An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls

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An Inspector Calls' is based in 1912, before the first and second world
war, before the sinking of the Titanic and before women had any rights.

An Inspector Calls

'An Inspector Calls' is based in 1912, before the first and second
world war, before the sinking of the Titanic and before women had any
rights. 'An Inspector Calls' was written in 1945, Britain was enduring
the final year of The Second World War and the country was united in
one community, together they were fighting for Britain.

JB Priestley liked what he saw; people were putting aside their class
and background and ignored their prejudices in an attempt to help
their country. The only problem was Priestley knew after the war, that
Britain may return to its previous state. Therefore Priestley wrote a
play, based in Edwardian Britain when class mattered and reputation
was everything. Priestley set the play in Brumley, an industrial town
where, like most places in Britain, the rich and poor rarely met. The
only places the two classes became more integrated were the bars where
prostitutes and rich men would meet. But these places were another
world, a form of escapism for family men yearning for more excitement,
they had double standards and these double standards appear throughout
the play. The story is about the Birling family and their involvement
with a young woman who tragically committed suicide, each member of
the family had their own input to her downward spiral, and it started
with Mr Birling.

'A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his
own..' and it is with that there is knock at the door. Inspector
Goole enters the Birling household (and in my opinion acting as
Priestley's alter-ego), causing unrest amongst some of them and no
affect on others. The mood changes from a happy, celebratory
atmosphere to a tense and mysterious one. Maybe this could be shown in
a change of lighting, being more intense as apposed to before when the
family were rejoicing the fact of their daughter's engagement. When
the inspector begins to interrogate Mr Birling he refuses to accept
any responsibility for Eva Smith's death, he gives no thought to his
actions and this is obvious as he shows relatively little remorse or
guilt. However, Mr Birling has an honest approach to life, not ashamed
by his refusal to give Eva Smith a raise 'I refused of course,' and
seems surprised why anyone would query his actions. Money in this era
was a precious thing and all Eva Smith was to Mr Birling was a
problem, which must be rid off immediately, especially since it could

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cause him the loss of profits. When writing the character of Mr
Birling, I think Priestley was putting across his hatred of selfish,
money hungry businessmen. He uses the role of 'the hard headed
businessman' to represent the greed of Britain and naïve optimism
which especially in 1912 was common amongst the higher class. This
naivety is shown in the dramatic irony that Mr Birling exposes himself
to, commenting on 'silly little war scares' and, by 1940, 'peace and
prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.' Of course, by 1940 (twenty
two years after World War I), Britain was one year into World War II
and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Mr Birling's wife, Mrs Birling is not his social equal; she is of
higher status and actually married below herself, because even though
Mr Birling is wealthy he is 'new money' a 'self made man'. This means
that he was not born into a life of luxuries but has earned it and
maybe is still getting used to it. Because he is a 'self made man' he
is constantly trying to prove to people that he is capable of being
just as important as someone such as Mr Croft of 'Crofts Limited'. He
proves this by buying the same port as Mr Croft and making it known to
Gerald, who of course is the son of this factory owner. However, as Mr
Birling strives to become all the more important Mrs Birling can see
straight through him, he would never be able to fool her. She stops Mr
Birling mid-sentence 'Arthur, you're not supposed to say such things-'
this is probably to save his and more importantly her embarrassment in
front of Gerald.

When the inspector starts to question Mrs Birling she gets very
defensive, not giving too much away but the more she convinces herself
she did nothing wrong the more she reveals to the inspector. She
starts off giving short answers to the inspectors questions such as
just a simple 'Yes,' or 'Possibly,' until finally she expressed her
prejudices against the girl's case. Even when she has revealed what
happened and why the girl was turned away because 'I didn't like her
manner,' and 'She impertinently made use of our name,' Mrs Birling had
no guilt. The inspector used the same tone as he had with the rest of
the family 'You have no hope of not discussing it, Mrs Birling,' but
unlike the previous whom had been accused Mrs Birling replied with 'If
you think you can bring any pressure to bear upon me, Inspector,
you're quite mistaken. Unlike the other three, I did nothing I'm
ashamed of.' Unlike the three who had been questioned, Mrs Birling
stood her ground and wasn't going to let the inspector intimidate her
and maybe the fact that she wasn't ashamed or remorseful for the girls
death makes her the most cold and selfish character of the play. As
the play progresses it becomes apparent that Mrs Birling knows little
of the lives of her family and that of the lives of other folk outside
her home. First she is disgusted by a well known womanizer 'And surely
you don't mean Alderman Meggarty!' It is likely that Alderman
Meggarty's shenanigans were well known, they were certainly known by
Sheila and Gerald, only Mrs Birling didn't know and this shows she
lived a very sheltered life. When she realises her son Eric's
involvement with the girl she refuses to believe it 'I don't believe
it. I won't believe it.....' She will only believe what she wants to,
this applies to her son and also to Eva Smith, having first introduced
herself as Mrs Birling, Mrs Birling decided she was not worthy of help
and would not believe a word she said.

