An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls

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Drama: An Inspector Calls- Task One
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Written in 1946, "An Inspector Calls" takes us into the comfortable
and complacent world of the Birling family who are disturbed during a
celebration by the arrival of a mysterious police inspector. A young
girl has committed suicide and it is revealed how all members of one
family contributed to it. "An Inspector Calls" resorts to the ripping
off of masks that we human beings frequently wear, with the Inspector
relentlessly pursuing the truth. Just when the audience is tiring of
discoveries, the whole action is given a violent twist and everyone is
caught up in the unfolding events. When each member of the Birling
family find out that they contributed to the death of Eva Smith, they
react in very different ways and learn different things from the
experience.

Mr Birling is an arrogant and recognisable capitalist. He is highly
conceited, and believes that whatever he says is true, for example
"The Germans don't want war!" and "[Russia] will always be
behindhand". We know that these statements are incorrect because of
the war between Germany and England and Stalin's influence on Russia.
However, Mr Birling seems oblivious to the warning signs of such
serious matters. Or he just decides to blank out all the bad aspects
of life, which do not concern him directly. When the Inspector
arrives, Mr Birling tries to use his influence as a highly placed
local to put down and demoralise the Inspector. This attempt is
immediately dismissed as the Inspector does not seem to be interested
in Mr Birling's influence. To try to show his importance Mr Birling
remarks that he was "an alderman for years- lord mayor two years
ago…is still on the bench". However, the Inspector does not take any
notice of this and continues with the investigation. As Mr Birling
tells his part of his involvement in Eva's death, he manages to tell
it in a way that makes him seem fair and kind to his workers. However,
this is just a cover for his conscience and the Inspector and the
audience can see this. In reality, he is greedy. Every penny in his
pocket counts, and he tries to makes it seem that he feels that his
workers deserve no more than the national average pay, if that. Nearer
the end of the play, he begins to show remorse, although this remorse
is directed more toward the fact that he may not get his knighthood
because of the scandal, instead of feeling remorse at his actions in
the situation. This is shown quite well when he says "But I care. I
was almost certain for a knighthood in the next Honours List".

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Remorse
is seen when he says, "I would give thousands" but it is obviously too
late and again, it is about money and not the caring. Also, it is
implicated that he may have tried to bribe the Inspector; "perhaps you
and I had better go and talk this over quietly in a corner". This
again shows that money seems to be the centre of his existence. He
cares more for money than for his fellow humans. He appears as a
typical, "hard-hearted businessman", not caring about his workers'
needs, just about how much money they are making him and how little he
has to pay them to work.

At the end of the play, when it is suggested that the Inspector was a
hoax, he seems more pleased about the fact that he is in line for a
knighthood again, rather than learning from the experience. What he
has learnt is how to block out the bad things in life. Also he builds
walls around himself, at the end of the play to try to protect himself
and his family's reputation. He is moved to anger by the Inspector and
is not affected by being confronted with the effects of his actions
until the Inspector is about to leave and reality hits him. His main
worry throughout the play is that there could be a public scandal and
his family name could be given a bad reputation. If he did not get his
knighthood, which is very likely, he would be devastated and puts this
before the wants and needs of his family. He is very self deceptive
because he convinces himself that he was not in the slightest way
responsible for the death of Eva Smith. He does not seem to be
extremely distressed by the fact that his son seduced a young girl,
making her pregnant, stole money from him, and that his wife abused
her position as head of the organisation which should have helped a
young girl in distress. His main concern is that all of this will
become public gossip and his reputation will be ruined. His belated
remorse is undermined by his jubilation that the Inspector was a hoax
and that there is not going to be a public inquiry.

He has learnt how to build walls to protect himself and if another
inspector came then he would probably keep quiet and show no emotion.
The experience has not made him more caring towards people and he will
probably treat his workers in the same way. However, he will probably
be more careful to ensure that nothing like this happens again. He
would probably greet the new inspector in the same way, by trying to
bribe him. Also he would try to protect his family by not giving them
a chance to speak. I do not think that he has learnt anything positive
from the experience because he does not have an open mind. He is
unwilling to accept the fact that sometimes he is the one in the wrong
and some people do know more than him. He does learn more negative
than positive things but still we can see that he is slightly more
open than his wife.

