The Inspector in the play is a mysterious man who comes and goes without a trace and seems to have no background. It seems he is more of a guilty feeling than a person. Throughout the play, the Inspector is in control and doesn’t feel intimidated at any point. He is a channel for Priestley’s views and criticisms on the social mores of the time. “A man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too, of course” (Mr Birling) The Inspector is a contrast to the Birlings as he seems to favour community responsibilities rather than individual ones.
The Birlings represent the richer people in society that do not care for their fellow people in the nineteen tens, for example Mr Birling sacked the girl Eva Smith for striking for a higher salary, but the demand was minuscule. “It is my duty to keep labour costs down” was his reason for not giving her the pay rise. They are set so far away from the community that they did not even realise that Eva Smith had died; they find this out only when the Inspector brings it to their attention. There is a lot of irony; the play was written in 1945 but was set in 1912.
Mr Birling is convinced that there will never be a war and that the Titanic will be a huge success. “Fiddlesticks! The German’s don’t want war. Nobody wants war. ” Later he adds “I say there isn’t a chance of war” These blind ideas convince people to distrust him. They know he is factually incorrect. The audience especially dislikes Mr Birling because when the play was first shown in 1945 people were still recovering from the effects of war. The Inspector, however, delivers his opinions in a quiet calm manner, but his words have more effect. “We have to share something. If nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt”
The play is written in three acts, yet has no scenes. This is to keep a fast pace and suspense. Far from being a “prolonged scatter of skeletons” the play shows how the characters have been worked up, with the skeletons representing the bare truth that emerges from the family throughout the play. The detective-style genre keeps the audience guessing all the way through the play, and as clues are solved and stories are unfurled the culprit becomes clearer, but as soon as one thinks he or she knows who it is, Priestley cleverly seems to switch to the inspecting of another character.
This makes the audience engrossed in the action that is happening on-stage. The stranger brings social awareness which is readily accepted by the younger two members of the family. However, when made aware of the fact that no girl died and there was no such man as Inspector Goole, the older people immediately turn to discussing the best way to make sure that no one finds out about the “joke” played on them by the non-existent Inspector. “Look at the pair of them- the famous younger generation who know it all. And they can’t even take a joke.
” (Mr Birling Act 3) Sheila sees it differently than her parents. She feels that even though the Inspector was not real, everything that was said was true. “So nothing really happened. So there’s nothing to be sorry for, nothing to learn. We can all go on behaving just as we did. ” (Sheila Act 3) Gerald gives the game away very easily. As soon as the Inspector says Eva Smith’s name, Gerald looked shifty and uncomfortable. The Inspector has said a name that Gerald recognises, and without even seeing the picture Gerald confesses everything.
He tells everyone how he gave her a home for the summer and some money to get her stable. He then tells how he left her, and consequently made her feel unwanted and unloved. Gerald believes this was the reason for her suicide. Eric and Sheila do not consider the best way to cover up, but the fact that, even though the Inspector’s story had not been true, they had done something that could not be altered. This shows that Sheila really has learnt her lesson and that the Inspector had done his job.
“And I say the girl’s dead and we all helped to kill her- and that’s what matters. ” (Eric Act 3) “An Inspector Calls” resembles a modern morality play. This means that the characters in the play each represent a certain type of person in society and aims to deliver a political message. The characters change throughout the play. The younger generation seems to mature more than the older generations. The play also deals with the issue of time and at the end of the play we have returned almost to the same place in which we began.
The characters are given the chance to do things differently, maybe not to the same girl but to countless others in her position. This is also representative of real life. Between the time span 1912-1945 we have seen what happens to an uncaring society, not just in Britain but in the world as a whole. The world experienced World Wars, unrest, Depression, the atomic bomb, fascism and the Holocaust. By 1945, when the play was written, it was possible to look back and see that a full circle had taken place and now was the opportunity to begin a new one.