The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ was written in the 1940’s by J. B Priestley and takes place within one single room. This creates a tense and enclosed atmosphere for the reader. An unusual factor of the play is that it is set in the past, in 1912 which gives the writer the power to make the characters look wise or foolish. It gives J. B Priestley the opportunity to play God with the characters and in doing so adds humour to the play.
The obvious examples of this are shown through the characters, Arthur Birling and the Inspector. ‘The Germans don’t want war.
Nobody wants war, except some half-civilised folks in the Balkans. And ‘The Titanic-she sails next week-forty six thousand eight hundred tons-New York in five days-and every luxury-and unsinkable. ‘ The play is certainly not ordinary. It carries a message and is intended to make a statement of a worldly nature. It is a hidden message portrayed through the characters lives uncovered by one individual character.
The play wasn’t just intended to entertain people, yet sixty years on it does. It highlights topics which are relevant to today. Throughout the play the play there is a strong sense of responsibility that a lot of people lack in the world.
The play is based on every man’s faults – the seven deadly sins. It shows the reader how the tiniest of actions can lead to unthinkable consequences. Priestley’s writing was influenced by his past experiences. He fought in World War 1 and survived.
He believed that people should look out for each other and help in anyway possible. He was one of the people who Mr Birling described. ‘Cranks… who think that everyone has to look after everyone else. ‘ J. B Priestley creates characters that he didn’t like and turns the reader against them by focusing on their negative views to life.
He creates a family that is very pleased with itself and states this is in the stage directions therefore it is obvious from the start that he would punish them somehow. The characters are more of a convenience family. They act close and loving when it suits them the most. ‘At the moment they have all had a good dinner, are celebrating a special occasion, and are pleased with themselves. ‘ The family have a house, not a home. They haven’t created it themselves; they have no close relationship and are distant from each other. ‘The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike.
The play begins with a family celebration, Mr Birling’s daughter engagement to Gerald Croft whose parents owned a business that was competing with Birling’s. Birling saw this as an opportunity to bring the two businesses together and indulge in more money. ‘Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now – though Crofts Limited are both older and bigger than Birling and Company – and now you’ve brought us together, and perhaps we may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birling’s are no longer competing but working together – for lower costs and higher prices.
The play is based around one girl, with a variety of names. All of the characters relate to her in some way or form and are all associated with her suicide. They are overcome by the seven deadly sins and with them devastation soon follows showing us what can happen if you ignore ‘ Eva Smith. ‘ The most important character in the play is the Inspector, he is the catalyst that synthesises the characters and controls the whole outcome of the play. His purpose is to change the Birling’s perspective and views on life and to teach them a lesson that we all need to learn.
He enters the Birling house at a most interesting time in the play, just when Arthur Birling is giving a speech on how people should look out for themselves and nobody else. ‘That a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and. ‘ Just as Arthur Birling has commented on his own perfect family and world, the Inspector comes in to take it apart. It was almost as if the Inspector knew what was going to be said and had planned this particular timing.
Arthur Birling did not want a ‘public scandal’ and the audience could sense that something was going to happen as soon as he joked about it. I gather there’s a good chance of a knighthood – so long as we behave ourselves, don’t get into the police court or start a scandal – eh? ‘ The Inspector prolongs the tension in the play by going through each character in turn, slowly unravelling the mystery of Eva Smith. This provides entertainment for the audience and keeps them in suspense. He seems to know too much about the family and enters the play as an Inspector but from then on begins to act strangely. He makes statements and judgements that an Inspector wouldn’t.
Sheila Birling is the first character to notice this. With his unknown knowledge, the Inspector pieces the whole play together by breaking down each character in turn by their interactions with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. The first person to meet and have an effect on Eva Smith is Arthur Birling, the head of the Birling household. This character we grow to dislike. He loves the sound of his own voice and enjoys making long speeches of how high in society he believes he is. He is consumed by his own glory and in his arrogance begins the trauma of Eva Smith’s life.
They wanted the rates raised so that they could average about twenty-five shillings a week. I refused, of course. ‘ and ‘She had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go. ‘ This portrays the first deadly sin in the play – Greed. Arthur Birling is full of it, including his self – importance. Due to his greed, Eva Smith was left out of work with no money for the sake of a few pounds. The next character to be involved with Eva Smith was Sheila Birling, the daughter of Arthur. At the beginning of the play she is very immature and spoilt. She uses her wealth to influence others and to get her own way.
She uses this against Eva, and with it being at a very vulnerable time for Eva, it casts a huge impact on her life, losing her, her next job and also ensuring her to not being able to work at other stores. ‘I looked silly in the thing. Well this girl had brought the dress up from the workroom, and when the assistant – Miss Francis – had asked her something about it, this girl, to show us what she meant, had held the dress up, as if she was wearing it. And it just suited her. This introduces the sin of Jealousy. Sheila was jealous of Eva because she was prettier than she was and the dress suited her.
The sin, Vanity is also portrayed through this character with her obsession of looks. Both of these sins combined led her to lose the girl her job which made things even worse for Eva. ‘ I went to the manager at Milwards and I told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near that place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them. ‘ Despite how horrible the things Sheila caused for Eva, she is genuinely sorry for what she had done and is perhaps the only character to have actually have learnt something from the events in the play.
Although she was immature in the opening scenes, the whole experience had changed her and opened up an entire different view for her. She is indeed the most mature one of the family and refuses to just go back to how they were before and tries to convince the others to do the same. The next character to be broken apart by the Inspector is Gerald Croft. He had a large contribution to Eva Smith’s heartbreaking situation at the end, due to his affair and abandoning of her when he liked it the most.
