Discuss the role of the Inspector in the play. How does Priestley use him? Comment on the way the Inspector varies his treatment of the characters.
An Inspector Calls is a play with many social and political messages. J. B. Priestley believed a great deal in socialism and he used several of his plays to try and influence people to be Socialist as well. It was written in a time when Britain was ruled by a Labour government and socialist policies were seen as the way forward. It was a popular way of thinking at that time so Priestley’s aim for the play was probably to teach the unconvinced.
The Inspector in J. B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ is one of the most thought-provoking and mysterious characters that modern day literature has yet produced. It is this mysterious element that contributes greatly to making him a very interesting character and one that may be perceived in many ways. The audience does not find a great deal out about the Inspector and nothing is explicitly told to us; we are given hints and clues from the way he acts and what he says and are forced to piece these together to form our own ideas about his identity and his intentions. In this way, Priestley has asked his audience to act as a judge and to reach personal conclusions about him.
The role of the Inspector is one of many levels. In terms of how he is used in the basic structure of the play, he is there to move the play along in that he encourages the characters to tell their stories. If there was not the revelation that he was not a real Police Inspector, he would only be considered as a narrator and not play a big part in the play. Because it transpired that he was an impostor of sorts, further questions are asked by the audience and different insights have become likely and it is clear that the Inspector is in the play for many reasons.
Discuss the function of the inspector in the play as a whole An Inspector Calls was written by J. B Priestly. This play intertwines the life of a pretty young woman who was driven to suicide by a well known respectable family. But it has a deeper more sinister meaning and morale to the story. That mankind has to learn from mistakes or it will have to repay them in blood and anguish. The ...
The play is set in the house of the Birling family. As soon as the curtains open, it is clear that the family is wealthy because there is high quality furniture and decoration in the house in which the play is set. The family use their house as a status symbol and have decorated it in a way so as to reflect their wealth. We learn this from the ‘few imposing but tasteless pictures’ which will probably have been chosen because they were expensive, not because they were liked. These pictures also tell us that the Birlings are proud of their wealth and think themselves to be very important but lack the good taste which is present in those who are socially superior to them. The house is described as being ‘substantial and comfortable and old-fashioned, but not cosy and homelike.’ This setting suggests that the family are uncomfortable with each other and therefore suggests problems. They speak to each other in a fairly relaxed manner, despite the attempts from Mrs. Birling to enforce a more formal atmosphere by correcting her family whenever they make minor errors in table manners. The champagne shows that family are joined to celebrate. Gerald is a guest at the house and so the family are all well-behaved and pleasant to one another but there are several hints that this is for show and there are problems which are being ignored.
Mrs. Birling treats Eric and Sheila as if they are two small children even though Sheila is engaged to Gerald and so is a young woman. This is shown when Sheila refers to Eric as ‘squiffy’ and Mrs. Birling scolds her by saying ‘What and expression, Sheila! Really the things you girls pick up these days!’ This also shows the difference between the generations; Sheila is younger and so does not act in the same way that her mother thinks women should act. It also suggests that she is reluctant to let her children grow up because once they reach a certain age they would move away and she would live with just her husband, a prospect that she seems unlikely to look forward to. Although the audience is unaware of any problems she and Birling may have, we are given a hint later when she tells Sheila that ‘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 that their relationship is not very close. Later, Eric says that he sees some of Birling’s ‘respectable friends’ with ‘fat old tarts round the town’. Birling’s reaction to this is angry and he clearly does not want any further mention of that topic. From this reaction, it is possible to conclude that Birling might also go to prostitutes, as that sort of behaviour was fairly common amongst upper middle-class men at that time.
The Term Paper on How Does the Character ‘Sheila Birling’ Change in the Play in ‘an Inspector Calls?’
How does the character ‘Sheila Birling’ change in the play in ‘An Inspector Calls?’ The play ‘An Inspector Calls was set in 1912 and written ... wealth was not shared equally. The play is based on the Birling family headed by Arthur Birling who is a wealthy factory ... out that the inspector wasn’t real they both pretended that nothing happened and that got Sheila and Eric (Sheila’s brother) angry and ...
