J.B.Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls

J.B.Priestley’s play, An Inspector Calls

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Dear Mr. Anthony Hopkins

Thank you for accepting the role of the inspector in my production of
J B Priestley’s play ‘An inspector calls’.

The play is set in the early 1912 before the First World War in a time
when there was a relative period of economic and social stability. The
play is set in a fictous North Midlands industrial city of Brumley.

The play is about a family, the Birlings who are celebrating their
daughter’s engagement to a young man called Gerald Croft whose family
also own a business or factory similar to that of the Birling family
business. Gerald Croft and all the members in the Birling family which
include Arthur and Sybil Birling (the parents), Eric Birling (their
son) and their daughter Sheila Birling who is engaged with Gerald
Croft are all sat round at the their dining table having a dinner
party to celebrate the fact that Sheila and Gerald are both engaged.
Just after Mr.Birling has completed his pompous speech, there dinner
party is interrupted by the arrival of Inspector Goole, who announces
that he is making enquiries about a young woman called Eva Smith who
has committed suicide by swallowing disinfectant. The Inspector first
shows Mr Birling a picture of Eva Smith that Mr Birling recognises
straight away because Eva Smith use to work in Mr.Birling’s factory,
but was sacked because she was one of the ringleaders of a strike that
was demanding a pay rise. Mr Birling tries to talk the Inspector in to
leaving them alone by making threats to him and trying to impress him
with his high social status. The Inspector is still determined to
interrogate all of them hinting to them that they are all connected to
Eva Smith’s death. He talks to Sheila next telling her that Eva Smith
use to work at a big well known shop called Millward but lost her job
due to a complaint that was made by a jealous and petty-minded
customer, that customer was Sheila who now feels very guilty about Eva
Smith’s death. We now also find that Gerald was also involved with Eva
Smith, who at that time went by the name Daisy Renton. Gerald had had
an affair with Daisy Renton (alias Eva Smith) the previous summer; she
was his mistress until it no more suited him. Sheila admires Gerald
for his honesty but doesn’t seem to keen on continuing her
relationship with Gerald, Gerald d leaves the house to go for a walk.
Mrs Birling is then also found to be responsible for Eva Smith’s death
since Mrs. Birling refused to help Eva Smith through the Brumley

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woman’s charity organisation in which she was a prominent member, the
only reason she didn’t help Eva Smith was because she didn’t like her
and thought she was telling “a pack of lies”. Then we find out that
Eva Smith had become pregnant and that is why she had gone to seek
help from the charitable organisation, the father of Eva Smith’s child
turns out to be no other than Eric, who is very upset about his mother
not helping Eva Smith. Eva Smith had refused to marry Eric because he
had stolen money and did not really love her. After the Inspector
proves that all the Birling family shared responsibility for the death
of Eva Smith and gives a final moralising, talk he leaves them. After
the Inspector leaves Gerald comes back and convinces Mr and Mrs.
Birling that the Inspector was not really an inspector, and they were
probably talking about different girls and there really had not been
any suicide. Sheila and Eric still guilty for what they have done and,
feel they have been changed by the experience and still don’t feel
right after they phone the infirmary and are told no girl that has
swallowed disinfectant has been bought in.

Then the phone rings and, Mr Birling picks it up and gets quite a
shock, It s police and they’ve sent an inspector over to their house
to make an enquiry about a girl who has just died on her way to the
infirmary because she swallowed some disinfectant.

The inspector is what the writer J B Priestley uses to express his
views regarding socialism and Capitalism, Priestly seems to feel very
strongly in support for socialism, since the characters we don’t like
very much are the ones who are capitalists, like Mr Birling who is a
very arrogant and selfish man who seems to care only about his
reputation being damaged rather than feeling guilt about his
contribution to the death of Eva Smith. In the play in act 1 Mr.
Birling talks about what he thinks about people living in a community
he believes “that a man has to make his own way – has to look after
himself –and his family too”, we can tell the Mr. Birling thinks in
business terms as he sees the marriage between his daughter and Gerald
as a way in which both their families can work “together -for lower
costs and higher prices”, Mr.Birling says “a man has to mind his own
business and look after himself and his own-and-“,before he gets to
finish his point there is an interruption because of the inspector,
its almost as if J B Priestley’s response to Birling’s opinions is the
Inspector, who’s opinions are totally the opposite to Birling’s. The
inspector believes that that all people should live in a society which
does not segregate people because of their class or because of there
social status, people need to take care of each other and be
responsible for each other. Priestly uses the Arthur Birling to show
how ignorant capitalists are, when Arthur Birling makes his pompous
predictions about future events, like when he says that “the Germans
don’t war”, which is quite ironic because two years after this story
was set the First World War took place. The Inspector is portrayed
like good guy, with good intentions he believes that socialism can
benefit the poorer classes, unlike capitalism which make the rich more
rich and the poor more poorer. On the other hand you have Mr. Birling
who represents greedy business men, who don’t learn from the mistakes
they make and do not seem to care about what consequences there could
be to their actions, they are more concerned about the amount of money
they make or lose.

