Is it as relevant now as it was when the play was written? John Priestley was born 1894 and died in 1984. He wrote in many genres. His novels and plays reflect his interest in expressionist forms, psychological themes, and social criticism. Priestley describes himself as more or less a socialist intellectual. His early life shows that a large number of people lived their lives blighted by poverty, bad housing, and the fear of loosing their jobs. He felt that this was unfair and unnecessary. He had an immense sympathy and understanding of the problems of the poor, and the under-privileged.
Priestley did not want the mistakes of the 1920’s and the 1930’s to occur again, like the General Strike of 1926 and mass unemployment of the 1930’s. He wanted people to “think differently”, and so wrote the play “An Inspector Calls”, (a police thriller) in order for the reader to explore many moral questions that he believed in. Priestley’s themes are still relevant in today’s society. Priestley wanted everyone to know how people are self-righteous and how they abused their power and wealth. He believed passionately in the freedom of individuals.
He did not like the class system, where people achieved solely from their position in society. “World War 1 officers were appointed because they often came from the upper class and were seen as gentleman. ” Priestly believed people could change things, if they made the effort and take actions into their own hands. “An Inspector Calls” is based around four important issues; exploitation, responsibility, wealth, and power. “An Inspector Calls”, is about Arthur Birling, a prosperous manufacturer, who is holding a family dinner party to celebrate his daughter’s engagement.
Into this cosy scene intrudes the harsh figure of a police inspector investigating the suicide of a young working-class woman. Under the pressure of his interrogation, every member of the family turns out to have a shameful secret that links them with her death. There are seven main characters in the play. They are Mr and Mrs Birling, their daughter Sheila, their son Eric, Sheila’s fianci?? Gerald, Inspector Goole and Eva Smith. Each character is different in many ways and represent different aspects of Priestley’s beliefs, but all were linked to Eva Smith, whether it is through work, power, or love.
Each character contributed to Eva’s death: Mr Birling is a prosperous factory owner, where Eva Smith worked. He is not the social equal of his wife. He is “a self made man” His first priority is to make money. “It’s my job to keep labour cost down” This action made Eva Smith stand up for self and other workers. “She’d had a lot say – far too much – so she had to go” Mr Birling tells the Inspector that he would not listen to Eva Smith’s demand for a wage rise. “I refused, or course” and is surprised why anyone would question him about his beliefs.
Mr Birling does not consider the harm he may cause to other people because of his attitude. He is a hardheaded businessman. When the Inspector questions Mr Birling, he repeatedly tells the Inspector of his contacts within the police force. He tries to threaten him. Mr Birling shows his status, hoping that this can save him. “I ought to warn you that Colonel Roberts is an old friend of mine” Mr Birling then goes on to argue, that you cannot accuse someone of a crime just because you knew him or her in one way or another. “Oh well – put it like that, there’s something in what you say.
Still, I can’t accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody, we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it? ” Mr Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for Eva’s death because of his social position in the community. He becomes increasingly annoyed by the Inspector’s questioning and Eric’s unsympathetic attitude. This is a point that Priestley is expressing that people who are of high class use their power to divert the blame from them to someone else of a lower status.
Mr Birling represents Priestley’s hatred of businessmen, as they are only interested in making money. Mr Birling will never alter his ways and it is left to the younger generation to learn from their mistakes. The Inspector then starts to question Sheila. She tells the Inspector how she got Eva dismissed from Milwards, by telling the manager Eva was impertinent. “I went to the manager at Milwards and I told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them” This shows Sheila’s childish side, and shows how she abuses her power by having Eva dismissed.
When she realises what she had done, may have caused Eva’s death, she is quick to express her sympathy and regret for her actions. “I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it” Her response to the tragedy shows that she is genuinely upset about Eva’s death and learns from her behaviour. She is very distressed by what has happened and thinks that her father’s behaviour is unacceptable. She agrees that she behaved badly and insists that she never meant the girl any harm. Sheila like Mrs Birling abused her power and deprived the girl of her lively hood.
So this makes it obvious that Eva Smith’s death was mainly a result of the kind of society established in 1912 or simply a result of an unchanging human nature. Not only is she prepared to admit her faults. She is also keen and anxious to change her behaviour in the future. “I will never, never do it again” Sheila is unable to accept her parent’s attitude and is amazed and concerned that they have not learned anything from the Inspector. She learns of her responsibilities to others less fortunate than herself and is sensitive towards the issue. Her readiness to learn from the experiences is quite a contrast to her parents.