An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls

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An Inspector calls is set in 1912 and was written for a 1946 audience.
What can it have to offer an audience in 2002? An Inspector calls.

'An Inspector calls' was written by J.B. Priestly in 1945, and was
first shown to an audience in 1946. It was set in 1912, before the
Second World War had started, and was to be shown, after the Second
World War had ended. 'An inspector calls' is a dramatic, moralistic
thriller. It is set around the death of a young woman: Eva Smith. The
play begins with the Birling family celebrating the engagement of
their daughter Sheila, to the wealthy Gerald Croft. In this part of
the play you learn a lot about the social system of that era, the way
people acted, and the way they thought.

The doorbell, and the arrival of an Inspector interrupt their
'celebration'. From now on the mood changes, contrasting the
light-hearted and happy mood; it now becomes tense and serious. The
Inspector reveals each characters involvement in the death of Eva
Smith, side by side with the flaws and evils in each characters'
personality. This slowly reveals to the audience that the Inspector is
a lot more then he seems, and that the play is not only a 'murder
mystery', but also resembles a moralistic play of the middle ages, but
in it's own socialistic manner. It also shows the flaws in the social
system at the times, which are displayed in each character, and in the
consequences of their acts. The audience are shown how some people
ignore the reality of their actions, and even after seeing the
consequence of their actions, refuse to change. Mr and Mrs Birling are
portrayed as selfish and ignorant of their actions, while Sheila and
Eric, as a contrast, have fully realised their mistakes and have
changed the way they think. The inspector is successful in changing
two of the characters, but is not successful in the rest. Priestly is
in a way playing the Inspector, to his audience, showing them the
consequences of their actions, and what will happen if they do not
change. 'An Inspector calls' has many underlying messages, most of
which are still relevant to us today.

The question as to whether 'An inspector calls' is out of date, is a
long argued and debated question. Both sides of the argument have
valid points, and in order to come to a fair decision, you must
consider both these sides of the argument. I am going to consider
three statements about 'An Inspector calls' and after studying each
one, am gong to come up with a decision.

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The first statement that I am going to study is; 'the situations and
the morals that they show are out of date and are not relevant

In the play there are many examples, which both support and contradict
this statement. A good example of this is the part in the play when it
is revealed that Eric is the father of the child that Eva smith was
bearing. Firstly it is more common now then ever, for a girl to end up
in this situation. Many young women end up like Eva Smith: young,
single, jobless and pregnant. This play portrays how a young woman
became pregnant, and the unfortunate sequence of events that this led
to. This storyline is still very relevant today, as situations such as
teenage pregnancies can often ruin a young women's life.

The scene, in which the Birlings find out that Eric is the father of
the child, is a very tense scene. The image of a perfect well mannered
family has been shattered by the what the inspector has revealed, and
each character is agitated and on-edge enough to show there true
feelings, rather then cover them up out of politeness, as had been
happening earlier on. The Inspector has successfully brought about
each character's role in the death of Eva Smith, and is now acting
more as a referee. As the family are at each other's throats, in many
occasions, the inspector is the one who keeps the peace, e.g.: "…And
my trouble is I haven't much time. You'll be able to divide the
responsibility between you when I've gone" And: "Just a minute Mr
Birling. There'll be plenty of time when I've gone, for you all to
adjust to your family relationships'. When the inspector asks Eric his
questions, they are very short, simple and straight to the point. He
does not bother to ask complicated questions, as it has been
established that Eric is guilty, and all the inspector needs now, are
the details, 'Where did you meet her?' and 'What did you do then?'
Eric's answers are also quite short, compared the ones given to the
earlier characters. This questioning is very different to that of the
other characters. With them they are found guilty at the end of their
questioning, but Eric's role had been revealed before his questioning.
The questioning of Eric is not necessary from an Inspector's point of
view, as he as already accomplished what he set out to do: which was
to show Eric the reality of his actions. The point of this is to
reveal what happened to the audience, in short and simple questions
and answers. Also, it portrays the Inspector as much more powerful, as
Eric is not hesitating in answering. The strength and power of the
Inspector is revealed once more, and Eric is now seen weak, lonely and
confused character. This works well in getting sympathy from the
audience, as earlier on Eric was portrayed as a moody drunken; not the
usual type of character that an audience will sympathise with.

