John Boynton Priestley' S Play An Inspector Calls: Analyzing the Characters

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J. B Priestley presents the character of Inspector Goole as prophetic, omniscient and almost God-like. Inspector Goole created ‘an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’, the use of tripling emphasises the Inspector’s power, strength and authority over the Birlings and Gerald Croft. Also, the stage directions direct that ‘the lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives, and then should be brighter and harder’, this evidently suggests that the mood is suddenly harsher, and more serious hence foreshadows the interrogation and possible judgement that is going to take place.

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Inspector Goole is an imposing character with mental strength, as he speaks ‘carefully’ and has a habit of ‘looking hard at the person he addresses’ which makes him seem intimidating even to a family like the Birlings who deny their intimidation and express their shock. The Birlings, for belonging from the upper class, expected an ordinary Inspector to respect them; however, Inspector Goole does not feel entitled to treat the Birlings differently because of their social status. Yet, Mrs Birlings says, ‘look at the way he talked to me’ which implies that she was indignant and shocked at how they weren’t receiving special treatment. This contrasts with the strong distinctions between the upper and lower classes in the era where a person belonging from a lower class would have to respect the upper class regardless of their behaviour.

Furthermore, the Inspector consistently remains solid as each of the characters breakdown under the pressure of him, which emphasises how Inspector Goole is a significant, figure of authority in the play. He likes to deal with ‘one person and one line of enquiry at a time’ which means that he works very systematically and in clear, distinct organised order while ‘massively taking charge as disputes erupt between them’. This shows how fragile and dishonest the Birlings have been to each other that they’re making shocking revelations, such as Eric’s alcoholism and Gerald’s affair. Moreover, the Inspector questioned the characters, knowing the answers beforehand. This makes him an omniscient character in the play that has successfully made each character examine their conscience, for example, he tells Mr Birling, ‘public men, Mr Birling have responsibilities as well as privileges’. This shows that although the ruling classes find themselves entitled to unearned respect and admiration from the lower classes, they also have duties as citizens such as looking after each other as a society which they miserable failed at doing so.

Additionally, the Inspector could be the voice of Priestley as Priestley was a socialist and the Inspector represents the socialists in the society of capitalists like Mr Birling. In his final speech, he resembles a sermon or a politician by telling the Birlings and Gerald Croft that ‘we are responsible for each other’ and the selfish, capitalist mentality needs to be eradicated. Also, Priestley uses adjectives such as ‘fire, blood and anguish’ which all have religious connotations and describe Hell. This implies that the Inspector wants them to feel threatened that if they don’t choose to change their ways, they will be going to hell or perhaps he may be foreshadowing towards the First World War that happened 2 years after 1912. Overall, the character of Inspector Goole could have been a dramatic device used by Priestley to convey his socialist ideas and to promote more caring and kinder world as the play An Inspector Calls is a morality play.

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