There is a suggestion that Gerald had an affair because Sheila says to him ‘all last summer…. you never came near me’. There is also a hint at Eric’s drinking problem, because even at dinner Sheila notices that he is ‘squiffy.’ He later acts uneasily when Gerald and his father are joking with him about the possibility of him having ‘been up to something’ and he says that he does not ‘think it’s very funny.’ The audience knows that the joke was harmless and might wonder what Eric has to worry about. As soon as the Inspector enters the stage, the lighting becomes brighter and any shadows would be eliminated. This effect is to show that they can no longer hide and that the Inspector will bring everything to light. This indeed does happen and all of the problems that have been hinted at previously are brought out, plus some others.
The war would have been an even sadder issue in 1947 when the play was first shown than it is now, and one which would have made people feel uneasy and would have provoked a lot of emotions and a lot of bad memories. This means that when Birling spoke about it in his speech, the audience would suspect that the play was about to become darker because such a distressing topic would not be mentioned if something bad was not going to happen. This is an example of dramatic irony because the play was written in 1947 so the audience knew that there were two world wars about to happen, but the characters did not.
... he knew Eva. Priestley has left the audience curious about Gerald's involvement. The audience will want to know how and why Gerald knew Eva. Act two ... the father of Eva's unborn child. Mrs Birling is most shocked of all. While she has been telling the Inspector that it's the ... couldn't afford, and got paid for the privilege. Sheila destroys this dream. Sheila uses her power as a daughter of important ...
The Inspector seems to already know of the incidents that the family tell him. When Eric and Sheila find out what their parents and Gerald contributed to the demise of Eva, they are shocked: ‘Well I think it’s a damn shame.’ The Inspector reacts quite contrarily to this and stays perfectly calm and shows no surprise at what is being said which suggests that he is waiting for their confessions. Sheila notices this and says ‘We hardly ever told him anything he didn’t know.’ The characters cannot hide the truth from the Inspector because he appears to know it already. In this way, he is similar to a conscience. An Inspector investing a crime would want to find out all he could and look for evidence and so forth, but the Birlings have not committed a crime punishable by law. Therefore, the only way for the Inspector to avenge Eva Smith was to make the people in question feel guilty. The Birling parents will not accept any blame and just try to justify what they have done by saying ‘The girl had been causing trouble in the works,’ and ‘it wasn’t I who had turned her out of her employment – which probably began it all.’ Eric and Sheila, however, show a lot of remorse and are quick to take responsibility for their actions; Sheila admits that she had no excuse for doing what she did, she was just ‘in a bad temper.’ This to show that there is hope for the future and that ideas are changing; the younger generation are more supportive of Socialism and the idea of helping others and not just thinking of oneself. Priestley uses the play as an example of what can happen if we are ignorant to the feelings of others as this was an issue that he cared a lot about and one that recurred in several of his other plays.
Just before the Inspector leaves he turns the blame onto the whole of society by mentioning that the problem did not lie with just Eva Smith and one particular family, but it was the ‘millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us… intertwined with our lives.’ This was said near to the end so that it would not be an idea forgotten, but one that might play on the minds of the audience long after they left the theatre. Priestley intended to make his audience think about how they may be hurting people and to make them feel guilty for what they may have done in the past and the Inspector is a useful medium for Priestley’s beliefs to be spoken through.
... e. g. Eric p. 10, 55 Sheila p. 23, 71 Birling p. 6, 18 Inspector p. 28, 55 Sybil p. 46, 48 Gerald p. 35, ... to Gerald Croft, who is also present, when the Inspector arrives telling them of the suicide of a young girl called Eva Smith. ... fellow people in the nineteen tens, for example Mr Birling sacked the girl Eva Smith for striking for a higher salary, but ...
The Inspector is described as speaking ‘carefully, weightily’. On stage, this would give the Inspector an air of power and importance. He acts in a fairly dominant way and he often has times when he gives Arthur Birling no respect at all, such as when he says ‘Don’t stammer and yammer at me again, man.’ Because the Inspector treats Arthur in this way even though he knows he is ‘still on the Bench’ it implies that he treats people the same no matter what their position is. Birling often seems intimidated by the Inspector and often accepts the disrespect he is given even though it would annoy him because he is very used to being given respect as he was ‘an alderman for years – and a Lord Mayor two years ago.’ Because Birling does not know what to do when he is treated in this way, it suggests that he is a weak person. It is ironic that a character who believes very strongly that one should only be responsible for oneself is also a character who does not seem to be able to fend for himself. The Inspector questions Birling about why he fired the girl for asking for more money. This shows further lack of respect from the Inspector and also shows that he cares about individuals.
