit, spectre or phantom. All these meanings refer and associate to the Inspector in individual ways. The Inspector did enter the Birlings interested in the death of Eva Smith, “I’d like some information… a young women died. ” The Inspectors behaviour towards the Birlings was very crude and austere as he desperately tried to resolve the suicide.

One severe approach he used was his harsh questioning of Mrs. Birling, “No hushing… make an example of the young man… Public confession of responsibility… eh? ” as he deliberately let her speak of her own son, Eric. Finally, for me the Inspector was very much like a spirit and a ghost, because when Eric left the house, everyone thought Gerald had returned expect for the Inspector, “Unless your son has just gone out,” and he repeated this psychiatric behaviour again when Eric returned, “Inspector holds up a hand” then “We hear the front door” and then “Eric enters.

The last example of the Inspectors ghostly actions was when he amazingly knew that Gerald would return encompassing the knowledge of the Inspector being a hoax, “I haven’t much time,” and he left before Gerald returned. J. B. Priestly as a socialist and politician felt the need to enhance society and the way humans behaved towards each other and his ambition was upheld very well in “An Inspector calls”. His clever tactic of setting the play in 1912 rather than his own present time 1946 caused much more empathy, drama and had more effect on the audience.

Between these times the audience would have seen both World Wars, Titanic sinking, and the general strike, hence the behaviour of the Birlings and Gerald before these wretched times would have made the audience upset and initiate them to realize the little change of their present behaviour and what effect this could cause again. The audience would have been from the richer classes and would have entered the theatre to watch a mystery murder thriller but in fact the play is more of a moral lesson for the audience, showing our society’s weaknesses of how we mistreat people from the poorer classes and the weaker sex.

Inspector Goole exploits the seven deadly sins which the Birlings and Gerald commit; pride, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, avarice and sloth towards Eva Smith, an innocent, poor young woman, and their sins are concluded in the most brutal chastisement, the death of Eva. Mr. Birling and Mrs. Birling are Priestley’s example of uncivilised infidels with one ambition; to “save their own necks,” money, and to blank out all the bad aspects of life which do not concern them. Birling initiates the sins by throwing Eva out of her job for merely asking for a well-deserved pay rise.

Mr. Birling is a hard-hearted, narcissistic, arrogant and recognisable capitalist. He is highly conceited and believes whatever he says is unquestionably true. Mrs Birling is more hard-hearted than her husband; she works at the charity council, not because she wants to help the poor, but because she wants to feel more superior to the lower classes. She received Eva’s case at the charity organisation and admitted being prejudice towards her case. Later she maliciously pinned all the blame onto the father of Eva’s child.

However when she found out this morbid business regarded her son, she began to disagree with her previous prominent views. She is fully aware of her social status, and uses this to gain whatever she wants and shows little consideration for her subordinates. Priestley shows how the both of these disgraceful and egotistical parents refuse to accept they’re wrong and refuse to change their immoral, discourteous, shameful, and unacceptable ways. Sheila and Eric are the trophies of Priestly.

They both commit great wrong but the Inspector helps them to realise their mistake. They try to change their old wanton actions and learn from their experience. Both had so greatly changed from the beginning of the evening; they extensively tried to influence and convert the egocentric ideas of their parents. This was Priestleys ambition, not to only see the audience leave changed but for the audience to influence others to change. I think Inspector Goole is the perfect mouthpiece for Priestley. The Inspector shares Priestleys non-capitalist and socialist views.

If any other character had played the Inspector, Priesleys ambition would have been unsuccessful because an Inspector has the right to interrogate, question, influence and criticise one in his or hers own time and home. The Inspector is very persuasive, manipulative and intelligent. He has a good intellect, uses various clever tactics for solving the case and influencing the characters and the audience. Personally the Inspector had a great affect on me and I’m sure he would have the same impact on the rest of the audience.

Throughout the play the Inspectors ploys, attitude and behaviour created and maintained a lot of drama and made the drama exciting and engrossing. The moral of the play is to treat everyone, whether they’re poor, of a different gender, of a different race, or diverse to you with equal respect. Be polite, modest and generous towards all humans even if they are a complete stranger. Never judge people by their first expression and be prejudice. Never be stereotype. Never discriminate.

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Essay on "An Inspector Calls" by J B Priestley. (2017, Oct 12). Retrieved from

Essay on "An Inspector Calls" by J B Priestley
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