To What Extent Is “An Inspector Calls” a Socialist Play?

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J. B Priestley uses his play as tool to get across his message of socialism. Priestley was a well known socialist and so would obviously want to express his views in some way. Priestley uses “AIC” to convey his views on capitalism and socialism: he uses the Inspector and some of the other characters as his mouthpiece of socialism, and uses some of the more arrogant and ugly characters to represent capitalism. Priestley would obviously be one sided in the play because he would be opposed to capitalism. Priestley wants us to see Edwardian society in a bad way: he wants his modern audience to feel as though the Edwardian society was wrong.

Mr Birling and Mrs Birling, and Gerald are the personifications of Edwardian society. Priestley wants us to see the whole of the Edwardian Society as arrogant, foolish and over-confident. Mr Birling’s belief that the` economy will get better, the titanic being indestructible and the impossibility of war. Because of the time setting, the modern audience knows that Mr Birling is wrong about all of those things. “The titanic…unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable…there’ll be peace and prosperity everywhere”. Mr Birling/ Priestley views on Edwardian society also seems to be very prejudice, making it seem that he is arrogant about other society’s. Prosperity and rapid progress everywhere-except of course in Russia, which will always be behind naturally”. Mr Birling is the personification of capitalism: a form of government that Priestley was openly against. So it is obvious that he would want to attack it. “AIC” allows Priestley to openly attack capitalism through the use of the Inspector. The Inspector ultimately has power throughout the play as Priestley would want, as the Inspector is his mouthpiece: he wants capitalism to seem less powerful verbally and intellectually when compared to Socialism.

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Mr Birling is portrayed to be more interested in business than his family. He doesn’t even know that his son drinks. “Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now- and now you’ve brought us together, we may look forward to the time when we are no longer competing but working together- for lower costs and higher prices”. This shows that Mr Birling is more interested in growing his business than family relations. To him Sheila’s and Gerald’s marriage is just business, or merchantile. This is how Priestley wants us to view capitalism: merchantile and greedy, while socialism is about community.

It is a well known fact that throughout history women have been treated less equally than men: this is also apparent in the Edwardian Society. Priestley uses this to make us feel that characters such as Mrs Birling and Sheila are victims of oppression. Mrs Birling certainly agrees that women are weaker than men, while throughout the play Sheila actually speaks out against her mother and father. This sort of thing would appeal to a modern audience since our social views have changed. Sheila: “he’s giving us rope to hang ourselves” Birling: “what’s wrong with that child? Mrs Birling is also much more submissive to men: she probably does this because she does not feel the need to speak out: she has a higher social status and money, and is content. “I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing-room and leave you men” This also shows that Mrs Birling is willing to let men do what they want and knows her place. Sheila on the other hand is younger and feels guilty about Eva Smith: she matures as the play goes on. This is how Priestley wants us to see her: she is another mouthpiece for change and socialism.

From the description of the house and the common mention of the drink port it is obvious that the Birlings are a rich, upper-class family. Between the aristocrats (upper-classes) business and social politics were extremely important. Often they would only marry between each other for money or to raise their social status. This is a good example of the Birlings: Mrs Birling is after Mr birling’s money since he is a rich businessman, while he wishes to raise his social status through Mrs Birling’s prestigious family. “There’s a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours list: just a knighthood of course”.

This shows that Mr Birling is only interested in social status. Mrs Birling is different from her husband: she is the epitome of a snobbish aristocrat: she automatically assumes that any person other than those of her own class deserve less respect and are “lower”. Such an example is when Mrs Birling refuses to give help to Eva Smith even though she has the power to do so, just because she coincidently uses the name “Birling”. This shows that Mrs Birling would prefer to keep her name separate from the lower classes because she believes that it is too prestigious for them. “I didn’t like her manner.

She’d impertinently made use of our name”. Mrs Birling didn’t even know it wasn’t her actual name and just assumed. Gerald is also very snobbish, similarly to Mr. Birling: He takes advantage of Eva Smith because he knows that she is desperate and needs money. When he is done, he carelessly throws her out, thinking that there will be no consequences. In Priestley’s socialist view, everyone should be of equal status so that nobody can look down upon someone else. The Birlings and Gerald represent the bad characteristics of capitalism: inequality causes pain, greed, lust and anguish.

By the end of “AIC” we find that the characters Sheila and Eric have changed. While the others are all too easy to dismiss what has happened, believing that their actions have no consequences. Sheila genuinely feels bad for what she did, even though it was probably the smallest thing that happened to Eva. Eric also feels guilty, but naturally he should because he got her pregnant. Because they are the youngest in the play, they suit Priestley’s wish for society to change: he believes that only the younger generation are able to change.

Because Sheila and Eva both represent socialism, and seem the nicest characters, we see them as better than the Birlings and Gerald. This makes us consider our own society and we should change to be like Sheila and Eric. We do not wish to become like the Birlings or Gerald. The Inspector acts as a guiding figure for how we should act: he shows us that we should be more civil to each other and that we should learn from our mistakes: Sheila and Eric definitely learn from this, as they automatically repent of their wrongdoings.

This is how Priestley wants us to act, and uses the mysterious Inspector as his mouthpiece. We find that the other characters such as Mr and Mrs Birling are in fact terrible people who try to escape their responsibilities to help others. They are overtaken by greed and arrogance. Eric and Sheila represent hope for the future because they wish for change: they feel guilty and so change for the good.

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To What Extent Is “An Inspector Calls” a Socialist Play?. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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