In this essay I will be discussing why J. B Priestly wrote the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ and how he uses the to influence the social hierarchy in 1946. The play was set in 1912 in the dining room of the Birling’s house in Brumely, an industrial city in the North Midlands. The Birling’s consists of Mr. Birling, Arthur, Mrs. Birling, Sybil and their son and daughter, Eric and Sheila. The play also presents Sheila’s fiance, Gerald, the Inspector and the mention of Eva Smith. In the play the Inspector has gone to the Birling’s house to enquire about a girl, Eva Smith, who has committed suicide.
The Inspector is there as he knows each one of the family, including Gerald are involved with the events leading up her death. I think the purpose of the play is to show how the higher classes should not just look out for themselves. Priestly wrote the play because when the war was present all the different classes had to mingle with each other as they needed to all help with making things for the soldiers, particularly women. Therefore it was as if classes didn’t exist anymore and Priestly did not want the social hierarchies to go back to what they were like beforehand.
The play was written in 1945 and performed in 1946. This was significant as the second world war had just ended and it was the time when the higher and lower classes where going back to their usual ways. Priestly sets the play in 1912 for dramatic irony as the characters are unaware of such things as the war. For example Mr. Birling says ‘The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war,’ which of course turns out to be wrong. Also it reflects how the higher class behaved before the war. This makes the audience realize how it has changed, but changed for the better. Mr. Birling talks to everyone convincing them that it is certain there will be no war. He says ‘The world’s developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible. ’ He goes on to talk about the Titanic ‘ The Titanic – she sails next week … unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. ’ Priestly uses this quote to make Arthur look foolish as he makes out he knows everything and doesn’t think about any other possibilities accept his own. Also the sinking of the Titanic is a famous event in History so it is very well known. This puts the audience at an advantage over the characters and makes them more involved as they know what happens.
Furthermore Mr. Birling starts to talk about what they will be doing in the future. He quotes ‘In twenty or thirty years’ time – let’s say in 1940 … you’ll be living in a world that’ll forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares. ’ This quote once again shows dramatic irony as the audience know that in 1940 the war has not long broke out. It also makes the audience see Mr. Birling as foolish and senseless. The Inspectors beliefs and views are very much opinionated negatively towards the higher classes.
He beliefs that everyone should look out for each other and nobody is better than someone just because of money or genetic backgrounds. These views and beliefs could also be looked at as himself Priestly’s beliefs as they are basically some of the main reasons for writing the play. Before the Inspector arrives Mr. Birling is giving Eric and Gerald his advice on how to act towards people, ‘ you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else … a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and -’. At that point you hear a sharp ring of the door bell which is the Inspector.
It is important that the Inspector arrives at this moment as Mr. Birling is expressing his feelings towards how you shouldn’t be looking out for other people which contradicts the Inspector’s views extremely. The stage directions quote ‘ The Inspector need not be a big man but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. ’ This is the audiences first impression of the Inspector which is that he is very dominant by his massiveness and as if he is very confident and someone not to be messed with.
It describes his appearance as ‘a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period. ’ This portrays that he is a very serious man and nothing unique or unusual about him. It carries on to say ‘He speaks carefully, weightily and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking. ’ This shows he is very wary of everyone around him by ‘looking hard at the person’ as if to figure them out in his head even before he has met them. This makes the audience feel cautious of what he is thinking and his first impressions of the Birling family.
The Inspector is shown as an authority figure in the play as the Birlings’ treat him with respect as they invite him into their home and even offer him a seat and even some of their port. The Inspector’s views regarding the social hierarchy are that there should be no difference between how you would treat people from different classes. We know this because he treats the Birlings’ with no special treatment or extra kindness due to the fact they are of the higher classes. He is not intimidated or unhesitant to asking them deep questions which could cause awkwardness or conflict.
