Critical analysis of an inspector calls

1504 words (6 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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John Boynton Priestly was an English novelist, playwright and broadcaster. He published 27 novels, an example such as ‘The Good Companions’ and a number of dramas such as ‘Inspector Calls’. All of which he outputs literary and social criticism. Priestly was born into a socialist family in 1894. He lived throughout the end of the Victorian era and worked as a clerk in a textile factory. This meant he was a witness to the discriminations of the time rich and poor, men and women and, as a socialist, was affected by them. Shortly after the war had ended, ‘An Inspector Calls’ was written and at this time the country was in disarray. Priestly uses this effectively to show that socialism is the way forward. He implies in order to recreate the country and for people to move forward, everyone must work together as a society, instead of reverting back to capitalism. The play write expresses a strong political message and it promotes the ideal of socialism. Priestly uses the ‘Birling family’ in a dramatic way, they are cold, distant people and they show how capitalism has corrupted the family.

In my opinion Priestly uses many different ways to portray his socialist views throughout the play. He begins by using dramatic stage directions in Act One. ‘The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike.’ This description suggests the family about to enter, that being The Birling family, are distant and bitter. Priestly uses ‘dessert plates’ and ‘champagne glasses’ on the table setting to represent the wealth and success of the family. However Priestly emphasises the remote relationship between Mr and Mrs Birling by having them sat at opposite ends of the table. I believe this setting and atmosphere supports Priestly’s way of showing how capitalism has corrupted the family. Included in these stage directions are those concerning the lighting. In this particular scene the lighting is of importance as it states the lighting should be ‘pink and intimate’, this represents a warm and jubilant ambience. However I believe Priestly chooses this particular colour to show the audience the Birling family view life ‘through rose-tinted glasses’ and don’t know the true meaning of life and the reality behind it. In contrast to this lighting, it changes as the Inspector enters to ‘brighter and harder’. I believe this proposes the Inspector’s importance and the exposure of reality as well as Priestly’s morals and views. Priestly is using the lighting as a symbol to the Birling family that nothing everything revolves around them and realise they are part of a community.

Another way of which Priestly uses the play as a vehicle to voice his views is by using the character of the Inspector in a dramatic way. I believe he uses the Inspector to convey his views, and to suggest that socialism is the correct and honest way to live. Priestly names the inspector, ‘Inspector Goole’. This name can be interpreted in many different ways in relation to the Inspectors role in the play. As he is a very mysterious character the name ‘Goole’ relates very well with the word ‘ghoul’, which is known for being an evil spirit or a demon. In relation to being an evil spirit or a demon, The Inspector does not use any euphemisms, instead uses detailed imagery. He does this to shock the Birling’s into giving him information. An example of this from the text is, ‘she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. Burnt her inside out of course.’ This detailed description of death shows the personality of the Inspector, and how Priestly is trying to portray him as a character. The Inspector is used to ‘correct’ the capitalist believers and he is there to make a powerful statement in favour of socialism. The Inspector not only appeals to the Birling family but Priestly also has the Inspector address the audience in a way which makes them recognize that they are ‘members of one body’. This gives the audience a chance to realise they should try and help people like Eva Smith in the best way they can, if not, as the Inspector entails, ‘they will be taught in fire and bloody and anguish’. This is also another way, of which Priestly uses the play as a vehicle for his views.

Priestly uses a dramatic sense of irony by quoting what both the Inspector and Mr Birling say about two specific events to elevate one and embarrass the other. In Mr Birling’s speech at the opening of the play, he arrogantly states that ‘as a hard-headed businessman’ he believes that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’ and that there just ‘silly little war scares’ and in addition to his terrible judgement he claims that the Titanic is ‘absolutely unsinkable’. However the play is published after Two World Wars and the sinking of the Titanic, causing the audience to deem Birling as a fool. In contrast to Birling, is the Inspector, who states in his concluding speech that ‘they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish’ specifying that there will be a war. By using this conspicuous irony Priestly grabs the attention of the audience, he does this to make them believe the socialist views of the Inspector instead of Birling and his ‘foolish’ beliefs.

A conscious theme of the play is responsibility; another way of which Priestly portrays his views. Throughout the play the world ‘responsible’ and ‘responsibility’ are used by nearly all of the characters and it is clear they all have a different attitude towards responsibility. Priestly portrays his views on responsibility and caring for others by the coincidence of Mr Birling and the Inspector’s views completely opposing each other. Birling believes that you are responsible for no one but yourself. In contrast to this, the Inspector believes that we should all care for each other. At the beginning of the play Birling makes it clear what his views on responsibility are. For example, in a speech he makes in Act one, he states ‘that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own-‘. However right before the Inspector is about to exit he makes a final speech stating his views on responsibility, for example he says ‘We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.’ These contrasting views on responsibility give Priestly the opportunity to shame capitalism and encourage socialism. It shows that Birling is a shallow, cold-hearted man who only thinks of himself.

The theme of responsibility is also explored when the Inspector reveals Eva Smiths death to the Birling family; we see how each of them feels in their responsibility to do with her decease. As the news is revealed, we see a positive reaction from Eric and Shelia, this signifies that they realised they have some accountability in Eva Smith’s death and do not want to carry on with their selfish, unkind ways. On the other hand Mr and Mrs Birling’s reaction only goes as far as being concerned about the damaging reputation they might gain and refuses to accept any responsibility. For example, ‘if we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward wouldn’t it?’ Priestly uses the younger generation to symbolise hope for the future, both Eric and Shelia are remorseful for their actions, and the change signifies they are going to make a conscious effort to improve their relationships with other people.

Alongside the theme of responsibility Priestly uses upper and lower class, in contrast to each other. The Birling family represent the upper class and Eva Smith represents the lower. Eva Smith symbolises every person who is treated unfairly in society. She is poor and not only that, but she is not on stage, only talked about. Priestly uses the character of Eva Smith to show the audience and the Birling family that not everything revolves around them and that class should not have that effect on society.

Overall a significant message is passed across throughout the play that teaches us different morals of life. Priestly uses many different dramatic devices to portray his views, and I believe the inspector is a powerful character who Priestly uses to voice his opinions and beliefs on socialism. Priestly teaches the audience about responsibility and that caring for everyone in society, upper or lower class, is extremely important. The play makes it clear that socialism is the way forward, as an alternative to capitalism, which in my opinion is exactly what Priestly wanted to achieve.


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