How Does Priestley Present Gerald in An Inspector Calls

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In his didactic play ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley presents Gerald, and the upper class as a whole, to be extremely callous and unwilling to accept the opportunity for redemption. He explores themes and ideologies such as patriarchy in order to excoriate those for living protected in an ‘ivory tower’ of wealth, luxury and, most significantly, denial. The methods used by Priestley to do all of this encourages the audience in a contemporary society to look at themselves with an inverted eye and strive for equality.

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In Gerald, an 'easy well-bred young man-about-town', we see a wealthy aristocrat who perpetuates the patriarchal ideology followed by many in 1912, the time in which play was set. One example of this is when the Inspector points out that he thinks 'young women ought to be protected against unpleasant and disturbing things', to which he agrees. Here, we can look closely at the connotations of the adjectives 'unpleasant' and 'disturbing' which convey the image of perturbing and unsettling events. By saying that young women should be 'protected' against such things, Gerald is perhaps adopting the common Edwardian view that women are incapable of coping or dealing with them. 

The Inspector satirises the hypocrisy in Gerald's argument and points out that Eva Smith wasn't protected against 'unpleasant and disturbing things'. We might get the idea from this that Gerald believes bourgeoisie women should be looked after yet the proletariats should not. Priestley could be encouraging the audience to look at this view from a feminist's perspective which may argue that women are just as capable as men in coping with atrocities. 

We also see how Gerald treats women when Sheila asks if the engagement ring he presented her with was the 'one you wanted me to have?'. In this instance, the pronoun 'you' paired with the verb 'wanted' shows us how Sheila cares about and values Gerald's desires. Because of this, one might argue that Sheila is showing herself to be both passive and submissive, allowing Gerald to be the decision maker. At a time when women's suffrage was high, Priestley may have used the relationship between Gerald and Sheila to support women in, instead of abiding to their so-called 'social superior', breaking free from such ideologies.

Another thing we see in Gerald is that he actually cared for Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. He arguably viewed himself as heroic when saving her from Alderman Meggarty. He says that she gave him a glance 'that was nothing less than a cry for help'. Here, the noun 'cry' is symbolic of distress and the noun 'help' represents the susceptibility of Daisy. Gerald may be trying to say that he was being nothing less than a hero, or a 'wonderful fairy prince' as Sheila puts it. The idea that Gerald truly cared for Daisy continues to emerge when he describes her. He says she's 'young, fresh and charming'. Here, the lexical field choice of positive and desirable characteristics shows us how Gerald saw Eva herself as desirable. He had feelings for her and didn't intend to harm her. 

Alternatively, it could perhaps be said that he was just using her as a source for his amusement. Yes, he looked after her when she needed to be, due to her vulnerability, but he soon abandoned her,reinforcing the power men had over women. Priestley, in this case, criticises such behaviour. We continue to see Gerald's feelings for Eva when he states '(distressed) Sorry I well, suddenly realised taken it in properly -that she's dead'. Here, the stage direction 'distressed' connotes to fragility and vulnerability. We get the sense that Gerald is genuinely upset by what has happened and this prompts the audience to experience some sympathy for Gerald. The audience might begin to wonder if Gerald does, in fact, possess morality and is willing to accept responsibility for his actions.

However, this idea is undermined when we reach the end of the play. In fact, Gerald is the first to point out the possibility of the whole evening being a 'hoax'. We get the idea that Gerald strongly believes that what he'd just experienced was just a practical joke. Perhaps Gerald is in denial and doesn't want to face what he has done. By him presenting such a theory with relief, the audience may wonder if Gerald really did care for Daisy or if he, like questioned beforehand, just used her for his own amusement. This suggestion continues to emerge when Gerald, again, offers Sheila the engagement ring whilst saying 'everything's alright now'. 

Here, 'alright' connotes to being normal by thinking that 'everything' is so, we get the idea that Gerald is more concerned about getting caught than accepting responsibility for what he has done. This, of course, is a moral dilemma and leads us to question if everything is 'alright' if nobody realises your mistakes. Priestley obviously thinks not and encourages the audience to disregard this belief too. He could be arguing that anyone with morals would be concerned about what they had done, thus making the audience lose any sympathy they had for Gerald up to this point. However, characters like Mr and Mrs Birling do agree with Gerald which makes the audience perhaps view capitalism, which the older generation in the play follow, as callous.

The 'guilty' nature of the characters at the end after this cyclical structure has been employed shows how felons like Gerald and the elderly Brilings have finally been convicted and made to realise their crimes. Here, Priestley might be depicting how those who fail to follow the message of socialism will face the consequences; the effect on the reader is one of dread as they realise that they too could be convicted of having capitalist sentiments and remaining ignorant to the rest of society. Priestley is almost forcing the audience to realise that socialism is the only way as the world has no place for captilist like Gerald.

Works cited

  1. Priestley, J. B. (1945). An Inspector Calls. London: Heinemann. (Original play text)
  2. Finney, B. (1992). English Drama since 1940. London: Longman. (Analysis of Priestley's plays, including An Inspector Calls)
  3. Sime, J. (2007). The Theatre of J. B. Priestley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (In-depth study of Priestley's dramatic works)
  4. Sewell, A. (1990). J. B. Priestley: A Writer of Our Time. London: Methuen Drama. (Biography and analysis of Priestley's works)
  5. Trussler, S. (1980). J. B. Priestley. London: Routledge. (Critical study of Priestley's works)
  6. Wickham, G., & Gough, R. (2009). AQA GCSE English Literature Set Text Teacher Guide: An Inspector Calls. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Teacher guide for studying An Inspector Calls)
  7. Bickley, V. (Ed.). (2012). The Cambridge Companion to J. B. Priestley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Collection of essays discussing Priestley's life and works)
  8. Tyson, L. (1992). Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York: Routledge. (Provides a framework for analyzing literature from various critical perspectives)
  9. Raby, P. (2009). J. B. Priestley. London: Routledge. (Comprehensive study of Priestley's life and works)
  10. O'Donnell, M. (2009). The Inspector Calls: Exploring J. B. Priestley's Play. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Analysis and interpretation of An Inspector Calls)

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