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Every member of our society should be equivalent and adjusted to each other. Other people’s actions, suggestions and reactions make a considerable difference to our lives. This has great significance and concludes that we need to care about each other. The playwright of “An Inspector Calls”, J.B. Priestley, wrote this play for several essential and specific reasons.
One of the key ideas was based on the theme of responsibility. In this essay, I have focused on the same ideas. Furthermore, I will carefully analyse and compare two very contrasting character in the play. I have chosen to do my research and comparison on Mrs Birling and Sheila Birling. And to help me analyse them I will use quotes from the play.
“An Inspector Calls” is a play, which was written by John Boynton Priestley in 1945 (set in 1912), and was staged in the theatre on the 1st of October 1946.
Priestley uses the play as an example of what can happen if we ignore the feelings of others. Priestley believed a great deal in socialism and used the play to influence people to be socialists.
“An Inspector Calls” is a play about a family called the ‘Birlings’. One day, they were celebrating the engagement of their only daughter, Sheila, while they were enjoying themselves; an inspector approaches their house and turns the joyful and thrilling night into misery.
Every character gives a first impression, and Sheila is one of them. “Sheila is a pretty girl in her twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited.” My fist impressions about Sheila was that she is an immature, naï¿½ve girl but as the play advanced I was proved very wrong. The latter parts of this essay will provide evidence so.
In 1912, Britain was at the height of the Edwardian society, known as the “Golden age”. A quarter of the world belonged to Britain meaning that it was coloured red on the globe of the world. The British Empire was the most vast and powerful since the Romans-“the best nation in the world”. Theatres, musicals, prom concerts and film were making a vital impact as it entertained the Edwardian population. The upper classes (such as the Birlings) led such a lavish life that the Edwardian era is now infamous for.
However, despite the illusions of these secure times, many of the cities were overflowing with prejudice and crooks. There was a huge division between the upper and lower classes. The higher classes barely knew the existence of the underprivileged.
I personally thought that this play was very effective as J.B. Priestley wrote it at a significant time. In 1947 Britain had just come to end of a devastating world war, where families suffered from immense losses and society was desperate for a fairer, more equal lifestyle. Priestley realised that socialism was becoming increasingly popular and he was rewarded by the play. He effectively used crucial hints in this play to ensure that discrimination in Edwardian time was not repeated.
The inspector is the most thought-provoking and mysterious character in the entire play. The mysterious element contributes greatly to making him a very interesting character. I did not find a great deal out about the Inspector but we are given hints and clues from the way he speaks and we are forced to piece together our own ideas about his identity and intentions.
The role of the Inspector is very noteworthy for the play. He uses very simple techniques and he moves the play along. By moving the play along he encourages the characters to tell their stories. The Inspector could be considered as a narrator for the vast variety of contributions he makes. I transpired this point because he was accused of being an impostor in the play. J.B. Priestley has made the Inspector an old mysterious and thought-provoking person. In this way, the audience are forced into judging and reaching personal conclusions about him.
So, the main role of the Inspector was to promote and change the thoughts of the Birling family.
There are many connotations within the name “Inspector Goole”. As an Inspector, he has come to investigate or inspect the family members and their actions. “Goole” is a similar sounding to the word “Ghoul”, a ghost or phantom. It introduces a very eerie spirit-like feeling to the play as if the Inspector is not real. The inspector’s final speech dramatically contrasts his use of language throughout the play. He uses simple language, which allows the members of the family to relay their versions of events. He moves from commenting on one particular person to all of those people who are cruelly and unnecessarily exploited in society, “millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths”. This is Priestley’s main message: “we are all responsible for each other.”
Before the Inspector disembarked, Sheila acts arrogantly towards Eric and Gerald. But she demonstrates respect for her mother and father but with a tone of undermining. Sheila is very happy about her engagement to Gerald but with this of tone towards her family, I feel that she is trying to remind them that this is her special day and that they should not fail to remember it. I fell this because she tries to change the subject of the talk to herself. Arthur (Mr Birling) says “I do not think you ought to talk business on an occasion like this” and Sheila states “Neither to I. All wrong.”