Mr and Mrs Birling both join in their happiness and relief at the end
of the play. Once they realise the inspector was a fake they are
nothing but amused and accuse the children of being 'hysterical' and
'over-tired'. Because the inspector was a fake it meant that they were
in the clear, their reputation would not be harmed and they could go
back to leading their everyday lives as if their influences on this
girl meant nothing. Mrs Birling didn't even give a thought by the end
of the night that she most probably contributed to the death of her
own grandchild. Whether they both disregarded the same girl or not,
neither of them can see that what they did was wrong and Mr Birling
accuses his children of being 'Know it alls' as well as saying 'they
can't even take a joke'.

I think JB Priestley was telling the audience through the character of
Mrs Birling that everyone needs to open their eyes to our society. Not
to look at the world and say it's fine when it quite obviously wasn't
and isn't.

Mr and Mrs Birling are comfortable in their life and they are now
content with the fact that their only daughter, Sheila, is engaged to
the son of a wealthy factory owner. Gerald Croft the 'well bred young
man-about-town' is witty, charming, pleasant and everything that any
parents could ask for from a son-in-law he is also liked by Eric
although Gerald is a few years his senior. Gerald's involvement with
Eva Smith is when the class distinction of the time becomes apparent.
Although to start off with it looked as though Gerald was doing the
decent thing by helping a girl in trouble, the inevitable happened
when Eva became his mistress. The question that should be asked is if
Eva wasn't so pretty and 'young and fresh and charming' would Gerald
even have considered helping her from the grasps of Joe Meggarty? My
guess is no, for right from the beginning of his story he makes his
first impressions of the girl known 'But then I noticed a girl who
looked quite different. She was very pretty- soft brown hair and big
dark eyes.' He doesn't start by saying he saw a girl being cornered by
Joe Meggarty and being pestered he starts by describing the girl, and
that was probably what he saw first, this pretty face.

Gerald could be described as a younger Mr Birling, for when Mr Birling
was telling of his involvement with Eva Smith Gerald continues to
agree with him and then says 'Yes I think you were (justified). I know
we'd have done the same thing.' You can definitely imagine Gerald to
grow up just like his potential father-in-law. The similarities can
also be seen at the end of the play. Gerald goes out of his way to
prove that Inspector Goole was not a real inspector and even though he
did feel guilty about the way he disregarded Eva Smith this guilt
quickly disappeared. He doesn't realise that what he did to Eva was
still wrong and immoral and just because the inspector was a fake the
fact still remains that he used this girl and treated her with no

As far as Gerald's relationship with Sheila goes he too sees her the
same way as Mr Birling does. Immature and hysterical and like Mr and
Mrs Birling he doesn't see how Sheila matures throughout the play. At
the end of the play he expects Sheila to take him back because the
inspector was a fake, he forgets that he still had an affair and was
unfaithful to his fiance.

I think through Gerald, JB Priestley was getting across the fact that
someone of a lower class doesn't deserve lower respect. He wanted
everyone to be treated equally despite their class and social

Eric is the son of the family and starts off the play by being quite
quiet and making the occasional sarcastic comment. He obviously
doesn't take his family seriously, laughing and making fun of Sheila,
you can also imagine him sitting at the table with a drink and just
rolling his eyes at his family's conversations. However, when the
inspector arrives, Eric's first reaction to the news is 'My God!' this
shows he was actually concerned and disturbed by the news, unlike Mr
Birling who just wanted to know what it had to do with him. Eric's
involvement with Eva was maybe more serious, as he was the man who got
her pregnant. However, Eric did not abandon Eva in the slightest; he
continued to help her and even stole money from his own fathers
business. This could have got Eric in a lot of trouble if caught but
he was willing to take a chance in order to help Eva.

