The Role of the Inspector

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Discuss the role of the Inspector in J.B. Priestley’s play ‘An Inspector Calls.’ What is this characters main function and how effective is he?

‘An Inspector Calls’ was written by J.B. Priestley in 1945, but is set specifically in 1912. The Birlings, an upper-middle class family, are celebrating their daughter’s engagement to a business-rival’s son. Into this scene of celebration comes the Inspector, who is there to investigate the suicide of a young working class woman. In this essay I intend to examine the role of the Inspector in the play, looking at his main functions and how effective he is in his role.

The structure of the play helps to give the entrance of the Inspector greater impact on the audience. We are initially presented with the Birling family before the Inspector arrives, which means we are able to see if and how they are changed by the Inspector, and as one of the Inspectors main roles in the play is to change the attitudes of the Birling family and Gerald this means we are able to see how effective he is in doing this.

The Birling family are very typical of upper-middle class families in 1912. Birling is very dominant as the head of the household, as demonstrated by the way that most of the speech in the opening scene of the play is Birling. He also says (to Mrs. Birling) ‘now then Sybil, you must take a little (port) tonight.’ This shows that he is very much the head of the family, as men would have been in the time when the play is set. The audience at the time when the play was written would have found this high level of male domination rather odd, as it was written in a time when attitudes to women were changing quite rapidly.

At the beginning of the play, Birling expresses very strong views, for ...

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...s questioning on one character at a time, and get the complete truth out of them before he moves on. The other characters find this strange, and Birling demands to see the picture, which shows that they are not used to being treated like this. In 1912 Inspectors would have felt the need to do as the family requested, as the family were so influential, but the Inspector does not seem intimidated by Birling, which he is unaccustomed to.

The Inspector also has the role of showing the negative aspects of the family, and exposing the expense at which their life of luxury and selfishness comes to those around them.

The Inspector also has the role of changing the characters. He does this by confronting them with the consequences of their actions and exposing the expense to others at which their lives of luxury and selfishness come. This is effective on Sheila and Eric
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