An Inspector Calls – a tale of suspense and biting social criticism of an upper class family. With each minute that goes by another enigmatic incident is unravelled -leaving the reader engrossed by the ongoing tales of lies and deceit, that together form the plot for Priestley’s masterpiece. Set in 1912, An Inspector Calls introduces us to the rich Birling family-comfortable in their upper-class luxury and middle-class morality. An unexpected arrival one evening converts a small family celebration to an interrogation with a twist.
For gradually it is bought to light every member of this respectable family’s complicity in a mysterious young girls fate-suicide. As the evening wears on, the Inspector introduces links between the late Eva Smith and each of the Birlings- and the family find themselves unable to return to their complacency-as they are led to believe their involvement in Eva Smiths death was far from innocent. The reason for setting ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1912 is fairly obvious if you examine the writer himself and the chain of events happening around him. The play was written in 1945 and first performed in 1946.
Priestly opens the play with a scene of great luxury-a wealthy family is celebrating an engagement in a rather lavish fashion. To an audience that had spent the years of the Second World War without the luxuries the Birlings are so abundantly enjoying – it would be impractical to set the play during or just after the war. Therefore Priestly set the play before the war and used his own perso...
nal preferences to decide on the exact year. As he was a supporter of the Labour party, Priestly chose a period of time before there was a welfare state in the United Kingdom, and when employers had great power over their workers.
It is ironic that Mr Birling predicts a war at the early stages of the play-“you’ll hear some people say that war’s inevitable”-as the war broke out after this play is set. Also, the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic is mentioned several times by Mr Birling – hence it was essential for Priestly to set the play before the sinking in 1914. Priestley uses the play as an example of what can happen if we are ignorant to the feelings of others. He believed a great deal in socialism and he used several of his plays to try and influence people.
His technique was to use his characters to get into the minds of the readers and get across his attitude towards life. There are many hidden messages in this play -that Priestly uses his characters personalities and emotions to depict. This is a fine example of the fact that ‘An Inspector Calls’ was a play to be performed not read-as by solely reading the book you would not capture the same sentiment as that of what you would get by watching the play being performed. Inspector Goole acts as a conscience for all members of the Birling family.
His role is to teach them that every action has its consequences and that thinking about solely yourself, without taking anyone else into consideration could result in dramatic consequences. Although this
is aimed at the Birlings, you automatically take the message on board as, as a spectator, you become somewhat attached to the characters-therefore you come to acknowledge how they are feeling . The Inspector also makes the Birlings realise what they really thought of lower-class people, as it was made obvious by Mr Birling that they did not care for lower-class workers.
He talked about them as if they were unworthy- “… if you don’t come down sharply on some of these people… “. Priestly obviously contemplated for his play to have meaning. Consequently I want my version of the play to ‘bring to life’ all that he wanted. By examining his characters, you can see that each of them has a purpose- e. g. one of Sheila’s purposes was to exaggerate the family circumstances to bring more emotion into the play. In my play, I want these purposes to be made evident by the actors so that the audience can engage and fully comprehend the family’s state of affairs.
Sheila, Mr & Mrs Birlings daughter, is impressionable throughout the play and is deeply affected by the Inspectors revelations. Although tentative at times she has a readiness to learn from experience and lacks the cold-blooded attitude of her parents. She and her brother-Eric- represent the younger generation which Priestly hopes is still open-minded enough to learn to accept responsibility for others. Because she is more sensitive than the others, Sheila is the first to realise what the Inspector is driving at in his interviews with himself and the others.
She sees through the other characters attempt to cover the truth – and at times, almost seems to be an accomplice of the Inspector. Before the Inspectors arrival, the family are celebrating Gerald and Sheila’s engagement. The success of this gathering is manifest -as each family member seems to be content and excited about the future. Mr Birling has much to gloat about to his newly found son-in-law “there’s a fair chance that I might find my way into the next honours list-just a knighthood of course”. For this engagement is more than just an romantic joining, it is also the joining together of two rival business companies.
If it was not for Sheila’s easygoing attitude, she would almost certainly feel pressurised-as her father would lose out on a great business deal if hers and Gerald’s relationship deteriated, even slightly. But as we discover Sheila is not one to let others judgements influence hers- for once her mind is made up she cannot be swayed otherwise. At the beginning of Act 1, we see Sheila as a snobbish, egoistic and self-confident young women. She appears to be an enthusiastic and excitable youth. Her self-obsession is made apparent-due to the fact that all she seems to be talking about is her and Gerald.
It seems like nothing else matters. Some could say that, that was not ‘self obsession’ but merely love. But if we take into consideration this plays conclusion that could not be the case. Not surprisingly, Sheila seems highly content in this act-and is slightly emotional at times – “You be careful- or I’ll start
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