1912 was the beginning of the end for many people; unbeknown to the general public the First World War would dominate the lives of all. The Titanic would set sail, but soon come to an icy end, the Wall Street Crash would soon devastate the economy and the world would be turned upon its head. All characters in "An Inspector Calls remain ignorant and ill-informed to the near future. Written in 1945 but set in 1912 the audience are enticed by the dramatic irony of the play, as these events have all happened beforehand, the audience therefore know more about the play than the characters themselves, and they too watch as the Inspector manages to dictate and ruin a blissfully happy family to the point of breaking.
Due to the mystery of the Inspector, he is presented as one of the most unknown and thought provoking characters that English Literature has ever seen. It is this mystery about him that contributes to the way he is perceived. The audience's knowledge about the Inspector is kept to a minimum and so the only clues the audience receive are indirectly from his actions and the way he talks. It is because of this second dramatic irony between the characters that J.B Priestly gives the audience freedom to create their own ideas on who the Inspector really is.
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The Inspector is not only a self proclaimed narrator, but he is also a vital character and if his secret of not being a real Inspector had not come out, then this would not have been apparent and would not be such a big part in the play. As the play developed and it becomes clear that the Inspector was an impostor, the audience are made to think about what the role of Inspector Goole is and so it becomes apparent that the Inspector is in the play for many reasons.
The play is set in the house of the Birlings. A wealthy family who use their house as a status symbol and have always been classed as 'upper class'. The house has been very well dressed up, you can tell from the high quality furniture and decoration that this is used in the play to reflect this. They have a few tasteless pictures which will probably have been chosen because of the price tag and not because they were genuinely liked. The house is said to be "substantial and comfortable and old-fashioned" but yet it is never described as homelike or cosy. This reflects the attitude that Mr. Birling has about status symbol and about what people think. The words are carefully chosen to suggest a sort of tension that is held in by the family, it suggests that the family is not at ease with each other and this in turn suggests family problems. When the characters speak, it is in a fairly relaxed tone, despite Mrs. Birling trying to enforce a formal atmosphere by correcting all the minor errors in the table manners. The opening scene contains champagne that is later revealed to be a celebration that Sheila, Mrs. Birling's daughter, is engaged to a guest in the room - Gerald. The first sign that there are problems between Mrs. Birling and Mr. Birling is hinted when she says to Sheila "When you're married you'll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. You'll have to get used to that, just as I had." This suggests cracks in their relationship, and that it isn't very close.
Further signs that there might be cracks in the Birling family is when Sheila says to Gerald "all last summerâ€¦ you never came near me" indicating at an affair he might have had. There is also a sign of Eric, Sheila's brother, having a drinking problem, because even at dinner Sheila notices that he is 'squiffy' to which her mother replies "What an expression Sheila! Really the things you girls pick up these days!" which shows that her mother treats her as a little girl, even though she is engaged to Gerald. This also shows the difference in ages; Sheila being younger and not acting like they way her mother thinks she should act. It also suggests that she doesn't want her children to grow up and leave her, because she would live alone with Mr. Birling, a way of life she does not want to come across.
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The Inspector arrives at the Birlings to ask them questions about the death of a girl Eva Smith, who died swallowing disinfectant. Normally you would expect an Inspector to be surprised at what the suspects are telling him, however Inspector Goole already seems to know what they are saying. When Sheila and Eric find out that their parents and Gerald contributed to the death of the girl they are shocked; "Well I think it's a damn shame". The Inspector does not react to this, he just stays calm, as if he knows what is about to happen. Sheila notices this and says "We hardly ever told him anything he didn't know". The characters can't hide the truth from the Inspector as he apparently knows it all already, therefore he is like a conscience. A real Inspector would be looking for evidence, but as Inspector Goole is not a real Inspector, and as the crime is not punishable by law, the only way he can "punish" them is to make them feel guilty.
The Birling parents deny that any of this was their fault and they try to justify what happened by saying "The girl has been causing trouble in the works" and "it wasn't I who had turned her out of employment - which probably began it all". As the Birlings are parents you would think that they should set a good example, yet in this case it is exactly opposite. It is the children who are the first to show any signs of regret as for what they have done; Sheila says she had no excuse for what she did, she was just "in a bad temper".
To conclude the Inspector leaves the family with a message, that it was not just the Birlings and one Eva Smith but it was the "millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us. intertwined with our lives". As this was said before the end of the play it leaves a lasting impression after the audience had left the theatre.
Priestly wrote that the Inspector spoke "carefully, weightily". This is one aspect of his mystery, meaning he knows exactly what he is going to say, and what effect it will have. For example he often shows Arthur Birling no respect, like when he says "Don't stammer and yammer at me again, man". Even though Arthur was "an alderman for years - and a Lord Mayor two years ago" the Inspector is a neutral character who treats everyone the same. Ironically Mr. Birling, who regards himself as important and highly respected often accepts the disrespect he is given. Upon questioning Birling is surprised which gives the impression that he often thinks of himself as correct but it may also have been what the Inspector was questioning. By pretending to agree with what Mr. Birling's attitudes to class, Inspector Goole manages to encourage Arthur to talk to him because he sees him as a friend rather than a detective. This implies both that Birling is naÃ¯ve to trust someone that he has only just met and that the Inspector is very good at manipulating people and their views in order to get what he wants.
After the Inspector leaves, speculation begins to occur whether or not Inspector Goole is in fact a real Inspector. Each of the Birlings claim that his questioning and his attitudes were "inappropriate". However it is only towards the end of the play that Priestly reveals that Inspector Goole was not a real Police Inspector, yet he does not give any clues as to what the Inspector could have been and yet again this heightens the mystery behind him. Even though the Inspector is found out to be a fraud, the characters still feel the guilt and shame of the death of Eva Smith. I feel that Priestly wrote this play in order to make the audience think and question their actions and what consequences they have.
As an audience and having watched the events unfold, we expect the characters to admit and realise what their actions have lead to, but surprisingly this is not what happens. After the revelation that the Inspector is not real, the Birling parents and Gerald remain oblivious if not arrogantly blind as to what has happened. Sheila states that Mr. Birling "doesn't seem to have learnt anything". Yet once the Birlings know that there won't be a punishment to Eva's death, they ignore all the problems that have been brought up, they ignore that fact that Eric has a drinking problem and the important matter that he stole money from the business. It is because of their social status and their narcissistic views of themselves that they let the problems slide as if nothing has happened. Mr. Birling says "difference between a lot of stuff like this coming out in private and a downright public scandal".which proves that he is just thinking about himself and not what the Inspector is there to teach. Although never being directly mentioned as a conscience the Inspector has been likened to one because of the way he teaches on a moral level rather than punishing the Birlings through the law. He punishes them by making them feel guilt and remorse, yet it is only Eric and Sheila that are affected.
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It is in my opinion that the Inspectors purpose in the play is not to punish but to teach. Not only is it to teach the characters in the play about their actions but to teach the audience or those reading the play about morals and consequences of what they do. I feel as though people who see the play today would take away as much from the story because of the lessons that Priestly has conveyed to the characters and because of the difference in opinion of Socialism from 1947 to 2010. It is now that people can accept Socialism over Capitalism and so the arguments and issues are much less than when the play was first shown.