The play, “An Inspector Calls”, was written by JB Priestley in 1944, after the world war ll. The play is set in the fictitious town of Brumley in England during spring in 1912. The plot develops around a suicide case of a girl named Eva Smith. The small but rich Birling family is accused of being responsible for her death. Over the course of the play, the Birling family is interrogated and is found guilty because they treated her poorly in different stages of her life, contributing to the cause of her suicide. This play was set before the Second World War but was written after; in 1945. Priestley does this to show the audiences that they possess more knowledge of the future than the family. The inspector might also know about the future as well as the audience and is there to warn the family.
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In 1945, when the play was published, socialism was very relevant, people were hoping for a better life after the war. Priestly wrote this play to show his political views on socialism and his ideas on equal rights and freedom of speech for everyone in society. The Birling family represented the upper class people, who are wealthy and powerful, while Eva Smith represented people that are neglected by society and left helpless. The dramatic irony was shown when the family, one by one, deny their responsibilities of being part of ruining a poor girl's life. This reflected the action of fortunate and highly ranked people, how they treat lower class people unfairly, when they possess higher social status and wield more influence and power than others. Through the Inspector and the plot, Priestley expresses his views on social equality and convinces people of his thoughts. Especially through Inspector Goole’s interrogations and discoveries which lead to the development of the play.
Inspector Goole is portrayed as secretive, ominous and almost supernatural. From the phrase “The inspector interposed himself between them and the photograph.” We can tell that the Inspector is trying to hide part of the investigation from the rest of the family. The word ‘interposed’ suggests that he intentionally placed himself between them, blocking them from seeing the photograph, avoiding the family and the audience to know what was in the picture.
Analyzing his action in this situation, we can tell that he is trying to keep parts of the investigation confidential and discreet. He did not consider sharing his findings or information with the family openly, but rather interrogated each person privately. The photograph was a great way to carry through the plot. By using the photograph, the Inspector slowly and progressively reveals each and every character’s collective guilt. There is, however, a possibility that the “Eva Smith” in the photograph shown to different members of the family were different people. We could evidently conclude that Inspector Goole has a secretive and shady character based on his actions shown in this extract.
We can also see that the inspector was portrayed as charismatic, intelligent but blunt in the play. From the quote, “No sir, I can’t agree with you there.”, we can tell that he seems to possess more knowledge than the family and calmly opposes Mr Birling’s point. Prior to the inspector’s visit, Priestley portrays Mr Birling as a confident and dominant figure in the family. He seems to be the one in charge of family decisions and discussions. At the beginning of the play he comes to a conclusion that they are living in a prosperous era, in which war is unwanted and distant, so he assuredly denied the probability of future war, but he was nevertheless incorrect. We can tell that he is very arrogant and confident from this. The family did not disagree with his opinions which shows that he is rather superior in the family, maybe it is because he supports and earns money for the family. However, when the chairman of the family becomes insecure, vulnerable and anxious.
The inspector also says “(massively) Public men, Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” reminding Mr Birling of his status and powers, This changes the atmosphere of the play because tension was built between Mr Birling and the Inspector through the contradiction and challenge of knowledge. The family recognised Inspector Goole’s authority which made him dominate the play from that point on and proved his character’s portrayal of ‘massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.’
This built more tension and dramatic effects as the contrasting characteristics of Mr Birling’s and Inspector Google’s began to develop. The audiences get more attracted to the interrogation and want the inspector to continue to lead the interrogation on. The inspector asks formidable inquiries and successfully reveals the family’s collective guilt. He put more and more weight and attention on Mr Birling as the inspector proved him wrong during the investigation. We can evidently see that the inspector is portrayed as charismatic, controlling and intelligent throughout the play from his intimidating questionings and how he controls the play.
Priestley portrays the Inspector as a prophetic character, he says “The time will soon come when, if men do not learn this lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” This is a conditional sentence and that if people do not admit their mistakes, war will happen. The author must be referring to World War One that happened just two years after the play was set in and he is using the family to show that people were the reason such tragedy happened. The author uses emotive language and triplets in the phrase,‘fire and blood and anguish’, to describe the war. This emphasises the dreadfulness and frightful is the war like the inspector knows or have seen it. The usage of polysyndeton ‘..and..and..’ adds dramatic effect to the description and the significance of the war that the audience knew was going to happen in the near future. He also says “it's better to ask for the earth than to take it”. This shows that he has very socialist views
Inspector also has a moral character when he says “there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths 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.” He teaches the family a lesson with compassion and empathy. The repetition of “we”, “their” and “millions” emphasize how involved and influential the family is to people that are unlike them, who are suffering less fortunate fates. Goole uses contrast when he says: “hopes and fears”, “suffering and chances of happiness” because he wanted to show the extreme differences and difficulties people like Eva have to bear, how they are dependent on others such as the Birling family,