The Presentation of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls

The Presentation of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls

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The Presentation of the Inspector in An Inspector Calls

J.B. Priestley was born in Yorkshire on 13th September 1894. He
gained his writing experience in the years before the war 1911-1914;
he did not work among professional writers; he was around “people who
read a great deal, cared a lot for at least one of the arts, and
preferred a real talk and hot arguments to social chit-chat.” Despite
having grown up into his father’s circle of socialist friends, he
found himself joining in in their political discussions/arguments. It
was around this time that Priestley started to write in his front
attic bedroom.

At the age of twenty, and at the outbreak of war, in 1914, he joined
the infantry. He left in 1919, having seen active front-line service
in France and having narrowly escaped being killed when a German shell
exploded three yards away from him and having been a victim of a
gas-attack.

In “An Inspector Calls”, Priestley uses a lot of his political views
in the Inspectors speeches by using him as a kind of a mouthpiece for
his socialism. The play was written in 1946; however it was set in
1912, just before the outbreak of WWI. This was a new era when people
were no longer willing to accept the poverty or the class system that
had gone before. Priestley strongly believed that everyone had some
responsibility for others in society and not just their own welfare.
He realised that change was coming and explores this theme in his
play. Priestley believed that events are repeated over again unless
people face up to their past activities, like Eric and Sheila do, and
only this can bring about a positive and equal change in society.

At the start of the play, Act 1, Mr Birling is portrayed to the
audience as quite a self confident and opinionated person who doesn’t
believe in “collective responsibility”. He feels he belongs to a
social class that makes him superior and somewhat divorced from other
members of society. He has no concept of helping, or being
responsible for others. This is shown in Act 1 when he is with the
family and his daughter’s new fiancé, Gerald Croft, celebrating their
engagement. He made a few speeches that give the audience a bad view
of him and make him look arrogant and ignorant. “…Just because the
Kaiser makes a speech or two…Everything to loose with war, and nothing
to gain.” And to Eric, “…And I say there isn’t a chance of war…in a
world that’ll have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour
agitations and all these silly little war scares.

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There’ll be peace
and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere- except of course in
Russia…” This speech is a good example of dramatic irony. The first
example in the play links in, which is because the play being written
in 146, but being set in 1912, as when Birling says confidently that
there will be no war, and years on from now everything will be fine,
he was unaware of the disasters that were impending. Such
pronouncements as “we are in for a time of steadily increasing
prosperity” and “there’ll be peace and rapid progress everywhere” are
ironic because the audience knows how quickly they will be disproved;
after all the audience watching would’ve lived through two WW’s and
would still be suffering the after-effects of the 2nd one.

The Birling children, Shelia and Eric have very different views to
their father throughout the whole play; however they change
dramatically as the whole story unveils. Sheila at first is seen to
be shallow mainly because of her social standing. She is expected the
play the role of a subservient wife who always puts her husband’s
wishes first. The way she behaves at the dinner table suggests that
she is only interested in surface interests. She only talks about
visiting clothes shops and yet does not join in when her father starts
to discuss politics. Eric doesn’t seem to agree with his father’s
opinions and seems more interested in drinking than in joining the
political debates.

In terms of staging, Priestley uses stage direction to reflect the
changing mood in the play from one of celebration and optimism to a
darker one. There is “pink and intimate” use of lights for the party,
which changes to “brighter and harder” when the inspection begins.
The play is set in two rooms, both set out in good solid furniture of
the period.

On the Inspector’s arrival, Birling is quite welcoming towards him,
“Sit down…Have a glass of port– or a little whisky?” but as the
Inspector refuses both, Birling gets irritated and tries to intimidate
the Inspector by saying that he “was an alderman for years – and Lord
Mayor two years ago…and is still on the bench…”; however, the
Inspector is not threatened, and continues to tell of the girl in
question and of her horrible death, after having “swallowed a lot of
strong disinfectant”. Birling doesn’t seem to care of the girl’s
death and his part in it, and shows no remorse what so ever, and seems
more inconvenienced by the Inspectors presence than worried.

Eric Birling is shocked by the news but does not seem to converse much
with the Inspector, or any other characters during this part of the
play.

Sheila Birling is intrigued to find out what is going on when she sees
the Inspector with her family, and when she is told of Eva Smith, she
becomes quite distressed; at the point, neither her, her family nor
the audience have any knowledge of her knowing the girl. Sheila
denies knowing Eva Smith, but when the Inspector shows her a picture
of her, she obviously recognises the girl, and so runs off crying.
The audience may not understand this, but they realise that Shelia
must have had something to do with Eva’s death. Sheila, unlike her
father feels remorseful for her acts and her realisation at setting in
chain a series of events that may have lead to the suicide of the
young girl. She shows she is able to learn from the Inspector’s
values.

Sybil Birling seems completely unaffected by her actions, and like her
husband, she tries to justify them and defend herself, “I’m very
sorry. But I think she had only herself to blame” and “No you
haven’t. Simply because I’ve done nothing wrong – and you know it.”
But her cocky attitude changes when she condemns the father of Eva
Smith’s child by saying “it’s his responsibility” and by saying that
he “ought to be dealt with very severely.” Sheila can see the trap
that her mother’s arrogance is having and tries to stop her mother
exposing and condemning the child’s father. Cybil then realises that
the father of Eva’s baby, who she has been talking about is in fact
her son, Eric. After realising this, Cybil Birling’s attitude
temporarily changes.

When Eric re-enters, knowing everyone inside now thanks to the
neighbour knows his secret he realises that he is wrong and him and
Sheila try to make their parents see how they were also wrong.

Gerald Croft did not sack, impregnate, or refuse help to Eva; he
helped her by giving her money and a temporary residence. Out of all
the suspects, he truly did like or love her and the only person most
affected by his actions is Sheila, who Gerald ignored whilst having
his affair with Eva.

The Inspector is a very moral figure in the play. He represents the
completely opposite view of Mr Birling that people should only look
after themselves. Through his probing and questioning the Inspector
allows the characters to reveal themselves, he controls the movement
of the play and as Sheila says “somehow he makes you” reveal what you
are thinking. He uses his physically presence, which is described as
“an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness” to break
down the resistance of the characters.

In a sense, the Inspector is a symbolic figure and mouthpiece for
Priestley’s socialism. The author wanted to show that in society we
must be responsible for one another and recognise that our actions can
have an impact on others. However, although the Inspector can help us
to see our responsibilities, we must want to change our behaviour, so
hw points out that we all have a personal responsibility.
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