The inspector is a very serious man, he doesn’t’ have time for jokes
or smile or laugh he is extremely determined to carry out his duty as
a policeman. He likes to be organised, this can be seen when he says
the way in which he like to work is “one person and one enquiry at a
time. Other wise there is a muddle”, this plus the way in which he
carries out his enquiries is done in strategically, for example when
he is showing the photo to Mr. Birling he makes sure no one else sees
the photo by blocking their view, he doesn’t want them to see the
photo so that they can not make an alibi or lie about it. It seems
that the inspector either knows all the details to do with the death
of Eva Smith, or he is using a limited amount of information in an
effective way as to make it look like he knows all the truth about the
involvement each character has with Eva Smith, It is very well
possible that the characters being questioned just think that he knows
everything when he actually doesn’t, so they see no point in lying and
confess their involvement with Eva Smith. The inspector is so
intimidating and is always direct in his questioning that the
character has no choice but to tell the truth. When the Inspector is
talking to the characters he make sure that the subject they are
talking about is not changed, and if is changed he makes short and
quick comment that reflect n his interest for anything other than his
investigation, an example of this is when Mr. Birling says “How do you
get on with our Chief Constable Colonel Roberts?”, to this the
inspector replies “I don’t see much of him”, he doesn’t say much but
says enough to answer the question without going into another
conversation unrelated to the investigation. If the Inspector is not
really a police officer and he said that he doesn’t see much of The
Chief Constable Colonel Roberts, he has not really lied because if he
is not an inspector he wouldn’t really see much of the Chief. The
inspector is a man who is not persuaded by bribe or frightened by
threats of loosing his job as we can se from the incident where Mr
Birling says he knows the Chief Constable Colonel Roberts very well
and they “play golf together sometimes”, the inspector replies using a
witty comment to dismiss the whole threat showing he isn’t bothered by
such threats. You can see that money doesn’t change his mind either
which can be seen by when the Inspector rejects the offer of
“thousands, yes thousands” of pounds by Mr. Birling by replying
“You’re offering the money at the wrong time”. Inspector Goole is a
man of high principles; he doesn’t degrade himself by accepting bribes
to shut up or being frightened of losing his job. Overall the
inspector is a character that is portrayed as a hero for people who
strongly believe in socialism, he is also a very mysterious character
since we never know if he is actually an inspector or not and what is
so eerie about him is that the event which he has come to make
enquiries about has not happened yet.

The inspector treats each character in the play in a certain manner.
To understand how he reacts with each character I firstly need to talk
about each one of the characters.

The first character I will talk about is one I have already talked a
lot about i.e. Arthur Birling. He describes himself as a “hard headed
business man, everything he thinks of is in business terms, like when
he says that the engagement between Sheila and Gerald would be a good
way for Crofts limited and Birling and company to end their business
rivalry and work together “for lower costs and higher prices”, he see
the engagement more like a business transaction. He doesn’t agree with
the ideas of socialism, he calls people who believe in socialism
“cranks”, the inspector is one of these so called “cranks”. He
believes in capitalism so strongly that in one point of the play he
says “that a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself
–and his family too” this shows he doesn’t really care about any one
else except him self and his own family showing how selfish he is. Mr.
Birling is the sort of person who thinks his always right, he is very
arrogant, and an example of this is the statements he makes regarding
the First World War and about the Titanic. He says “there isn’t a
chance for war” when in fact two years after the story is set the
First world war took place,Birling also says that the Titanic is
“unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable” , this comment is quite ironic
because the Titanic as we know sank on its maiden voyage. When Birling
finds out about Eric stole from the factory, and was a drunkard and
had also found to be the father of Eva Smith’s child Birling yells
“You damned fool - why didn't you come to me when you found yourself
in this mess?”, Eric replies ”Because you're not the kind of chap a
man could turn to when he's in trouble” which indicates to us that
Birling is not really much of great father, probably because running
his business and making as much money as possible is his main priority
before being a good father. He never admits to his share of
responsibility of the death of Eva Smith, he instead passes all the
blame on t Eric.

The inspector makes witty remarks such as “I don’t play golf” and
generally tries to make sure he is in control of the situation.

At the start of the play Sheila Birling seems to be a very happy about
being engaged, “she is pleased with life”. By the end of the play she
is the character that feels most guilty about what she has done as she
starts crying and sobbing due to the guilt running through her mind.
She truly regrets what she has done and admits to her mistake and
responsibility in the death of Eva by and promises that she would
“never, never do it again”. This shows us that she actually has learnt
from her mistake and will not do anything irresponsible like that in
future. The inspector affects and makes an “impression” on Sheila, as
she also seeks the truth the same as the Inspector; she is more honest
and lacking of the cold bloodedness unlike her mother and father. She
seems to be an ally to the Inspector all the way through the
questioning for each character, she keeps making comments about t
characters being interviewed.

Sheila is more like an ally to the inspector as she keeps cutting in
to the interviews and making accusing comments, the inspector tries to
comfort her by saying that she should stay and listen to all the
questions being asked to the others so she doesn’t feel entirely
responsible. She agrees with inspector most of the time so the tone in
which the inspector speaks is more pleasant than when the inspector
talks to Mr. Birling.