This behavior gives the effect of how they shouldn’t be treated any different or the shock of how the Inspector has the nerve to talk this way on the audience. The reactions from Mr. Birling regarding this is as if to say do you know who you are talking to? ‘Perhaps I ought to warn you thats he’s an old friend of mine … we play golf together sometimes up at the West Brumley’ He says this as a threat and also reinforces his authority by saying they play golf as you wouldn’t find someone of the lower classes playing golf.
As the Inspector is asking questions about the events leading up to the suicide of Eva Smith clearly he is not like your usual police Inspector. He does not take into account that the Birlings’ are an important family and his inquiries are very precise and deep. He uses excruciating detail when describing her death. ‘she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. Burnt her insides out, of course. ’ He does this to make the family realize what they may have done which also makes them unfocused so they may trip up on their words to the Inspector.
This has the same effect on the audience which makes them feel great sympathy for the girl. The Inspector also talks about Eva Smith not just as one person but as all the women in the streets in the same situation. For example ‘There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence in every city and big town in this country’. Also the name Eva Smith is vital to the theory of the lower class girl. Eva is a very innocent and pure name as it refers to the name Eve. Likewise her second name Smith is a very common and well known name.
The name alone describes the girl was innocent who did nothing wrong and their are many others in her situation. This adds to the effect of sympathy for the girl but even greater because it’s realized there are many more women just like Eva Smith. Each of the characters had something to confess. The Inspector got them to confess by already knowing the background information of each incident from Eva Smith’s diary and a picture to prove they are both speaking about the same girl. This way why would they have a reason not to believe him?
All of these events and realizations are evidence that Priestly is getting justice for the lower class. We can tell this because the Inspector is very focused on getting a result from this investigation whereas a usual Inspector would not put in so much effort to get justice for Eva Smith. Most of the characters are moved by the situation while others, e. g Mr and Mrs. Birling, are not. The Inspector influences Sheila to become aware of the social hierarchy by showing her why Eva Smith wanted to take her life. But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people. ’ Sheila says. This influences the audience to think so as well as it is such a bold and certain statement. However the Inspector can not influence Mr and Mrs Birling. They are stubborn to think that her death has absolutely nothing to do with them and are not startled or sympathetic to anything the Inspector has to say. ‘I’m sorry she should have come to such a horrible end. But I accept no blame for it at all. ’ This shows she doesn’t care about the girl but only keeping herself in the clear.
They are both upset about the news the Inspector has revealed but mostly concerned about how it will effect their reputation. Also Mr. Birling is concerned that after this whole affair he will no longer be on the next Honours List. This makes the audience take a dis-like to them as they are un-aware of what awful circumstances which have come from their actions. On the other hand Eric and Sheila feel the complete opposite and seem to take all the responsibility upon themselves. ‘I had her turned out of a job. I started it. The younger generation have seemed to learn their lesson and accept the responsibility. I think it is because they are more open minded to consider different conclusions and have not been brought up with the attitude their parents have as they are much older so don’t know any better. This makes the audience feel Eric and Sheila’s guilt and follow their beliefs. Inspector Goole you could say is an unusual name. Goole is significant to the story line as the Inspector is a fraud. People could see him as maybe a ghost which relates to Goole.
I believe that the Inspector was someone who was giving them a warning but unfortunately the Birlings’ didn’t realize it. Also I think he could be Priestly but represented as an Inspector to put across his views and beliefs about the social hierarchy. The Inspector’s identity is never properly revealed because it adds to the dramatic effect and makes him seem more mysterious. From all of the madness and drama they have all learned a lesson including the audience. Everyone must look out for each other and that classes shouldn’t exist so everyone should be equal as it was when the war was happening.
In conclusion I think the play was well thought out for the circumstances which was happening in 1946. It showed to the audience how thinking of only yourself can mislead to an awful situation. Eva Smith was not one girl but represented all the women in the city with the same problems. The play shows how easily these girls got themselves into trouble and how easily it could have been stopped. Inspector Goole brought drama and realization to the play as he was very systematic as he reveled the story one by one to end up with a time line of events leading up to her death.