At the beginning of act three, and the end of act two, there is a lot
of suspense in the audience. They have already worked out that the
father of the child is Eric, but are waiting to see his reaction.
Priestly does this very well, as he does not state who it is, but has
said enough for the audience to guess. E.g.

Mrs B. Inspector.

Mrs B. Inspector.

Certainly, I consider it your duty. And now no doubt you'd like to say

Not yet. I'm waiting.

Waiting for what?

To do my duty

In order to create this suspense Priestly uses a number of dramatic
devices. Firstly he makes sure that the characters are very emotional,
and in doing this they all give out different signals as clues. In the
last 1 ½ pages Priestly uses more then ten adjectives as directors
notes, and the list includes the following: 'agitated', 'severely',
'bitterly', 'grimly' 'triumphantly', to name a few. The characters
hysteria creates a ball of mixed emotions, in which the audience get
caught up, and feel the suspense. Towards the end of the act, after
the Inspector has subtly revealed his intentions, the hysteria is
increased. He uses exclamation marks and to show how surprised,
shocked and speech less the characters are: 'but surely I mean it's
ridiculous' and 'My God!' The characters are even trying to convince
themselves that it's not true: 'I don't believe it, I won't believe
it': the characters cutting in to each others speech:

Mrs B: I don't believe it, I won't believe it.

Sheila: Mother- I begged you and begged you to stop-

This shows how agitated the characters were. This outward display of
emotion was not seen as acceptable, especially from a family of the
Birlings' status. This was a stark contrast to the beginning of the
play, when everything was polite and controlled. All of this went
towards creating the suspense in the audience's mind, and no doubt the
feeling of being caught up in it all.

During the end of act two he reveals enough information to the
audience so that they know whom the culprit is, but still have doubts
in their mind, which established the suspense. The act ends in a very
good place, as it has built up a climax, and just as Eric walks in,
there is a break, promising to keep the audience hooked. This
resembles something that is used in modern day dramas and soap's, a
cliffhanger. If dramatic devices that Priestly used, are still used
today, the play cannot be out of date, as it will obviously have an
effect on a modern day audience. At the beginning of act three, the
climax breaks, as Eric walks in, practically saying to the audience:
'you were right it's me'. The suspense does not end after the culprit
has been named, as now, the audience are waiting to see how all the
other characters will react, will their be sympathy, anger or disgust?
The climax builds up again as each character reveals their feelings,
one by one. They are also waiting to see how Eric reacts, as if to see
if the Inspector is successful. All of the characters have lost
patience with each other, and their confidence in each other has gone.
Priestly shows this when the characters accuse each other of things,
shout at each other, and cut into each other:

Mrs B: No- Eric- please- I didn't know- I didn't understand-

Eric: You don't understand anything.

On many occasions, as I have mentioned before, the Inspector keeps the
peace, as well putting the story back on track. He also portrays the
characters loss of confidence, by putting in an element of
uncertainty. The audience and the characters don't know what's going
to happen next. In the characters case, they are acting on impulse,
and as they hear more and more home truths, their emotions flare up
and they no longer seem to know what they are saying: 'You told her.
Why you little sneak!' and '(explosively) No'. In the audiences' case,
everything that had to be revealed had been revealed, the full of
sequence of events in Eva Smiths death has been uncovered, and there's
still half an hour left. The suspense in the audience's mind is what
is going to happen next, and as this is revealed more and more
questions are brought up.

This scene shows us that 'An Inspector calls' is not out of date as
the issues it deals with are still relevant today. Other then the
pregnancy aspect, it also brings to light many other issues which
would still be relevant today. Eric as the young alcoholic is still a
very relevant story line today. Many modern day soaps and dramas have
incorporated this issue into their storyline, and the lesson has not
yet been learnt. Another very important issue that it raises is that
of the dysfunctional family. The Birling's are a perfect example of a
dysfunctional family; they barely know anything about each other, what
they do in their spare time, their opinions on certain issues etc.
Sheila and Eric have been hiding the fact that Eric is an alcoholic,
and the news comes as a shock to their parents. This shows us what a
dysfunctional family can lead to, and how it is important to
communicate with those in your family. This lesson has also not yet
been learnt, so goes to say: 'An Inspector calls' is not yet out of
date. On a more general note, all of the sins that the characters
commit, always have done, and still do exist today. Anger lust,
adultery, and jealousy, are a few of the 'deadly sins' that the
Birlings committed, one way or another. These sins still exist greatly
in our society, and probably will do for a long time yet. This also
goes to show that 'An Inspector calls' is not out of date, and
probably won't be for a long time.

