‘An Inspector Calls’ is a well worded tale set in 1912 about a suicide shrouded in mystery. The playwright J. B. Priestley creates suspense and curiosity as the information is slowly revealed landing full responsibility on an unsuspecting family. The Birling household had been celebrating the engagement of their daughter to a rather successful business man during the time when social classes strongly divided England. Suddenly an Inspector arrives, looking and sounding rather suspicious for a policeman at that time, and claims that a suicide has every member of the household involved somehow.
The play sees all of its scenes set in the Birling’s living room in Brumley. Described as ‘the dining room of a fairly large suburban house’ with ‘good solid furniture’ and ‘heavily comfortable’. It makes me think of a family who believe that looks are important and that they also may not be that close as there seems nothing too cosy about the setting. The Birling’s prove to be of a rather wealthy family of middle, to maybe even upper, class. Before the times of the two world wars, the social ladder was very important in England and the economic divide showed this.
Eight million people lived on less than 25 shillings (i?? 1. 25) a week whereas 7000 people alone owned four fifths of English land. J. B. used this time to set his play as it made it easier to show how people felt no pity for the poor and could prove his point about community more and about the improvement and equality in society that he wanted to make. It is extremely effective! To answer the title question I will bury deep into the background of each of the characters to find the effect the Inspector has on them, then I will try to discover how Priestley expresses the effects and see what impact this has on the story.
Priestley had always wanted to convey his feelings towards the inequality in social life and tried to run for politics, as he was a socialist, so his views would be well publicized yet he was never successful. He instead decided to start getting his voice across by writing. He used the character of the Inspector to get people to start thinking about the way England was and where it was heading. The Inspector was used as Priestley’s ‘mouthpiece’ in this way. The Inspector tries getting the Birling’s to feel responsible for the community which reflects onto the audience so they get a sense of responsibility too.
Priestley was very clever in this way as it is perfectly clear what his viewpoint was. As the Inspector said, ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. ‘ The character of the Inspector himself has a great presence about him. He remains calm all the time and controls the pace of the investigation. He always is ‘cutting through massively’ as he has an air of great importance about him. He doesn’t show emotion as no one and nothing can put him off his line of investigation. He has the power to get the truth out of anybody. His name, Goole, may connect to the word Ghoul.
Whether or not this was meant to be, it interested me as he has similarities to that of a ghoul. He’s very secretive about his investigation, like a ghoul is secretive regarding its whereabouts and he uses his influence to scare those he talks to into telling the truth as a ghoul would too. The stage directions are all aimed to highlight the importance of the Inspector and the insignificance of the people who are in his presence. The lights are changed from an ‘intimate pink’ to a harsher brighter light as he enters. That small change destroys the family atmosphere to create an awe of the character heading the suicide investigation.
In his departure speech, the Inspector gives a warning. He says that there are millions more who need the help of others and if the people don’t learn, they’d ‘pay for it with blood and anguish’. This is ironic because the audience would have first watched this play in 1946, after both world war one and two. They could then realize that more wars could follow if society didn’t change. They could see the countries around them that had had civil wars, and having just been through a war, they would not want to proceed in that way. Sheila is ‘a pretty girl in her early 20s’. She is also the daughter of Mr.
Birling. She is about to marry a wealthy businessman to improve the family’s class status as his business would join with Mr Birling’s to expand their business empire. She is quite naive and spoilt, which was shown by her admitting to having been rude to Eva in Milwards, which comes from a woman who has been protected by her parents since she was little. She is slightly childlike but then she has never had a reason to grow up. She is also very happy and ‘pleased with life. ‘ I have chosen this character to analyse because she is the person most affected by the situation.
She matures dramatically throughout the play and is left even criticizing her own parents by then end. During Sheila’s first encounter with the Inspector, she is extremely inquisitive. She wants to know what is going on and she becomes interested in every detail of the investigation, ‘What business? What’s happening? ‘ She is open to questioning and very honest about everything she says. She wants to be able to help in any way she can to get to the bottom of the case. As she took full responsibility, the Inspector warmed to her slightly and never used an aggressive manner of speaking towards her.