Birling was ‘surprised’ at being questioned, so it seems that what he says is usually accepted as correct. His surprise could also be because of exactly what the Inspector was questioning. Birling says that it is his ‘duty to keep labour costs down’ which indicates that he does not think of each worker as a person and cares a great deal about money. The fact that he did not recognise the name Eva Smith even though she was someone he dealt with directly and a worker who stood out, further shows that he does not think of his employees as people. To him they are nameless and have no individuality. This would make a lot of the audience angry as this is a very Capitalist view. Some of the audience might also feel an affinity with Eva in that they may have also been treated in a similar manner.
... and her family. Priestley has made Sheila’s character represent the In conclusion I think that ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a great play, which shows ... Birling family. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is set in 1912, in the dining room of the Birling family. The play opens with the Birling’s and Gerald ...
The Inspector pretends to share Birling’s attitudes to class by saying ‘like a lot of these young women who get into various kinds of trouble.’ This encourages Birling to talk to him because he sees him as somebody who will not oppose him. This implies that the Inspector knows how Birling thinks even though he has apparently only known him for a short while.
The Inspector recognises early on that Sheila is more morally sound than her father as she points out that ‘these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.’ When she says ‘So I’m really responsible?’ she shows that she can admit when she is wrong. The Inspector probably thinks more highly of her than Arthur because of this, but he still speaks ‘sternly’ to her as he does to the other characters. This proves that he does not forgive easily. Once the line of questioning turns to Gerald, the Inspector is more friendly to Sheila. He understands that she would want to hear about Gerald’s affair with Eva Smith and ensures that she stays by arguing that if she left then and heard no more she would ‘feel she’s entirely to blame.’
At first, when the Inspector refuses to show Gerald the photograph of the girl, Gerald is ‘showing annoyance.’ He tries to be authoritative towards the Inspector, possibly to impress his future wife and in-laws. The Inspector will not be ordered to do anything. For example, when Gerald tells the Inspector that he’s ‘Getting a bit heavy-handed,’ the Inspector calmly dismisses his comment by saying ‘Possibly. But if you’re easy with me, I’m easy with you.’
When Gerald tells his story, he is questioned mainly by Sheila who is angry with Gerald for betraying her. The Inspector treats Gerald with neither fondness nor contempt. He observes that ‘he at least had some affection for her and made her happy for a time.’
Mrs. Birling is not present for the majority of the questioning, so she is unfamiliar to the Inspector’s abruptness. She describes him as ‘a trifle impertinent’. She, like Arthur Birling, seems to be used to receiving nothing but respect. This is because she is of a high-middle class. The Inspector treats the characters with the same disregard as they gave Eva Smith. Mrs. Birling becomes increasingly annoyed at how the Inspector treats her. This is shown when the Inspector says, ‘You’re not telling me the truth’, and she replies ‘I beg your pardon!’ She seems horrified by the way she reacts that somebody could speak in that way to a lady of her class.
... because he criticizes the capitalists throughout the play, through the Inspector. The Inspector undermines birling in four different ways. He turns their ... we do or say in our lives affects other people, because we live together in one society, he communicates ... Gerald reacts differently from Sheila, he doesn't want to be inspected, and he wants to hide everything he knows from the inspector, ...
Like her husband, Mrs. Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of Eva Smith. Protective of her family, she does not criticise any of them either, but turns all of the blame onto the unidentified man: the father of Eva’s child. She very happily says that the man should be ‘dealt with very severely’ and made to ‘confess in public his responsibility,’ oblivious to what most of the audience would have realised; that Eric was the father. This is another example of irony. She believes that the man must be someone who is working-class and has not been brought up properly because he was a drunk and guilty of theft.
Eric seems to see the Inspector as the strong father figure that is missing from his life. He said that Birling was ‘not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble’ so he is obviously not close to him. When his father talks about his ‘public – school – and – Varsity life’, Eric seems embarrassed and says to Birling ‘Well, we don’t need to tell the Inspector anything about that, do we?’ Eric is just as quick as Sheila to give the Socialist alternatives to what Birling was saying about the workers, and tells him that he would ‘have let her stay.’ Eric is slow in telling his story and he only answers the questions that he is asked and he only gives away a little information at a time. This shows that he is reluctant for the others to know about his problems. The Inspector is fairly gentle when he questions Eric because he is clearly very upset and guilt-ridden. The Inspector notices this even though Birling does not and when he asks for a drink, he allows him one with the explanation that ‘He needs a drink now just to see him through.’