In a theatre performance the actress playing Sheila has a particularly
difficult role, as Sheila undergoes a drastic change during the play.
At the start of the play, she is very immature and very naïve, and is
also very giggly. She always seems to say things only half seriously
and jokes with Eric using slang phrases such as "You're squiffy". She
does not seem to see the power that Gerald has got over her because
her engagement ring is "the one [he] wanted [her] to have". She shows
herself to be a very dependent girl, looking to her parents for most
decisions that need to be made. Her marriage to Gerald was a marriage
of businesses, as well as love. I doubt Sheila saw this at the time,
or just ignored this fact. When the Inspector questions her about her
involvement in the death of Eva, she begins to feel thoroughly ashamed
of what she did. What she says about her acts shows her immaturity, as
she tells that she got upset over nothing and threatened to tell her
mother not to shop at Milwards. She shows that she relies on others
and cares little for the lower classes. When she says "And probably
between us we killed her" and "Between us, we drove that girl to
suicide" it shows her anger towards her parents, but her anguish at
her acts and her family's behaviour is clear. When she finds out that
Eva was pregnant, she begins to feel very sorry for her acts. "No! Oh
- horrible - horrible!" This shows that when she knows that she is
involved, she begins to show true compassion. If she knew that because
of her father's greed, and her lavish spending, many people do not
have enough money to live in proper housing or feed their family
properly, then she might show more compassion. However, for now, the
audience has to be content with her sadness at Eva's death. She seems
to develop her maturity as she learns more and more of the
circumstances of Eva's death. She seems to compress ten years of
learning into an hour. This shows that she is willing to be
independent, but she needs to be shown that she can be independent.
She has the ability and the compassion to be a good person, but this
quality is often suppressed by the attraction of money.

Sheila Birling learns a lot during the play and undergoes, in a short
time space, a change that usually only happens over a very long period
of time. This is caused by what she has to go through during the play.
First, she finds out that she was involved in Eva's suicide. This
makes her think about the sort of person she is and this starts the
change of attitude inside her. Then, she finds out that Gerald had
been having an affair with Eva/Daisy, this makes her think about the
sort of people she lives with and loves. She becomes more mature as
the play progresses and in the current National Theatre production she
moves into the Inspector's light. This is symbolic of her moving from
an enclosed life into the real world and her being enlightened by the
truth of her part in Eva's death. When the Inspector leaves, Sheila
takes over his role and tries to teach her family that they should
care for other people of all classes. In the current National Theatre
production, whilst in the light, she undresses. This symbolises her
learning from her actions and whilst undressed, the falling rain
washes her clean of her past. At the end of the play, she has higher
moral standards and has learnt to show compassion for every human
being no matter what they look like, their social status or how much
money they have. She is no longer a dependent girl and it is obvious
that the Inspector is successful in making her see the consequences of
her actions. Finally, the Inspector and she are in agreement; and she
fully understands everything that he has been trying to teach them.
Her concordance with the Inspector is shown in her echoing of his
words when she says to Gerald during her questioning of him about
Eva/Daisy "We haven't much time". The Inspector is always aware of the
lack of time and that everything is controlled by it. Little things
like this show that she understands the Inspector. Also Sheila says to
her parents "It's you two who are being childish- trying not to face
the facts". At that moment she seems to tower over them just like the
Inspector did. She goes on to say that "it doesn't make any real
difference [if he was a real Inspector or not]" because in her opinion
he fulfilled his purpose. The main reason for her change in attitude
is that she has an open mind and is willing to listen to what people
have to say. More importantly, she tries to improve the bad aspects of
her personality. She admits "I behaved badly too. I know I did. I'm
ashamed of it". It is obvious that she wants to change because she
keeps saying, "You're pretending everything's just as it was before"
and she does not want it to be that way. The only other person to
share her attitude is Eric. This shows that the younger generations do
have open minds and care more for other people. She benefits from the
Inspector's visit and if another inspector were to come, then she
would immediately tell the truth. She has learnt not to hide things
from people. I think that she will try to improve her family's
relationship and help people in need, treating everybody with the same
respect.