The moral though, that the Inspector seeks to teach his audience, is
quite out of date. He seeks to teach his audience that no man should
'look after himself and his own', as Birling had proudly stated, as
this will never work out for the good, in the long run. At the time
when this play was written, the socialist ideal was still trying to
climb the steep ladder of success. Although the ideas that were the
backbone of the Inspector's speech, went back long way to the time of
St Paul, for instance; the socialist ideal was still seen as nonsense.
This was probably due to the fact the England was a capitalist country
at the time, and the people who had any say about anything, were
people like Birling, people who were living a life of luxury out of
it. For this reason it was very unpopular with these sorts of people,
and appealed more to the younger generation, the likes of Eric and

After this play was shown, we have had two socialist governments and
the NHS has been set up, telling us that this lesson has long been
learnt. But, Margaret Thatcher's comment, 'There's no such thing as
society' from the 80's is evidence enough to say that maybe we are
forgetting our past. The Conservatives are talking of privatising the
NHS and schools, which is what the socialists were fighting against.
This agrees with the statement that 'An Inspector calls is out of
date' as although this lesson has long been learnt, people seem to be
forgetting, and maybe they need to be reminded again. From this point
of view I have reached a conclusion; 'An Inspector calls' is not out
of date and the lessons that it teaches are still relevant today, some
are even beginning to rise in relevance.

The second statement that I am going to consider is: 'the characters
are out of date, and cannot relate to the audience of 2002'. The
characters in 'An Inspector calls' each have personalities and which
can easily be found in people today. Birling resembles the
'all-knowing' father who can't help but offer barrels of advice: 'I've
been giving these young men some advice'. The advice he gives may be
slightly different to a father today, as times have changed, but his
implications and feelings are still the same in fathers today. Eric is
the typical son, who has a mysterious 'other life', that no one knows
about. Re-phrase: 'Because you're not the kind of father a chap could
go to when he's in trouble', and it'll ring bells in households around
the country. There's a bit of Eric in every teenager in the country,
and if Eric was a teenager today, he would probably have the same
feelings about his family, his sense of privacy and what he does in
his own time. Sheila is the typical young daughter, constantly worried
about her looks, and they fare compared to others: 'She was the right
type for it, just as I was the wrong type'. A young woman today would
be worried about her looks now more then ever. With skinny models
splashed in front of their faces day- in, day- out, vanity is more
common then ever. Mrs Birling is the typical mother who thinks the
world of her children and couldn't imagine them doing anything wrong:
'I can't believe it, there must have been some mistake' These sorts
of characters can still be found in today's society, but can be a lot
different. Human nature never changes, neither do human emotions, but
the way that they are expressed can change considerably. A good
example of this is the father- daughter relationship between Birling
and Sheila. This play is set before the Second World War, and at that
time, equality between men and women, was at its infancy. Women were
seen as weak and dainty creatures, compared to men, whose duty it was
to protect them. Birling is very overprotective of his daughter, and
although is engaged, thinks of her as a little girl. We can tell this
from the language that Birling uses when talking to or about Sheila.
When Sheila walks in on Birling and the Inspectors conversation, her
father answers her: 'Nothing to do with you, run along'. When Sheila
realises her part in Eva Smiths death, and runs out, Birling reacts by
saying; 'Why the devil do you want to go upsetting the child like
that'. He addresses her as 'child' and talks to her in what would be
seen nowadays as a belittling manner. If a father spoke to his ten-year-old
daughter like that today, he would definitely have a negative effect.
Fathers still see their daughters as 'my little girl' and do all they
can to protect them, but it is done in a completely different manner.
Also, if you said 'run along' to a woman nowadays, she would probably
find it offensive, as women have gained equal rights since this play
was set, and it is no longer acceptable to speak to women in such a
manner. Sheila would also probably behave differently if she was a
women living in today's society. Sheila's character is portrayed as
very feminine and 'girly'; 'Oh- it's wonderful! Look Mummy- isn't it a
beauty? In today's society women, especially of Sheila's age are much
more self- confident and independent.

