An Inspector Calls Analysis Argumentative
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 personal 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 weeping”. Her manner of speaking is posh – but in comparison with her mother- slightly causal, as she does not seem to care for the social differences between classes-unlike her mother. She has the grace of a posh girl and is overall a relatively observant and perceptive character.
Before the arrival of the Inspector, Sheila is fairly quiet and seems to be enraptured by Gerald. Consequently all we see in the beginning is smiles and kisses from Sheila -for the engagement, although in solely family presence, is a very formal occasion. From time to time, her good manners and posh etiquette is disrupted by the ongoing banter between her and Eric. With Sheila making comments such as “Your squiffy” and “Don’t be an ass, Eric” we get the impression that they have a normal brother-sister relationship. Eric can be seen to be hostile towards his parents, especially his father, in the comments that he makes which undermine them.
This contrasts with Sheila, whose comments are more balanced and considered. They both act as a form of conscience in some parts of the play, but Sheila is more productive in what she says and does, whereas Eric is much more of a ‘kid’ -maybe because his father is unloving and unapproachable. Their attitude towards each other in this act is fairly hostile-partly to do with the fact that Eric is drunk. Although Gerald and Sheila are to be married, there is a sense of queerness in their relationship. For Sheila seems to be ecstatic and over-excited about their engagement whereas Gerald seems merely pleased.
Also, there is an edge of bitterness in Sheila’s voice when “last summer” is mentioned. It becomes obvious to the audience that they had had the conversation before. Sheila’s ‘half serious, half playful’ tone brings unease into the conversation and there is a feeling that there is an unresolved issue at hand. When Sheila comes to know of the death of Eva Smith she shows a lot more sympathy than her father had displayed- her reaction is by far more emotional. After discovering the involvement of her father, she is quick to be critical of him, and not to protect him.
This shows that, although Mr Birling may think they are a close family and would protect each others interests in times of need, they most certainly are not -“But these girls aren’t cheap labour, they are people”-Sheila’s words contradict her fathers. She is very quick to defend the girls, rather than to defend her own family. Sheila then recognises the photograph that the Inspector presents to her and ‘runs out’. This exit has an affect on the audience as their early suspensions that Sheila knew Eva are proved accurate.
Due to the audience knowing that Sheila recognised the photograph they immediately would begin to question themselves- ‘How did she know her? ‘ and ‘Could she have anything to do with Eva’s death? ‘. Sheila’s exit reveals that she felt guilty and perhaps even shocked -as before the photograph was shown she had come across a confident and sympathetic girl. It is also made apparent that Sheila was hiding something associated with Eva -as she did not walk out, she ran out. After this moment the structure of the play begins to build up-for it is slowly becoming apparent that Mr Birling knowing Eva Smith was just the tip of the iceberg.
Shortly after, a guilty Sheila emerges back into the dining room- ‘You knew it was me all the time, didn’t you? ‘. A distressed, sympathetic and emotional Sheila attempts to explain herself- and a whole new side to her emerges. She seems to be horrified by her own part in Eva’s story and is full of guilt for her jealous actions. She blames herself as “really responsible”. In this act, we learn that Sheila is an essentially honest character who is grounded and clearly has no problem admitting her faults -unlike the other characters-“I felt rotten at the time-but now I feel even worse”.
For it should be noted that her spiteful complaint against Eva is probably the most indefensible action of all, based merely on her own wounded vanity. The only redeeming feature is that Sheila was honest enough to admit her share of the responsibility of Eva’s death. During Act Two, Sheila sees her fianci?? exposed as a liar who has had a ‘kept’ women. Understandably, Sheila feels very strongly about this especially when she realises that Gerald was seeing this women when he hardly went near her ‘last summer’.
Throughout Gerald’s account of last summers events, Sheila becomes cold towards him and does not hesitate to put across exactly how she feels. However, her overall response was extremely mature- ‘I rather respect you more than I’ve ever done before’ because for once Gerald has been honest and open, and even shown some remorse. She seems to understand Gerald’s point of view and does not object to his first thought of taking her in ‘out of pity’. However, it is made clear that Sheila is not reluctant to overlook the fact that her fianci?? cheated on her -‘… this has made a difference… . It is now becoming apparent that all members of the Birling family have some connection to Eva. Therefore when Mrs Birling denies that she recognised Eva’s photo, Sheila immediately states that there is no point in repudiating anything-for she knows that they are in far too deep for excuses – ‘… Can’t you see… you’re making it worse… ‘. Sheila now seems to have formed an emotional attachment with Eva and is finding is hard to grasp the fact that the pretty girl who she had sacked less than a year ago was now dead due to the selfless acts of her family- ‘…
No! Oh how horrible—horrible! ‘. Once again, she does not hesitate to take Eva’s side instead of her mothers when she learns of Mrs Birling’s involvement-‘Mother, I think it was cruel and vile! ‘. As we have already learnt, Sheila is quite moralistic and does not allow personal relationships alter her opinions. Towards the end of Act 2, Sheila’s language becomes more desperate – as she finds it difficult to acknowledge the fact that Eva is dead. She has now become more passionate about the situation and has begun to react very responsively -‘(distressed)…
Now, Mother-don’t you see! ‘. At the opening of the play, Sheila seemed like a calm and content character. To show how she has changed, the actress should use her body language very expressively to show how frantic and involved Sheila has become. Also, the tone of the voice should become more urgent-as by now Sheila would be getting rather apprehensive -especially as she is the first to realise the extent of Eric’s involvement. In the opening conversation of Act 3, Sheila states sarcastically -‘… it’s a good job for him ,he doesn’t know, isn’t it? ‘.
