An Inspector Calls - Themes

  • Created by: Snowy271
  • Created on: 08-10-18 16:37

Overview of Themes

Major Themes in An Inspector Calls:

  • Young and old
  • Responsibility
  • Class
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Young and Old

  • Priestley creates a division between the older and the younger generation, which begins to become evident soon after the Inspector starts questioning the Birlings.

How is the contrast between young and old shown?

  • Sheila and Eric, the younger generatioin, are presented as mature and intelligent for accepting responsibility for their actions.They both learn from the Inspector's visit.
    • "It's the only time I've ever done anything like that,a nd I'll never, never do it again to anybody."
  • In comparison, Mr and Mrs Birling, the older generation are presented as naive and stubborn
    • "I'm sorry she should have come to such a horrible end. But I accept no blame for it at all."

Priestley encourages the audience to be more open-minded by praising the younger charaters in the play for changing their ways. Priestley may also trying to say that the older generation are more reluctant to change, so we should listen to the younger generation more.

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Key messages about responsibility:

  • Contextually, the play was performed after 1945 after WW2. As a result of the war, the distinction between classes had been reduced and women were valued more in society. There was a desire for social change.
  • Priestley conveys the disasterous impacts of war by using the Birling family as a metaphor. 
  • Just as the war occured as a result of disagreement and the competition for power between two sides, the downfall of the Birlings also resulted from the desire for social gain among the characters. 
  • Priestley may be trying to communicate through this metaphor that if we don't take responsibility and look out for each other, there will be catastrophic consequences. 
  • The Birling family act as a warning.
    • "We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men do not learn that lesson, they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish." - Inspector
    • This may be a reference to the war. At this time, people would just be recovering from WW2, and would understand the cataclysmic impacts of war. 
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  • Class is represented as an important factor for Eva's suicide in the play.
  • There is a clear division between the upper and lower classes 

Why is class important in the play?

  • The characters all try to gain power or social status at some point in the play
  • Class divisions are most prominnent when analysing Mrs Birling's involvement with Sheila.
  • Mrs Birling clearly separates herself from the lower classes, placing herself above them.
    • "Girls of that class-" - Mrs Birling
  • Mrs Birling uses her high status to refuse Eva's claim for assistance, purely because she thought Eva had come across as rude and disrespectful
  • Through Mrs Birling, Priestley may be trying to show how, although upper classes may seem respectable and well-mannered, they are actually selffish and disorderly citizens. 
  • The Inspector is used to show the contrast between the expectations of upper class conduct, and the reality. 


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