An Inspector Calls - Write fully about one of the characters in the play.
Length: 1739 words (5 double-spaced pages)
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Write fully about one of the characters in the play. Take into account
what they have done before the play begins as well as their actions,
words and attitudes during the course of the play. Write about the way
attitudes, moods and opinions change and develop during the course of
the action on the stage.
An Inspector Calls is a play with many social and political messages.
J. B. Priestley believed a great deal in socialism and he used several
of his plays to try and influence people to his way of thinking. It
was written in a time when Britain was ruled by a Labour government
and socialist policies were seen as the way forward. It was a popular
way of thinking at that time so Priestley's aim for the play was
probably to teach the unconvinced.
The play is set in the house of the Birling family. As soon as the
curtains open, it is clear that the family is wealthy because there is
high quality furniture and decoration in the house in which the play
is set. The family use their house as a status symbol and have
decorated it in a way so as to reflect their wealth. We learn this
from the "few imposing but tasteless pictures" which will probably
have been chosen because they were expensive, not because they were
liked. These pictures also tell us that the Birlings are proud of
their wealth and think themselves to be very important but lack the
good taste which is present in those who are socially superior to
them. The house is described as being "substantial and comfortable and
old-fashioned, but not cosy and homelike." This setting suggests that
the family are uncomfortable with each other and therefore suggests
problems. We gather from the Birling family they are of an
upper-middle social class, who think themselves to be of a very high
Eric Birling the character I am going to focus on does not seem to be
understood by the rest of the characters. His sister Sheila and he are
still treated as if they were still children "What an expression,
Sheila! Really the things you girls pick up these days!" Mr and Mrs
Birling have a lack of understanding of the younger generation,
particularly their offspring. They try to control their lives as this
was the norm with generations prior to theirs, "Just let me finish,
Eric. You've a lot to learn yet." Here we can see that the elders in
the family have the first and last say in many matters.
Eric, shows he is uncomfortable in his surrounding, even though he is
with the closest people around him he shows his uneasiness, "( who is
uneasy, sharply) Here, what do you mean?". His is very vigilant to
what people say, and worries whether people are talking about, perhaps
even laughing at him. He is said to be "half shy" and "half
assertive", we don't really know what to make of him. He is in an
"excitable, silly mood", and is acting suspiciously and seriously.
Eric is a heavy drinker, Sheila knows that he does drink but nobody
really knows to what extent. You can see Eric's familiarity with
"quick heavy drinking"; in the way he pours his whisky, this is when
the other family members notice it too. His drinking problem could be
due to the way his family and surrounding treat him. His dad seems to
regret paying for his schooling- particularly when Eric makes comments
that show sympathy for the workers instead of bosses, Mr Birling says
angrily: "It's about time you learnt to face a few responsibilities."
The revelation from the inspector about Eric's real social life and
what he had got up to has made the family aware of the fact that Eric
has been behaving in such an unruly manner. He sleeps with
prostitutes, and in the case of Eva Smith had got her pregnant. He has
also stolen money from the business, as he found he could not turn to
his father to support him in his time of need. He is continuously
treated as if he were insignificant, nothing he says is respected by
the family and his opinion is not valued like how it is with Gerald.
Eric was an alcoholic, who slept with prostitutes, which makes him the
villain -so to speak, but the audience is still led to sympathise with
him, as he is a victim within his family. As he has no relationship
with any body in his family, he resorts to drinking. Eric and Mr
Birling's "respectable" friends have also seen to go to these types of
bars, such as Alderman Meggarty. Gerald has also has done the same. As
they are wealthy businessmen nobody says anything, even though they
treat women badly.
Mr and Mrs Birling don't seem to care what there son has been up to
and the reasons for his behaviour, they are more concerned with
covering up a "scandal". "I'm absolutely ashamed of you", says his
mother who seems to care very little about her son. Eric doesn't have
many friends, that could help him out or relate to him, and his family
certainly aren't on his side. Sheila seems to care about him but
merely because he is in such a terrible mess.
His actions seem to be due to an isolated and unsupported childhood,
brought up by the rules and regulations of such type of family. He is
a product of a narrow-minded middle-class family, who don't appreciate
change or variation from the norm.
Eric in the frustration of the examining by the inspector and under
immense pressure from bring found out shows his true colours to his
family saying "You don't understand anything. You never did. You never
He gets the readers sympathy as he and Sheila differ from the uncaring
and insensitive elders. He also seems to care more about the workers,
and wants to do something to improve their standards. Unlike the usual
businessman he cares about the people who work under the ruling body.
He ultimately wants attention and care from his parents, which he
During the play Eric alongside Sheila realise their mistakes, and
regret what they did. They wish they could put things right. We
sympathise with both characters as they have shown to have remorse
over their actions regarding Eva Smith. W e can hope that by
acknowledging their mistakes they can learn by them and help to make a
more fulfilling future for them.
After the Inspector is found to have been a fake, the Birling parents
and Gerald remain unaffected by the night's events. Sheila points out
that Birling doesn't "seem to have learnt anything." Once they realise
that there will be "no scandal" they try to turn a blind eye to the
problems that have been identified. They ignore Eric's drinking
problem and make little further mention of the fact that he stole a
great deal of money from the family business. They ignore these
problems because they are only interested in how they will look to
other people. If nobody knows about their problems, they need not
address them. This is proved when Birling says that there is a
"difference between a lot of stuff like this coming out in private and
a downright public scandal."
Sheila has changed her attitude about how to treat people and is
disgusted that her parents have not done the same: "it's you two who
are being childish - trying not to face the facts." Eric behaves much
the same as Sheila. He seems to have respect for her because he does
not directly argue with his parents about the way they are acting but
instead supports Sheila in what she says by saying "Sheila's right,"
and "I agree with Sheila." He and Sheila are both there to give us
hope for the future; the younger generation have better attitudes and
can improve society. As the Inspector said, children are "more
"You lot may be letting yourselves out nicely," Eric and Sheila do not
pretend that nothing has happened although the rest of the family,
would rather be over with the scandal. He regrets his actions, and
acknowledges that stealing the money was not a good idea. He is deeply
disturbed by the loss of Eva Smith due to their actions:
"Whoever that chap was, the fact remains that I did what I did. And
mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her.
It's still the same rotten story whether it's been told by a police
inspector or to somebody else. According to you I ought to feel a lot
better - I stole some money, Gerald, you might as well know - I don't
care let him know. The money's not the important thing. It's what
happened to the girl and what we did to her that matters. And I still
feel the same about it, and that's why I don't feel like sitting here
and having a nice cosy talk."
Although every single person is to blame, Eric seems to be the
guiltiest, and his wayward behaviour makes him the villain; it would
be easier to blame it all on him, so they do. He is showing regret for
his actions and saying that it's wrong to go about pretending as
though nothing has happened when clearly something has. He is trying
to make them see that they can change. We can only feel empathy for
this type of character, as although he seems to have caused the most
problems he regrets his actions and wants to try and change.
The play finishes with a telephone call from the police saying that "A
girl has just died.... after swallowing some disinfectant" and a real
Inspector will question the family. This is an unexpected twist. The
fake Inspector was there to punish them on a moral level and to try
and make them feel guilty enough to change their behaviour. This was
accomplished with Eric and Sheila, but not with the others. The only
thing that they would be affected by was a "public scandal," and the
real Inspector would ensure that that is what they would get. Without
this twist, it would seem that the Birling parents and Gerald would