What is Priestley’s main aim in An Inspector Calls
What is Priestley’s main aim in An Inspector Calls

What is Priestley’s main aim in An Inspector Calls

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Priestley’s main aim within “An Inspector Calls”, is to express his political and moral values by using the characters and situations to convey the inequalities of society. He emphasises the importance of collective responsibility to show how our actions affect those around us and demonstrate that we are all responsible for each other. Priestley’s attitudes towards society and class are established in ‘An Inspector Calls’ by his belief that within society everybody should be treated equally. The play focuses on life in which society is highly segregated creating the rigid and hierarchical class system.

Women lack social and political rights, particularly those in the lower classes and they are therefore frequently exploited. Priestley uses characters such as Mr Birling to depict the arrogance of an affluent industrialist who expresses concern purely for his own image and his own interests. Birling highlights the apparent contrasts between the wealthy capitalists and the under represented workers with quotations such as, “A man has to make his own way, has to look after himself” emphasising Birling’s selfish nature.

Priestley emphasises the feelings of superiority within the family when Gerald says, After all y’know, we’re respectable citizens and not criminals”. Priestley’s feelings about responsibility are highlighted in ‘An Inspector Calls’, from the events in the play that lead the characters to understand how our actions affect other people. At the beginning of the play, each of the characters has a different view of what it means to be responsible. By the end of the play, the character views on responsibility have changed signifi

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cantly. The Inspector provides us with a much broader view on responsibility which creates an apparent contrast between himself and the other characters.

Priestley’s main idea about responsibility is highlighted by, “We are responsible for each other” and it places further emphasis on collective responsibility. The Inspector aims to change their views on responsibility, and does so by describing to each of the characters how they all contributed to the suicide of Eva Smith. Mr Birling feels his main responsibility is to make a success of his business, and he has no qualms about dealing severely with workers that do not accept his rules with, “They wanted the rates raised, I refused of course” demonstrating this.

Mrs Birling’s responsibility lies primarily within her role as chairwoman of the Women’s Charity Organisation, but despite seeing how deserving Eva Smith was of receiving help, Mrs Birling remained intransigent in refusing to provide her with the support that she needed. Priestley has created characters like this to highlight the effect people can have on others if they do not accept responsibility for their own actions. Priestley successfully achieves his aims of showing that all people are part of an interdependent community by highlighting the importance of collective responsibility within ‘An Inspector Calls’.

By making the Inspector the primary source of information in the play, Priestley uses the Inspector as device by which he is able to express his own opinions. Each of the stories that involve Eva Smith all describe different moral situations that led to a tragedy. The main function of the Inspector in ‘An Inspector Calls’ is to highligh

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the importance of collective responsibility by acting as device by which Priestley can express his views to the audience. The Inspector can be seen as a supernatural character by his ability to control the development of events in the story.

As the story of each character develops, the Inspector grows in confidence and gains control over the characters. The Birlings accept that he is able to decide who is allowed to speak, who is allowed to leave, and who is allowed to see the photograph, although they know nothing about him. Despite the dismissive behaviour of Mr and Mrs Birling, the Inspector is set on probing the characters, and nothing distracts him. He is manipulative in the way he interviews and has an ability to get people to answer all of his questions, which is indicated by, “Somehow he makes you”.

He appears to be more concerned with what is morally right or wrong rather than what is legal or illegal. The character of Eva Smith is used by Priestley to illustrate his political and social views in order to attempt to change the audiences’ attitudes towards others. Due to the lack of information given about Eva Smith, she is an abstract character within the play, and her primary role is to represent the effects that people’s actions have on one other. She never appears on stage, and the audience never discovers her real name, which adds to the curious nature of her character.

We learn that each of the characters in ‘An Inspector Calls’ changed Eva’s life in some way, and we learn that this eventually led to her suicide. It is suggested that she has strong moral values which can be shown from her refusal to take the stolen money from Eric. She represents the ordinary working class section of society and her lack of money means her life is in stark contrast to that of the Birling and Croft family. The five stories that are based around Eva are used to show the different events that happen to female individuals in the lower class.

Priestley uses Eva’s suicide to allow the reader to recognise our responsibility to others and to change our attitudes to those we meet. In the Inspectors final speech, he emphasises the importance of collective responsibility by saying, ” One Eva Smith has gone- but there are millions and millions of Eva Smith’s still left with us”. In ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley uses the different characters to reflect specific areas of society to fulfil his aims of making people recognise the affect that our actions have on those around us.

The characters each have different reactions relating to the death of Eva Smith, a woman whose suicide they have all supposedly contributed to in some way. Mr Birling has a lack of sympathy for Eva, emphasised when he calls her ‘that wretched girl’ and immediately he forgets about the consequences of his actions once his finds out from the infirmary the girl does not exist. Eric and Sheila can relate to each other because they both recognise that their choices and actions in life have affected other people, and

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