Mrs Birling is more hard-hearted than her husband. She is fully aware
of her social status, and uses this to gain whatever she wants. She
shows little consideration for her subordinates, and this is accented
in her position on the charity organisation. She has the seat on the
charity council, not because she wants to help the poor, but because
she wants to feel more superior to the lower classes. Her use of
influence is shown in the line "I used my influence to have [Eva's
case] refused." She tries desperately to put the Inspector in his
place, but as with Mr Birling, he ignores her irony. She seems to feel
that she has the authority to remove the Inspector from her house
whenever he decides to say something with which she disagrees. She
also has a way of telling her side of the story that makes her seem
innocent of any involvement: "you're quite wrong to believe I will
regret what I did I was perfectly justified in advising the committee
not to allow her claim for assistance I accept no blame for it at
all." However, everybody can see that she is trying to please her
conscience and protect her reputation and social status, which are the
most important things in her life. She does not concern herself with
real problems and she condemns Mr Birling for saying a mild oath-
"Look- for God's sake". She condemns him very strongly for saying
God's name in vain but she never shows such condemnation over the
death of the young girl. Mrs Birling seems to know little about her
family, and their habits. This is displayed at the end of Act Two,
when she finds out that the child Eva was carrying was Eric's. This
shows that she may not show much interest in her children's lives, as
she prefers to concentrate more with her own. She endures many shocks,
and she learns more about her family than she ever thought she would
know, especially about Eric and his drinking habits. This is because
she is self-centred. At the end of the play she shares her husband and
Gerald's jubilation that the Inspector was a hoax. She learnt nothing
from the experience, and would probably make the same mistake again,
making her seem very ignorant. Saying Mrs Birling learnt nothing is
actually incorrect because she will probably learn one negative point
and that is to keep quiet about her affairs to strangers. She says,
"He certainly didn't make me confess" and from this we can see that
she is going to be very cautious about what she says in the future.
This is because she does not want it to become public knowledge. If
another Inspector came then she would not show any emotion at all and
keep quiet completely. The only time that she does show some emotion
is when she finds out that she contributed to the death of her
grandchild. She does not have an open mind and so is not willing to
listen to other people and what they have to say because she believes
that she is always in the right. She is very prejudiced and does not
want to have anything to do with people of a lower class, except to
rule over them. She believes that they do not have feelings and they
get exactly what they deserve. In her opinion the lower classes are
inferior. She shares her husband's jubilation that there is not going
to be public scandal as her world revolves around money and her
position in society.

The play is still popular after 55 years because of the fact that the
issues raised in the play are still relevant today. This is because of
the fact that people still think more about themselves and their
families than about how they affect others. Socialism won't be widely
accepted by the people who have money, because Capitalism is more
beneficial to them but Socialism is more beneficial to the rest of us.
Unfortunately, it is the people with the money who rule the country.
The only way that this can change is if the attitudes of generations
are changed, and this is difficult. In the play, Mr Birling is a
recognisable capitalist and since he has the money he believes that he
has the power to run over the world. In his opinion, only people with
money are worthwhile because they have a high status in society. To
himself and Mrs Birling their reputation and position in society are
the most important things and people's feelings and desires do not
come into it. The people who are high up in the world believe that the
only purpose for inferiors is to exploit them, making them do all of
the hard work.

The play was written at the end of the 2nd World War being performed
for the first time in 1946. It is set in 1912. Priestley expresses his
own views about society of 1912 through the character of the
Inspector. During these pre-World War 1 years there was a divide
between the rich and poor. Attitudes such as: the poor's struggle to
work and survive; profit, greed and privilege of class; double
standards and the lack of a responsible attitude from those in power,
were thought acceptable. Economic prosperity, power and moneymaking
took priority over humanity. The consequences of this attitude can be
seen in that not just one, but two world wars have ensued since the
time set in the play. Priestley is telling us that we are not learning
lessons from history; thus there was a grave message for the 1946
audience, who, like the Birling family were being given a further
opportunity to get it right. Moreover, there is still that message
today, thus giving the play a universal value.

From the play, I have learnt many fundamental things and that is why
the play is so popular, because it teaches different people, different
things. When Sheila, and particularly the Inspector, say important
things they should direct them towards the reader or in a theatre,
they should speak directly to the audience. This makes the viewer
think carefully about the hidden messages. One main message to be
learnt is to treat and respect everybody as equals because that is
what they deserve. To be prejudiced is a problem that people should
address and try to improve on because it is very hurtful to others. If
you have ever done something wrong then the play makes you think about
it and what you should do if you are ever in that situation again. The
best thing to do if you are in trouble or if you have done something
wrong is to talk about it, however hard that might be. The important
thing is to try to correct it because if you do not then it just blows
up out of proportion. This is shown well in the play when Sheila
realises that she should have said something about Eric's drinking
problem as it is the main reason that he got into his terrible
situation. You should have an open mind, try to improve any faults in
your personality and be open to others. The main thing that the play
wants people to improve on, is to have more consideration for
everybody and life does not revolve around money but compassion for
others. Another message that is underlined throughout the play is that
all classes have different material wealths but when it comes to
feelings and sensitivities, we are all equal. The final message of the
play is a plea for change, a change in human nature first, then a
change in society. People have to learn that private behaviour has
public consequences.
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