Gerald was the most important thing in Eva’s life and despite his misguided intentions; he actually did something positive for Eva and gave her somewhere to live. She became Gerald’s mistress and in this Gerald displays the sin Lust. Gerald didn’t feel the same way as Eva felt about him. If she ever did find out that Gerald didn’t love her, her heart would be broken again! ‘Yes. I suppose it was inevitable. She was young and pretty and warm-hearted-and intensely grateful. I became the most important person in her life- you understand? It is obvious from this that Gerald is fairly conceited and believes in his own interests.
Despite this, I don’t think that Gerald had a great part in Eva committing suicide, as she had already knew at the beginning of their relationship that it wouldn’t last, and couldn’t be! So it wasn’t much of a shock to her. The only bad thing that Gerald has done was being unfaithful to Sheila Birling. This leads onto Sybil Birling, the wife of Arthur. She is very snobbish and doesn’t care about anyone else apart from herself. She believes herself as charitable, yet when Eva comes to her for help, she rejects her. Sybil is a member of the ‘Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation’ and when she asks for Eva’s name, Eva replies with “Mrs.
Birling”. This makes Sybil angry and uses her power to dismiss Eva’s plea for help. This creates an even bigger problem for Eva, she has no money, no home and the people whose job it is to help her turn her away. Due to Sybil Birling’s pride of her own name, she had a massive affect on Eva’s future and the outcome of the play. ‘Yes, I think it was simply a piece of gross impertinence-quite deliberate-and naturally that was one of the things that prejudiced me against her case. ‘ Even though Sybil had a huge impact on the young girl, she still won’t take any responsibility of the girl’s death.
She certainly hadn’t learnt anything from the Inspector and is controlled by the deadly sin Pride. ‘I’m sorry she should have come to such a horrible end. But I accept no blame for it at all. ‘ Eric Birling is the last person to be interrogated by the inspector and we instantly know that he is the father of Eva Smiths child whom Sybil mentioned when describing Eva’s situation. Eric Birling is a drunken, misguided youngster and ‘shames’ the Birling family. He got Eva Smith pregnant and admits that he did not love her or feel anything for her. Although Eric did not love her, he did everything he could for her but she refused to marry him.
Still, he wanted to help her and offered her money from his father’s safe, claming he would return it as soon as he could. Eva wouldn’t take it as she knew it was stolen. This was the last point in Eva Smith’s life that she could take. She was having a child; she had no job and no husband. This resulted in her taking her own life. Eric commits the sins, Gluttony, Lust and Sloth and is the worst of the other characters in this form, yet he learns from his mistakes and with Sheila they benefit from the whole experience, possibly because of them being the ‘younger generation’.
In the last scene, the Inspector makes a moving, political kind of speech, possibly the most important in the play. In it pain and anguish are described and leave an unforgettable mark on the audience and the characters in the play ‘One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smith’s and John Smith’s still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body.
We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. ‘ This long speech appears very much like something from the Bible, a Christian view perhaps of what will happen if we disobey. J. B Priestley gives very political speeches shown through his writing of his views on life. This makes the play interesting as he has the power to influence or punish the characters and prove that these aspects of life do matter!
The simplest of mistakes engage in terrifying consequences, some unavoided, but what isn’t is the choice to make things right! After the Inspector leaves, the characters are left terrified and shocked but when Gerald tells them about the inspector and the check at the hospital and police station they immediately claim it to be a hoax and return to how they were before the Inspector’s arrival. But, Sheila and Eric Birling still hold onto the conviction that it is anything but a joke and refuse to act like nothing has happened. This does not satisfy J.
B Priestley as some of the characters have not learnt their lesson and the audience want to see Mrs and Mr Birling punished for their lack of compassion and guilt towards the girl. Just as the audience are led to believe that the play is over, the play turns around and is disturbed by a phone call. It is the police informing them that a girl has died in the infirmary, and that an Inspector is coming round to see them. This leaves the audience and reader in suspense causing them to wonder what’s going to happen next. Yet, they are left with emptiness and guilt as the characters gaze round in disbelief.
The play is uncovered by the Inspector, this one character that holds the entire play together. The mystery of this characters identity is never answered; it leaves our imagination to figure that one out. There are many possible solutions, one of which, the hoax that the family believe has happened. Realistically, this is highly unlikely, as the Hoaxer would have to know a lot of information about the family and for this to come together, they would also have had to kill Eva Smith, and therefore this is the most illogical solution.
Another is that the Inspector was an evil spirit; this emerges from the Inspectors name, Inspector Goole, with ghoul being a supernatural being. This also doesn’t seem to be true, as the Inspector displays a message of goodness and truth. Consequently, the Inspector cannot be evil, so it cannot be explained in this way. The truth is that the Inspector is J. B Priestley; he unravels his thoughts to display a personal message to his audience that we are all equal to each other. The Inspector represents us, the audience and for our benefit takes the characters apart.
Eva Smith and the other characters are still alive today; they are just versions of us. The purpose of the play is to get this message across to us and young people. The play manages to grip the audience’s attention and fascination throughout the play. The unusual factors that make up the play add and develop entertainment. The play is based around the seven deadly sins which make it interesting to see which characters commit which sins. The whole mystery of the Inspector could form the play in itself, yet combined with all the other events in the play makes it extremely appetising for the audience.
The play involves a huge build up of tension and makes the reader want to read on. It forces them to realise that we all have to deal with problems and can’t do it alone. The play enforces feelings towards certain characters and enables us to favour or dislike them which give us the urgency to persevere with the play to find out the outcome of it. The theme of responsibly certainly is carried throughout the play and gives the audience an unforgettable experience which could possibly lead them to benefit and listen to the message that has always been there.