When the Inspector arrives he uses different interrogation approaches to get his answers from his suspects. Sheila responds to the Inspector in a very honest way. After coming back into the room, she is very sincere with everybody. Sheila answers her questions and queries as honestly as she can, she is genuinely sorry for what she did to Eva Smith and contributing to her death, “Yes but it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time. Don’t you understand? And if I could help her now I would.” After her confession, Sheila is eager for everybody to confess to what they supposedly did to Eva Smith. When questioned, Sheila breaks into tears.
When questioned, Sheila and Eric have broken down and confessed for their indecency after being just asked a few questions. Sheila was shown a picture of the girl, which she had fired, from Millwards. She recognizes the picture and runs out of the room sobbing. She comes back in and says, “You knew it was me all the time, didn’t you?” This clearly shows that Sheila is an honest girl.
Sybil on the other hand answers the Inspector’s questions with very short and few word answers. The inspector shows her a photo and says, “Do you recognize her?” Sybil then says, “No. Why should I?” Which is a blatant lie because she may think that the inspector knows nothing about this case but really he does or he’s very clever and bluffing. The younger characters feel remorse for what they have done; Sybil does not even pity the poor girl. “I am very sorry, but I think she has only herself to blame.” But then Mrs Birling’s opinion is hat Eva should not have used the respectable “Birling” name, lied about where she came from and why she wanted help from her charity. The difference between classes at that particular time was very clear. The Birlings are obviously a rich family and their name is highly respectable. For Eva to use the name was a big insult to Sybil.
However, towards Sheila’s engagement. Sybil acts normal because it is the engagement of her daughter. She says that she is happy for her daughter and her fiancï¿½ but does not use emotion, tone of voice or body language to convey this. Sybil seems very cold towards her family; she does not show affection at all, not even through speech. I suppose that this is how typical high-class women were expected to act.
Sybil having had much more life experience knows how people of different classes should speak to her. Lower-class people should speak to her with respect because without people like her husband and their factories a lot of people would be without work. As soon as the Inspector comes and speaks to her normally, she is shocked. I think you can tell this by her short answers that go straight to the point. “I meant what I said.” Most of what she says is never more than a line long. I think that the Inspector realised this and plays on it, but this back fires because Sybil does not like being spoken to like this, so she is very short and avoids the main point that the Inspector is trying to achieve from her. This is very clever, meaning the Inspector actually has to know everything. With the other characters he just mentions a name and asks a few questions and he will have the whole story.
Sybil believes that an unfamiliar person cannot embarrass her. Sybil however stays calm and again does not show any emotions. She doesn’t let this stranger intimidate her because she feels she did the right thing by her charity of which she is the chairperson and is a great influence on the overall decision of who they should help. Every other character except Sybil feels remorse for what they have done.
To conclude I have to say that I found that age does affect the way the Edwardian family act. If Sheila was older and more grown up then she would have known that someone not of her class, can not intimidate her if she knows how to react. Sybil however, obviously knows how to respond but she is certainly arrogant. Also, if Sheila was older she would have known that she does not have to be ashamed of her actions to justify them. I f your actions cannot be justified then they cannot be wrong. Sheila’s actions were not justified enough. Mrs Birling remains pompous and proper throughout the whole episode.
In the play, I have learnt many fundamental things. The ending is a mystery and leaves the audience thinking. This ending takes the audience back to the beginning when the inspector arrives. It leaves us pondering whether the Inspector was some kind of spirit warning towards the Birlings. This adds to the dramatic tension of the play.
I think the play was a success in making it dramatic and that issues such as homelessness and refugees have changed since the play was written but still has the same effect on the audience. I think the moral of the play has contributed greatly. Think of the least unfortunate and the Birlings, and carefully analyse how both were treated. This play would challenge the audience with their moral beliefs of right and wrong.
If you have done something wrong then the play makes you think about it and what you should do if you are in this situation again. The important thing is to try and correct it because it might just blow out of portion. This is shown well in the play when Sheila realises that she should have said something about Eric’s drinking problem as it is the main reason that he got involved in this situation.
The main purpose of the play is that it wants people to improve on, to have more consideration for everybody and life does not revolve around money but compassion for others. Another message is underlined throughout the play is that all classes have different wealth but when it comes to feelings and sensitivities, we are all equal. The final message of the play is a plea for changes, a change in human nature first, then society. People have to learn that private behaviour has public outcomes. The play was correct.