Gerald Croft is the character that supports both the parents and the
younger generation including Sheila and Eric and has he sees both side
of the argument. But he is more biased with the views of Mr. Birling,
especially when Sheila returns the ring to him because she finds out
that Gerald had “hardly come near” her all last summer because he had
an affair. Gerald was probably the least to blame for the death of Eva
Smith since he gave her home to stay in and kept her happy for the
duration they had an affair, and he did this out of pure sympathy.
Gerald Croft thinks the fastest on why The Inspector might not have
been real and came up with a whole theory of his own about there being
more than one girl.

Gerald Croft does most of the talking so after the Inspector persuades
him to talk by telling him he already knew he had an affair with Eva
Smith/ Daisy Renton.

Mrs Birling is even more arrogant and the Arthur Birling and is a
“rather cold woman”. She supports Mr. Birling’s opinions so strongly
about social status and etc. She is a proper snob because she treats
all lower class with disrespect as if they are a different species at
one point she refers to Eva Smith as “girls of that class”. She thinks
a lot of her self, she thinks she is better than others and even runs
a charitable organisation for women, but even then she is very unkind
and uses her prominent position in the organisation to influence the
decision on whether the organisation should help Eva Smith or not, she
chooses not to because she believes the girl was telling “a pack of
lies” and simply because she didn’t like the girl. Mrs. Birling never
admits she is wrong; she tries to justify her actions on not giving
money to Eva Smith. But even when the Inspector tells her that her
actions were not justified she still doesn’t admit that she is wrong.
Just like Mr Birling she tries to shift the blame on to the father by
saying “The girl wouldn’t have come to us, and have been refused
assistance, if it hadn’t been for “the father of the child. You can
see her Hypocrisy when she says that the father of the child should be
“compelled to confess in public his responsibility”, but then she is
quite shocked to hear that it is her son, Eric that is the father, we
can tell that now she wants take everything she said back when she
says”But I didn’t know it was you” to Eric. Overall Mrs. Birling is a
Hypocrite, she pretends to care for other people through her charity
when in actual fact she thinks so lowly of the lower class, and she is
so bad that she feels that any of the things the Inspector has said
has no affect on her, she doesn’t accept responsibility in helping to
cause the death of Eva Smith.

When The Inspector talks to Mrs Birling he is quite smart the way in
which he has to talk to her, he would talk about the actual incident
that led to her death, he accuses her of it being her fault and her
organisations fault and that she should be ashamed of herself. Then he
makes Mrs. Birling say how they should take care of the father of the
child.

Eric Birling is exposed to be a drunkard, father of the child that Eva
Smith was going to have, and a thief. He was the one that got Eva
Smith pregnant while he was drunk one night. He always speaks what is
on his mind like when his father says that if the workers didn’t like
the usual rates “they could always go work somewhere else. It’s a free
country”, Eric responds to this by saying “it isn’t if you can’t go
and work somewhere else”. Eva Smith didn’t want to marry Eric because
she thought he was too immature. Eric is so angry at his mother at the
end for “murdering” his own baby that he is about to physically attack
his mother. He is really annoyed by the fact that his parents will not
accept any blame fro the death of Eva Smith, but he admits and feels
guilty in the responsibility of the girl’s death. It’s as if the
younger generation agree with the inspector and understand how people
are part of one body and society.

The Inspector goes easy on Eric, he even allow Eric to have a drink
before they start the questioning. He controls any of the arguments
that erupt amongst the family members, he tells them to resolve the
problems after he has gone.

Since the play is set in the early 1900’s the clothes and furniture
will be from that era. The stage will be set up so that there will be
a table that is oval shaped on the left hand side of the stage. The
people will be seated in such a manner on one side of the table so
that their face can be seen. The table with the telephone will be on
the left side of the stage in front of the table. The door that should
lead to the drawing room and the door that the servant Edna uses will
be on the left hand side, behind the table. The door that Inspector
Goole enters from will be on the right hand side of the table. On the
far right hand side of the stage should be the fireplace with a couple
of chairs around it. I will also need to make sure that there is no
obstruction that blocks the view of the door, so that the Inspectors
entrance can be seen well and an image of massiveness is created
because the size of the door it self is not much big,but the first
thing you should see is a long shadow coming from the door, this can
be done using spot lights. I think I will keep the stage directions
that were made by Priestly.

The language used in ‘An Inspector Calls’ is quite simple and uses
easy to understand language even though the book uses phrases and
words that are rarely used to day e.g. the phrase “fiddlesticks” is
not used by many today. The way in which The Birlings speak sound very
posh, but the way in which the Inspector talks looks like it is just
standard English. The play could also begin where it has ended, so
they could make the play continuing from there, because this ending is
very sudden, it leaves you wondering what will happen next.

I hope you find my suggestions helpful and if you have any concerns
contact me on 05372 38729.

Yours sincerely

(Director of the new production of ‘An Inspector calls’.)
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