The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ explores the relationships between a middle-class family and the secrets they hide from each other. It is set in 1912 at a time of social upheaval and uncertainty, World War One was soon to break out and in the years to follow, strikes and general change was to happen. In Brumly, where the play is set, however, things (according to Mr Birling) are going well. Business is booming as industry progressed, the Titanic sailed the year after the play was set and it was a great feat of engineering even if it did sink.
Social differences appeared more and more, the gap between upper-class and working class people became wider and the rich got richer and the poor became poorer. The Inspector is of a lower class than the Birlings and Gerald but he is the main character in the play. He interrogates, examines and inspects throughout the play. Because of his very defined way of carrying out his investigation he is a very mysterious character. This feeling intensifies as the play comes to an end- we the audience feel there is something not quite right about him and our feelings are mirrored in the dialogue at the end.
The inspector is the righteous, assertive character who knows what he wants and how to get it,. He believes in helping others and being treated equally. I think some of Priestly’s own views and opinions show in the Inspector. I think this is deliberate because at the time the play was written and performed, Priestly is expressing his hopes for a more equal and fair future after the Second World War. The Inspector is a very dramatic character because his beliefs are very different to the families, he hasn’t got a straightforward personality so we never know what is going to happen or in what direction he is going to take the story line in.
Priestly’s vision is a definite one, and because it is a play, it must be read and understood. The Inspector is described in stage directions as a man whom ‘at once (creates) an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness,. This means he doesn’t have to be a certain height or stature, but he must hold himself in a certain way. Most importantly the actor must speak ‘carefully, weightily, and has (have) a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses. ‘ This makes the Inspector a tense and somewhat foreboding character, but it also increases the mystery of him, making it a function of the Inspector.
We have to remember that ‘An Inspector calls’ is a play. Therefore if I were to direct it I would try to create a mood of apprehension, slight fear and mystery. I would do this by fading the lights before he enters, then as he steps on to the stage, and play sinister SFX and spotlight him. In creating a mood of anticipation and mystery I would introduce to the audience what the Inspector really is-a mystery. The Inspector’s arrival creates dramatic tension and is perfectly timed, it is important because we get our first impression of him.
We have no idea from the dialogue beforehand that something out of the ordinary is going to happen. The Birling family plus Gerald are having a little celebration and Mr Birling, Eric and Gerald are having a discussion, or rather Mr Birling is telling them his views on life and the world. He says ‘there isn’t a chance of war’ when we know that just two years after, World War One begins. He says many things, which are proved wrong in future years, the audience find this ironic. His view on life is very selfish ‘… a man has to make his own way- has to look after himself… ‘ this shows he doesn’t believe in helping others.
The Inspector does believe in looking after others and he tries to teach Birling and others the error of their ways during the play. However just before he enters the stage the mood is contented and certainly not unpleasant. The doorbell cuts Mr Birling short, Edna announces the Inspector and he comes into the lives of the family and Gerald. It is significant that the Inspector enters at a point where Mr Birling is ranting about his views because basically the main theme of the play and the main function of the Inspector is to make the characters see you must think of other people to be a good person.
The Inspector enters just a Mr Birling is shouting at Eric, ‘What’s the matter with you? ‘ it is a first sign that things with the family are not as stable or as happy as we first thought. In the first few lines he shows that he isn’t an ordinary Inspector of the kind that Mr Birling is used to, he’s blunt and refuses a drink, saying ‘I’m on duty. ‘ We know that this is an important character and one that Mr Birling shouldn’t take lightly. The Inspector is polite but very curt with Mr Birling.
Anything Mr Birling says the Inspector has a sharp and quick answer for, he isn’t overly helpful either, saying ‘No, Mr Birling’ instead of explaining himself when Mr Birling asks him an impatient question. This adds dramatic effect especially when the Inspector goes on to ask difficult questions and question thoroughly. He talks to Mr Birling as if he was an equal; he doesn’t grovel and be overly respectful, as Mr Birling would expect. At one point the Inspector questions Mr Birling very directly, saying simply ‘Why?
‘ Mr Birling is very surprised at this very insolent way of conducting an investigation, he replies somewhat bewildered ‘Did you say why? ‘ He obviously doesn’t think this is the way to act towards a man who used to be Lord Mayor. The Inspector doesn’t seem to react to this, though he most certainly knows and understands Mr Birling’s view and thoughts, he simply chooses to ignore them. One role of the Inspector is to make Mr Birling (especially) see that there is more to life than honours and titles, that there are things in the world that Mr Birling doesn’t see or realise that should be recognised.
Mr Birling doesn’t seem to absorb this information and replies indignantly, pompously and sometimes rudely to the Inspector, phrases such as ‘I don’t like that tone’ or ‘I consider this uncalled-for and officious’ show that Mr Birling doesn’t like the Inspector’s manner. Their personalities clash merely because they are complete opposites and have a totally different set of values. We tend to side with the Inspector because what he says seems moral and right. It is hard to say categorically whether Mr Birling’s views change or if he’s affected by the Inspector.
He could be different inside but he seems so concerned with the affect a public scandal will have on him and his business, that he forgets the voice of reason and conscience The Inspector plays the role of the voice of conscience. Mr Birling really only cares about himself and although he thinks it is ‘Shame’ the girl died, he can’t see the bigger picture. When it is unearthed that there wasn’t a girl, any changes that were happening are forgotten, he sinks back into his old ways of selfishness and greed. He is blinkered into thinking of himself and his own interests.