The Birling parents represent the older people who follow the dated Edwardian ideas. Arthur Birling is a rich businessman who thinks very highly of himself, even though he is often wrong. Arthur’s family respect him and listen intently to his ideas that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’ and the Titanic is ‘unsinkable.’ As the play was written in 1947 and set in 1912, this is an example of dramatic irony and the audience would know that Arthur was very wrong in his opinions and might even think him to be stupid. When he says ‘the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else’, he explicitly says that he is strongly Capitalist and is narrow minded. Priestley wanted the audience to have a low opinion of Birling because he was discouraging his Capitalist politics and trying to show people like Birling to be at fault.
Each of the Birlings and Gerald have done things to Eva that were wrong. However, Sheila and Eric are very regretful and seem to have learnt from their mistakes and immediately become more likeable and seem less at fault. The Inspector implies that the Birling parents and Gerald Croft are the ones more at fault because their Edwardian ideas about class and Capitalism do not change. Priestley and the Inspector think that ‘Public men… have responsibilities as well as privileges’ which suggests that Priestley thinks that those who forget their responsibilities also cause social problems.
Mrs. Birling makes more references to class than Birling. It is possible that Arthur is slightly embarrassed by the fact that his wife is his ‘social superior.’ This is apparent near the beginning of the play when Birling compliments his own meal and Mrs. Birling tells him that he is ‘not supposed to say such things.’
The Inspector says in his final speech ‘We are responsible for each other…. if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.’ This is an implication that he is criticising those who do not learn, not those who have acted that way in the past. Therefore, Priestley and the Inspector think that the people at fault are those that employ and hold on to thoughts that one should think only of oneself.
After the Inspector leaves, the characters begin to speculate whether or not he was a real Police Inspector. Each of them believe his manner to have been inappropriate. Birling points out fairly early on in the play that he is ‘officious’, but the audience are unlikely to actually strongly question his identity simply because they are not given time to because the action is constant throughout the play, with many twists and revelations. Although the audience and the characters realise towards the end of the play that he definitely was not a real Police Inspector, Priestley does not explain who or what he was. Even the most observant of watchers or readers is likely to find no clues as to what the Inspector could have been, so Priestley’s aim was to leave this matter a complete mystery. This tactic could have been to ensure that his viewers continued to think about the story and hence would also have to think about the issues of Socialism and this is something which he was desperate to do.
Although nobody could ever know for sure what the Inspector was, there have been many theories. One is that he had travelled from the future to avenge Eva Smith. People may have thought this because the Inspector knew before it happened that the girl would drink disinfectant and kill herself. The Inspector does get justice for Eva in a way because he makes the family feel worse than any real Inspector could. The Inspector called himself ‘Goole,’ which could be a pun on the word ‘ghoul’ which is defined as ‘a person interested in morbid or disgusting things.’ This could be considered true of the Inspector if he was indeed a person from another time who investigated different peoples’ deaths.
In terms of Priestley conveying his message that we are ‘members of one body’, it is unimportant whether or not the Inspector was real nor if there was one girl or several girls. That is likely to be clear to those who watch the play as they will realise that the important issue is that the family and society has been told what could happen when they disregard the need to think of others, but some of the characters in the play forget what they have been taught because the Inspector was not real and they are not going to be involved in a public scandal. Because the Birling parents and Gerald end the play as oblivious to the needs of others as they began it, they are shown to be small-minded. It is only Sheila and Eric who learn from their experience and realise that him not being an Inspector changes nothing because the ‘girl’s still dead’. When Sheila says ‘he inspected us all right’ she shows maturity which is not reflected in her parents.
I think the mystery surrounding the Inspector makes a big difference to the story because it gives it a distinguishing feature that would have been missing if this twist was not included. The play is written in a style whereby there are twists and revelations whenever the story gets comfortable for the watcher; Priestley wants there to be changes in the pace of the play and in the story so that the audience’s concentration will not decline. This could happen because there are no changes to the setting of the play and there are not many characters or subplots. Priestley may have also included the twist because makes the tale more interesting and this would encourage more people to go and watch it. By leaving questions unanswered, Priestley is inviting his audience to think about the play.
