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Analyse the character of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley.
* Role in the play
* Effect on the other characters
* Stage presence
When the Inspector first knocks on the front door, it is dramatic
irony because Arthur just said a matter of seconds before of how he
‘might get a knighthood if we don’t get into any sort of trouble’.
This is a very significant time of entering, similar to knocking over
a tower of Jenga – everything one has hoped for has just evaporated
into thin air. As an audience we expect something very important, an
altered atmosphere in the play from this moment forward. The Birling’s
smug satisfaction is put on hold. It abruptly comes to a halt. Edna
comes into the Dining room and says to Mr. Birling, “Please, Sir, an
The Inspector, at first appears to the audience to be a police
officer. He said he had recently moved to Brumley; the family find out
he is a fake when Arthur rings the police station at the end of the
play. This news is even more disturbing than the questioning that
takes place throughout the play, because they realised that the
Inpsector had deceived them all. They had been had! But on the other
hand, was the purpose of the visit fulfilled?
I think the purpose of his visit was to show the family that their
lives and what they do during their life is far more influential than
they realise, either positively or negatively. Had they helped Eva
Smith, her life may not have been lost, but in fact, the Inspector’s
intention was to help them see where they went wrong and secure them
on the right pathif they were willing to respond. He wanted to aid
them in their understanding that in life there are huge decisions and
choices to make which, if are chosen wrongly, can have devastating
effects, not only for them but for other people . The reason the
Police Inspector arrived here at the Birling household was to
investigate a suicide. He seemed to already know everything that the
family told him of the questions he was asking. It was as though he
had been watching them for the past 10 or so years and knew everything
that had gone on. It appears innocent, just routine innocuous
On one level, J.B. Priestley is using the Inspector’s character to
solve what seems to be a police inquiry, investigating a suicide. On a
deeper level, Priestley is using the Inspector to help the family see
where they can take greater responsibility in society; he is helping
them see their mistakes and helping them to learn from their errors
and change their way of thinking.
Inspector Goole does not look like a normal inspector; he is not
particularly well dressed, he doesn’t look important, therefore does
not appear a threat to Mr. Birling obtaining a knighthood. He is
serious and very much in control of the situation, for example, when
Mr. Birling wants Sheila to go out of the room the Inspector demands
softly, “No, wait a minute, Miss Birling”. He gets what he wants
without a lot of trouble. The Inspector in this instance ignores Mr.
Birling’s objections and Sheila stays. Another example of his overall
control is when he stops Eric going to bed;
Eric – I think I’d better turn in.
Inspector – And I think you’d better stay here.
The Inspector reveals information when he is ready – not one second
before, not one second later. He speaks with great strength, and has a
massive amount of authority. He is very crafty and is an excellent
deceiver in the way he talks. Inspector Goole questions them over and
over again until eventually they confess their actions. He uses
emotive language to gain the family’s attention and to make them feel
very guilty, he says, “She died in misery and agony – hating life”.
This in the end makes them confess and telling the truth of what they
did and how it related to Eva Smith’s death. What wasn’t found out
until the end of the play was the fact that not all of the family had
seen the same photograph of Eva Smith:
“Birling- Gerald’s dead right. He could have used a different
photograph each time and we’d be none the wiser.”
The Inspector said:
“One Eva Smith has gone – but there are 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.”
This speech is basically the moral of the play –the outcome of our
actions are so important. They can make the world a better place or
they can destroy and cause damage to the people and environment around
To sum up the role of the inspector, you need to look at what he
represents. This could change the interpretation of the whole play, An
Inspector Calls. My interpretation of the inspector is that he is a
godly figure in the play. He is trying to make the Birling family see
the light, letting them fudge themselves before he judges them. By the
end of the play it is really only Sheila and Eric who see where they
have gone wrong and understand what has just happened. Mr and Mrs
Birling have found it very hard to alter what they are used to,
thereby moving on from traditionalism and finding a new way of
thinking. Children find it easier to change than adults because they
have not had long of getting used to a certain way of thinking i.e.
capitalism, which is the way their parents think, especially Arthur.
Priestley is saying by means of the Inspector that “We are members of
one body. We are responsible for each other”, whereas capitalism is
the total opposite of this – thinking about one’s self and making
profits. Priestley says we should see people as individuals not just
as a group of working class people who don’t matter.
The 20th Century was one of extremes. For the beginning of the Century
life was worth living (for the rich), for the poor it was poverty –
life was extremely tough. War led to hardships and famine. There was
huge loss of life and increased poverty for all social classes. WWI
and WWII challenged people’s way of thinking and their attitudes. The
play was set in 1912, two years before the start of World War I but
was written after World War II. Mr. Birling doesn’t think that war
will come but if society carries on acting as arrogantly as when this
play was set then war is inevitable. This is Priestley’s view. Sybil
and Arthur Birling are traditionalists, they don’t like change. It was
indeed a century of “fire” and “blood” and “anguish” as the Inspector
said toward the end of the play. An Inspector Calls illustrates the
restless times of the 20th Century.
Throughout the play of An Inspector Calls, J B Priestley uses the
Inspector as the Birling family conscience. He is trying to get across
to them that their words and actions have consequences in the wider
world, in this case Eva Smith or Daisy Renton’s life. The family drove
Eva Smith to suicide, supposedly.
The society in these days is no different from when it was set (1912).
Our community is still selfish and egotistic. This is very much Mr
Birling’s type of character. The inspector is showing, Mr Birling in
this case, that he needs to look beyond himself and his own needs.