Here she is relating to the fact that their mother had been busy blaming everything on the young man who got this girl into trouble- oblivious of the fact that this ‘young man’ would be her son. This shows us that Sheila is feeling bitter towards her mother as she had attempted several times to warn her ‘to stop’- but had failed miserably each time-for her mother never took Sheila seriously. Her mother had also questioned if Eric drank – even though Sheila had told her previously. This feeling of bitterness and annoyance is soon replenished with fright and helplessness -for the whole situation soon gets out of hand.
Sheila finds herself having to stop Eric from insulting their mother -‘ (frightened)… Eric, don’t–don’t–… ‘-for the situation is bad enough without Mrs Birling and Eric having a dispute. Sheila, like Eric, took an immense amount of interest into Eva Smith’s story and therefore her reaction to the revelation that Goole was not a ‘real’ Inspector is totally different to Gerald’s and her parents’: “whoever that Inspector was, it was anything but a joke. You knew it then. You began to learn something. And now you’ve stopped. You’re ready to go on in the same old way”.
From her perspective, her family were still guilty of driving Eva Smith to suicide. Once again, she is infuriated by the fact that her parents compare her to a child -‘… its you two who are being childish-trying not to face the facts’. There is a huge contrast of opinions here and Eric and Sheila find themselves on the same side-a distinction to the beginning of Act 1. After realising that there was no body at the infirmary, Sheila is slightly comforted -but unlike the others, still thinks the story heartbreaking- “Everything we said had happened really had happened, if it didn’t end tragically, then that’s lucky for us”.
Gerald, like Birling accepts no responsibility for Eva Smiths death, or has he knew her, Daisy renton. Gerald shows that he has similar feelings to Birlings by stating -‘ I don’t come into this suicide business’, whereas Mrs Birling is rather restrained with her feelings. Throughout the play, Sheila backed up the inspector- unlike her parents and Gerald. This is because she had no difficulty in accepting her involvement in Eva Smiths death. She knew that the Inspector already knew how everybody assisted in Eva’s suicide and therefore stayed one-step ahead of the others.
Another similarity between Sheila and the Inspector is that they both seem to persistently remind the others of the awfulness of the situation. In Act 3, Sheila takes on the Inspectors role as she perseveres to remind everyone of how much damage they have done -‘… It frightens me the way you talk, and I can’t listen to any more of it’. Her and Eric seem to be the only people that have not forgotten the way the Inspector made them feel-“Fire and blood and anguish”. Sheila is very perceptive as she realises that Gerald knew Daisy Renton from his reaction-the moment the Inspector mentioned her name.
At the end of Act II, she is the first to realise Eric’s part in the story. Significantly, she is the first to wonder who the Inspector really is, saying to him, “wonderingly”, “I don’t understand about you. ” She warns the others “he’s giving us the rope – so that we’ll hang ourselves” and, near the end, is the first to consider whether the Inspector may not be real. Sheila was the only character who shows any genuine sympathy for Eva- ‘I cant help thinking about this girl, destroying herself so horribly – and I’ve been so happy tonight” .
She actually says this before she learns of her involvement in Eva’s death-which basically summarises how sympathetic she is in contrast to her unsympathetic father. At the end of the play, Sheila is much wiser. Mrs and Mrs Birling are shocked by some of Sheila’s honest remarks, because they prefer to live in a world where unpleasant realities are suppressed or ignored, but Sheila does not try to deceive herself. She has the courage to admit her guilt and to speak out honestly, even when she knows this is not considered the ‘right’ thing to do (by her parents).
She can now judge her parents and Gerald from a new perspective, but the greatest change has been in herself: her social conscience has been awakened and she is aware of her responsibilities. The Sheila who had a girl dismissed from her job for a trivial reason has vanished forever. She is such an important character as she represents change. Priestley’s aim was to influence people into becoming more moralistic and ethical towards each other-of which Sheila is a fine example. By the end of the play Sheila has become more clear and open to criticism and is overall an honest and responsible young lady who is independent and principled.
I think that Priestly wanted the audience to relate with Sheila -as she is the only character that actually sympathises with Eva. Sheila is essentially a good character who in a moment of uncharacteristic cruelty committed an act which she would regret for the rest of her life. Her remorse is Priestley’s way of showing that human beings do have a good side to their nature, and that if there is hope that people will one day develop a social conscience and awareness that “We are members of one body”, then it will be among the younger generation.