Eric was certainly never close to his parents and this is shown when
Mr Birling confronts him about the money, Eric replies with 'Because
you're not the kind of chap a man could turn to when he's in trouble.'
Such a response indicates that Eric never looked up to his father and
that the relationship with his father isn't going to improve much
after the play ends. Another factor that proves he was not close to
his family was his drinking problem and the fact that his parents had
no idea. The only conclusion I can come to as to why he drunk so much
was because he was bored, bored of his day to day life and drinking
made it seem more interesting. Like his sister Eric felt he played a
part in Eva's suicide and I imagine he will always feel guilty for
taking advantage of her.

Sheila is the daughter of the family; she is described as being 'very
pleased with life and rather excited'. After all she is going to be
the future Mrs Gerald Croft and to top off the evenings celebration
she receives a ring from her beloved; 'Is it the one you wanted me to
have?' Whether or not this is the ring Sheila actually wanted she is
perfectly happy with it, because Gerald wanted her to have it and I
imagine she would do anything to please him. Although Sheila appears
pleased and content, at the beginning of the play she can't help to
comment on the absence of Gerald the previous summer 'except for all
last summer when you never came near me, and I wondered what had
happened to you.' Of course that is the summer when Gerald was
involved with Eva, even though Gerald says he was working all summer
Sheila quite obviously doesn't believe him 'Yes that's what you say.'
Although Sheila appears to be a 'doormat' I can imagine 'last summer'
is a topic she will bring up occasionally just to remind Gerald of his
previous sins even though Sheila doesn't actually know what happened.

Sheila's involvement with Eva Smith is the fact that she got Eva
sacked from her job at Milwards, a clothes store where Sheila shopped
regularly. At the time Sheila probably didn't think anything of it
that she had just lost a girl her job, but then again she probably
didn't know what it could lead to. However I think Sheila was most
distraught over the whole business and could not understand why a girl
would end her life in such an awful way. Once she realised who Eva was
Sheila was overcome with guilt and this is when she begins to mature.
It is now that Sheila realises what one action could do to someone's
life and as the inspector states 'She feels responsible. And if she
leaves us now, and doesn't here any more, then she'll feel she's
entirely to blame, she'll be alone with her responsibility, the rest
of tonight, all tomorrow, all the next night-'. This statement is
completely true and it is like he is saying that his work is done with
Sheila and that he has got someone to admit that what they did was
wrong and someone who is willing to accept the blame.

Throughout the play Sheila continues to mature and when it comes to
Gerald she knows that their marriage is off and I highly doubt she
will take him back, for this whole news has changed her for the rest
of her life. Towards the end of the play Sheila realises that her
parents are wrong and also that her future husband is exactly the same
and begins to have the same qualities as her brother by making sly,
sarcastic comments such as 'I suppose we're all nice people now.' She
try's to make her parents understand that whether or not the inspector
was real they all did unforgivable things 'And don't let's start
dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove that girl to commit
suicide.' Even when it is revealed there was no suicide Sheila still
does not forgive herself 'If it didn't end tragically, then that's
lucky for us. But it might have done.'

To me Sheila is the most complex and decent character of the play. It
is she who makes all the final comments that sum up the whole evening
and it is she who accepts the guilt.

Through Sheila and Eric I think JB Priestley was saying it is up to
the new generation to change their ways otherwise society will not
progress. He makes the youngest characters the ones who accept what
they did and it is probably them who will go on to think about what
they did and change their lives for the good.

'An Inspector Calls' was Priestley's way of fighting for what he
desired most, altruism, the principle of living and acting for the
interest of others. This is what people were doing during the Second
World War, people didn't care if they were working with people they
normally wouldn't even talk to, they just wanted to help. The whole
play still appeals to today's society, have we learnt from the First
and Second World War? Quite obviously we haven't and maybe when
writing the play JB Priestley was hoping we would.
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