As a whole, the Birling family would be a lot different today, in
terms of how the family works. Mr Birling was seen as the breadwinner
and Mrs Birling the homemaker, nowadays, both men and women are
expected to work, and be the breadwinners as well as the homemaker. In
my opinion the statement that 'the characters are out of date, and
cannot relate to the audience of 2002' is true, as although are
similar in some cases, the differences in character and situation, are
vary big. From this point of view, I have concluded that 'An Inspector
calls' is out of date.

The third and final statement that I am going to analyse is; 'the
language is out of date, and no longer effective'. In order to do
this, I will look at one specific section in the play, and distinguish
which type of language, if any, is out of date. 'An Inspector calls'
was written in 1945, and it was set in 1912. Nearly 100 years later,
it is inevitable that there will be some changes in language, new
words have been introduced, and some old ones have practically
vanished. Most of the language though, can still be heard today; there
are only a few words that could be considered 'dated'. The modern
audience is a huge fan of films, programs, and drama's set in the
past. The language used in these programs is also considered to be
'dated', as the directors and producers want to make the programs
sound authentic. The modern audience is familiar with 'dated'
language, and although can understand it, don't use it in everyday
speech anymore. There are many such examples in 'An Inspector calls',
such as: "By Jove" and "I fancy". The general tone of the language
used in 'An Inspector calls', can be described as formal, or even
'posh' rather than dated. A stereotypical 'posh' family is still seen
as to speak in the same manner as the Birlings, so if 'An Inspector
calls' was shown to an audience of 2002, it would be successful in
conveying the image of the Birlings that Priestly intended, which was
rich, of the upper-class, and posh.

The language and dramatic devices that Priestly uses in 'An Inspector
calls' are similar to that of a writer today. At the end of act one,
when the Inspector reveals that Eva Smith changed her name to Daisy
Renton, the audience begin to suspect that Gerald is involved in her

Inspector: so she changed her name to Daisy Renton-

Gerald: (startled) What?

This tells the audience that Gerald is involved, and now the audience
want to know how he is involved. Priestly creates this suspense by
replacing the Inspector with Sheila. She is now the one asking the
questions, and in the audiences' case, revealing vital clues as to how
Gerald is involved: "How did you come to know this girl- Eva Smith?"
Giving the audience a hint as to what is going to happen, and then
slowly revealing it creates the suspense. This dramatic effect is
created partly by the language that Priestly uses, and partly by how
and when the characters react. Priestly shows that Sheila is agitated
and upset, when she asks lots of questions: "Was it after she left
Milwards? When she changed her name, as he said, and began to lead a
different sort of life?" Sheila knows how Gerald is involved with Eva
Smith, and Priestly uses this to tell the audience what Sheila knows,
or assumes. Both Sheila and Gerald are disconcerted, as the sentences
at the end of act two are very short: "You don't" and "You'll see".
The questions that are in the audiences mind at the end of act two,
are not concerning who is the next culprit, but are more general. The
audience are now beginning to realise that maybe everyone is involved
with Eva Smith, and that Inspector is a lot more then he seems. The
language used to create this effect cannot be seen as 'dated', as it
still used today. There are only a few words in 'An Inspector calls',
that could bee seen as dated, but these can be quite important. Words
such as "drawing room" or "decanter" are not used commonly any more,
and most people won't fully understand them. This could limit their
understanding and enjoyment of the play, so supports my final

Overall I disagree with the statement: 'the language is out of date,
and no longer effective'. The language used in 'An Inspector calls' is
mostly not out of date, and can be fully understood and appreciated by
an audience of 2002. It can still create dramatic effect to its full
extent, and is not affected by the odd cases of 'dated' language.

In my opinion the, an Inspector calls is not out of date, as its
language, morals and characters are still relevant today. It can offer
an audience of 2002, not only a dramatic and well-made thriller, but
also morals and lessons that still need to be learnt. 'An Inspector
calls' will be entertaining whenever it is shown, as dramatic devices,
and human response cannot become 'dated' and ineffective, even thought
a storyline can. However, the storyline in 'An Inspector calls' is
still common today, as some of the issues it raises, are still
widespread today. 'An Inspector calls' was set in 1912, and was
written or an audience of 1946; to an audience pf 2002, it offers a
chance to learn some history, entertainment, and lessons to be learnt.
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