The effect the inspector has on the characters varies enormously. I
will start with Sheila. She feels very guilty when she realises what
she has done and about her involvement with Eva Smith’s death. She is
really sorry, for her involvement with Eva Smith and is quite happy to
admit that. Toward the end of the she has had enough, for her mother
being dishonest with the inspector, and realises during the process
that her mother has had something to do with the suicide and is not so
innocent as she looked after all. She knows that if her mother doesn’t
tell the truth first time the inspector will get it out of her before
long. Yet again, she can be quite stubborn, unlike the Sheila we knew
in act 1. She was the first person to understand the inspector’s
lessons. She became accustomed to the way he worked faster than anyone
else. So she was warning everyone not to tell lies, or not the truth,
because he would get it out of them, as Sheila says, “He’s giving us
the rope, so we’ll hang ourselves”. And she was quite right, he was
doing exactly that.
Eric is quite honest when it comes to the inspector’s questioning; he
admits to making Eva pregnant and admits to stealing £50 from his
dad’s work. Overall Eric is very honest and is rather open about this
situation. I believe that Sheila and Eric have seen the error of their
ways and are the ones most willing to change. They have both
apologised and, personally I think, they have seen the light.
Gerald is the wise guy towards the end of the play, he realises that
not one of them saw the same photograph of Eva Smith, and points out,
“There were probably four or five different girls”. He is suggesting
that they all saw different photographs of what they believed to be
the same girl. Everyone noticed in the end that they’d been had! Mr
Birling phoned the Brumley Police Station and found out that there was
no Inspector Goole on the force at the present time. If no one else
is, Gerald is the man with the brains!
Mr. Birling likes to be in charge, he likes to have the position of
authority, but since the inspector has knocked on the door, walked in
and started asking questions, he has lost that authoritative role, and
the inspector has gained it. An example of this behaviour is when Mr.
Birling says, “You’re new aren’t you?” and “I was alderman for
years…Lord Mayor…I’m still on the bench…I though I’d never seen you
before”. He is saying this to make the Inspector feel inferior, this
doesn’t work. Arthur does not like this and feels inferior for once;
this makes him very impatient with the Mr. Goole.
I cannot notice many changes with Mrs. Birling since the Inspector
stepped in the door. But the strange thing is she does not react in
any way, to the supposed photo of Eva Smith. She tries to build up a
brick wall, if you like, trying to prevent herself from getting
involved in all the catastrophic business of a suicide and drinking
disinfectant. In my opinion, a wise choice, although unadvisable as
Sheila was trying her utmost to get across to her mother, if she
carries on building up a brick wall, she is making it worse for
herself and for other people; Sheila says that the inspector will get
it out of her in the end so she might as well tell the truth. I think
one lesson she might’ve learned, was to be honest first off. It
usually helps the situation.
How the Inspector is portrayed on the stage is very important. The
things we need to consider are how the Inspector is going to be
interpreted in the performance or various types of performances, and
the character requirements for each interpretation of the inspector ~
e.g. realistic, godly or hoaxer.
The first interpretation is that the inspector is realistic and is a
genuine, down to earth kind of guy or secondly, a hoaxer having a
laugh or thirdly, a mysterious figure, either an hallucination, a
messenger sent down to earth to show them the error of their ways or
just a symbol.
The way the Inspector is interpreted affects everything else, e.g. if
the Inspector were to be portrayed realistically he would need to look
like anybody else presentable, only with authority. He might be, say,
a Yorkshire policeman. If the inspector were to be presented as a
hoaxer he would need to look like realistic but has a very specific
way of talking, he would need to be persuasive and slightly suspicious
looking and controlling. If the director decides to have the Inspector
as a kind of Godly figure he would need to be in control yet allowing
the family to make their own decisions to some extent. He must take
the lead in the conversation and this is what he does in the play. If
the Godly figure was the type of character the director wanted to use
smoke machines would be advisable, stunning, bright and bold
yellow/orange lights; they must also be sharp in contrast to before
the Inspector walks in. In all of these interpretations I think the
Inspector should be standing while the Birling family are sitting down
at the dining room table, because height alters importance and the
most critical thing required of the inspector is authority.
The characterisation of the inspector is very important and is decided
upon by how he speaks and what he looks like. The director ~ actor
agreement must be made to agree on how the actor would speak. They
would have to speak in a certain way, e.g. he might speak in a
melancholy tone (because of the supposed suicide – if he were a hoaxer
this would work well); he might use emotive language to try and get
them to feel sorry for Eva Smith, therefore make them confess. What
type of person should be portrayed? Should he speak morals or be
The actor would have to decide how quickly or how slowly he was
comfortable speaking. A hoaxer would speak very fast, not allowing the
family to think about what he has said. The physique and facial
expressions etc. of an actor are essential in choosing the right
person for the job. Of course an Inspector would have to be smartly
dressed to put across a sense of authority, he would require a closely
shaven face or neat beard, (not scruffy and all over the place). He
would need to appear very gentlemanly to gain further power and charge
of the situation; also it is necessary to have a costume for that
would suit the interpretation choice.
To conclude, the play An Inspector Calls seems to be a moral, telling
the audience through Inspector Goole that there is more to life than
just thinking about ourselves. Also it is portraying that our actions
and what we say not only have an impact on us, but on the wider world.
This is an important lesson that the whole community needs to learn,
because we as a nation are as, if not more, selfish and ignorant as
the times when this play was set, in 1912. This play ought to have
made a difference, but at the state of current affairs at the present
day it does not appear to have changed anything.
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"The Character of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls." 123HelpMe.com. 29 May 2016