The Inspector appears to be a believable policeman. However, as the play progresses, we see this is not the case. The superficial appearance of the Inspector as an Inspector provides an impressive image of a believable policeman that the audience can accept. But, there are many factors, which makes him an extraordinary policeman. For instance, this policeman seems more concerned with right and wrong than what is or not legal. For example, when Gerald says that they are “respectable citizens and not criminals” (p. 22), the Inspector replies:
“Sometimes there isn’t much difference as you think. If it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line” (p. 22). This is the point where the Inspector claims he is more interested in moral law than legal law. It also establishes the point where the Inspector’s views on society become more intense. This can be seen as this policeman shows a compassion, which extends to people who recognise the wrong they have done. He does not forgive, but when freely admitting their faults he allows them to see that they can find forgiveness through resultant good behaviour.
For instance, this is apparent in his treatment of Sheila and Eric. The Inspector even states earlier “we often do on the young ones. They’re more impressionable” (p. 30). The Inspector succeeds when Sheila admits that “I behaved badly too. I know I did. ” (p. 57) and Eric concedes that “The money’s not important. It’s what happened to the girl… that matters” (p. 65). However, the other characters do not feel any guilt and re-establish their arrogance and immoral views. As when Sheila asks if they are ready to “go on in the same old way” (p. 71), Birling says, “And you’re not, eh?
” (p. 57). This is the reason why the process has to start again of the coup de theatre at the end of the play; it will continue to persist until they have all learned their lesson. This comfortably evolves the Unities into a cycle, linking to Ouspensky’s theory on time. Priestly was fascinated about time and especially this theory, which is evident in this text. Ouspensky suggests that when we die we re-enter our life once more from the beginning. We are born again in the same house, to the same parents and continue to replicate all the events of our life just as before.
This cycle of identical lives would go on being repeated if we changed nothing of connotation. If, however, we bettered ourselves in some spiritual way, we could convert the circle into a spiral of events that would, if we continued to make significant improvement, eventually open for us to escape from the echo’s of past lives and into a new life in which we did not repeat our mistakes. We see that the Inspector is immune to the social superiority of the Birlings. This is seen when Birling threatens the Inspector by telling him that the Chief Constable is an “old friend” (p.16) of his, the Inspector is not intimidated.
A normal police inspector may feel threatened and withdraw because of the risk of losing his job. His determined questioning and control of the events superficially is that of a policeman, but towards the end, it is these same virtues that fuel suspicion. He is very determined, and will not be misled from his aim: to get the characters to freely admit their part in Eva’s death. It is like he is a machine and his sole intent is to uncover the truth. Priestly presents the Inspector as working systematically like an ordinary policeman.
The Inspector prefers to deal with “one person and one line of enquiry at a time” (p. 12). This on the surface looks like what a real policeman would do. Nevertheless, he lets everyone hear and interact within each enquiry. A real policeman would do this privately with one person, as it would dilute the questioning. As Sheila aptly puts it: “he is giving the rope to hang ourselves with” (p. 55). The aspect of working methodically with each character is how a traditional whodunit would unravel. It is made famous by writings of Agatha Christie and other crime writers. Priestly exploits the conventions of several genres for his own purposes.
He uses parts of Greek drama, morality plays, the well-made play, polemics, whodunits, crime, and murder mysteries. The combination of such an eclectic mixture makes this play very idiosyncratic. The play follows the traits of the well-made play, where everything is smoothly linked together and fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. The Inspector is being used as the catalyst in the play evoking the obligatory scene many a time. He makes things happen and allows secrets to be revealed. Furthermore, the Inspector allows them to freely admit their link in the chain, the “chain of events” (p.14) that is repeatedly said throughout the play.
It also makes the play feel more realistic. Priestly was part of the Realism movement that took place from the late 19th through to the early 20th century. Many plays from this time have been very fanciful and imaginary. The aspect of realism was avant-garde for that time, as one must realise that reality television was not in their common knowledge. It also makes the play itself relevant at any time and even more important now. One may suggest that Priestly wanted his magnum opus to be access at any time. Hence, connecting into how Priestly wanted to make the play seem flawless.
He added the element of three unities. This is part of Classical Greek drama where one action happens in one day and night. The unity of place was added later. Due to the fact of the characters of the play committing more than one of the Seven Deadly sins, this play is an abstract from the medieval morality play where Priestly also wants to make a moral point. He evolves this into a polemic piece of writing expressing his own political and ethical point of view. In conclusion, one finds that Priestly’s use of the Inspector is critical for the success of the play.
Priestly is the Inspector, the Inspector is Priestly: the symbiotic relationship between character and author is potent and creates the distinctive edge needed. The Inspector uses a myriad of mystery, which injects intrigue into the play in which he is successful. The powerful polemic is successfully carried out by Priestly’s passion for the truth and what is morally just. Yet, Priestly and the Inspector are catalysts whose social principles disregard when judged with the desire for truth and justice. Not only does the disinfectant kill Eva, or the morals of the Birlings, but kills our materialistic social view.