Because the Inspector was not real does not make any difference to the guilt that the characters and society as a whole should be feeling at the end of the play. People who watch the play should still learn a lesson from it.
We expect all of the characters to admit to their faults and to learn from what the Inspector teaches them because we have been conditioned to look for the well-worn formula whereby bad characters convert to good characters because a third character has helped them to recognise their flaws. This formula is most recognisable in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Surprisingly, this is not the case in An Inspector Calls. After the Inspector is found to have been a fake, the Birling parents and Gerald remain unaffected by the night’s events. Sheila points out that Birling doesn’t ‘seem to have learnt anything.’ Once they realise that there will be ‘no scandal’ They try to turn a blind eye to the problems that have been identified. They ignore Eric’s drinking problem and make little further mention of the fact that he stole a great deal of money from the family business. They ignore these problems because they are only interested in how they will look to other people. If nobody knows about their problems, they need not address them. This is proven when Birling says that there is a ‘difference between a lot of stuff like this coming out in private and a downright public scandal.’ When Birling says to Sheila ‘you’d better ask Gerald for that ring you gave back to him’, he again shows that he is happy to forget what has happened because he is ignoring the fact that Gerald had still had an affair with another woman whilst he was in a strong relationship with Sheila. Mrs. Birling makes several comments to prove that she agrees with her husband, such as saying that once her children had slept off their tiredness ‘they’ll be as amused as we are.’ Gerald is just as bad as Mr. and Mrs. Birling because he says ‘Everything’s all right now’ which proves that he believes that the Inspector not being real negates the fact that he has been unfaithful.
Sheila proves herself intelligent throughout the play. She is quick to notice that the Inspector knows an awful lot about the family. We know that she notices his great knowledge because just after she is questioned about how she lost the girl her job at Milwards, she says: ‘I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet.’ She has changed her attitude about how to treat people and is disgusted that her parents have not done the same: ‘it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts.’
Eric behaves much the same as Sheila. He seems to have respect for her because he does not directly argue with his parents about the way they are acting but instead supports Sheila in what she says by saying ‘Sheila’s right,’ and ‘I agree with Sheila.’ He and Sheila are both there to give us hope for the future; the younger generation have better attitudes and can improve society. As the Inspector said, children are ‘more impressionable.’
The Inspector leaves the family and the audience feeling awkward because he uses a lot of emotive language such as ……… and he speaks with real passion. In this speech he, and therefore Priestley, try to make people understand just how serious problems can get when we do not realise that ‘We are responsible for each other.’ This speech gives an opposite message to that which Birling gave whereby he said that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.’ It was at that point where the Inspector entered, as if to prove him wrong. In his speech, the Inspector makes reference to the forthcoming war with the idea that if people do not learn that ‘We are members of one body…. then they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish.’ This is a very powerful statement and it would seem that the Inspector is implying that the war was sent to punish people for not working together, and at the same time forcing them to do so. The war did break down barriers between classes and people had to all work for the country, not for personal gain, so what the Inspector spoke of was accurate. I think Priestley used the idea of war to convey his message because it was a major issue when the play was written and everyone would have suffered from it and would care greatly about it.
The play finishes with a telephone call from the police saying that ‘A girl has just died…. after swallowing some disinfectant’ and a real Inspector will question the family. This is an unexpected twist. The fake Inspector was there to punish them on a moral level and to try and make them feel guilty enough to change their behaviour. This was accomplished with Eric and Sheila, but not with the others. The only thing that they would be affected by was a ‘public scandal,’ and the real Inspector would ensure that that is what they would get. Without this twist, it would seem that the Birling parents and Gerald would escape unpunished.
One must conclude that the Inspector’s main purpose is to teach. In the context of the play, he told the characters what had happened to a particular girl because they had each been guilty of selfishness. In regards to the whole of society, he voiced Priestley’s opinions that we cannot make any progress if we do not work together. In my opinion, those watching or reading the play today would not gain as much from the story in regards to the moral teachings because most have now accepted the advantages of Socialism over Capitalism and so do not have as much to learn on the arguments of this issue as the audiences of 1947.
In regards to the question of what the Inspector actually was, I personally feel that there is not enough evidence given for even a strong, fact-supported theory to be produced to answer the question, let alone an infallible answer.