An inspector calls

Just loads of info on the speccy boye

Context

An inspector calls was first performed in 1945 and written by J.B. Priestley.

It uses the Whodunit/detective genre.

Murder on the Orient Express was performed in 1934 and was a best seller. Priestley mirrors the plot of MOTOE as the inspector realises that everyone killed the victim in the end.

Since this genre was popular, audiences may have been more interested and taken the message of the play better.

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Morality Play

Morality plays were often performed in Medieval times and taught moral lessons. The characters in them were not people, but rather represented ideas. This is mirrored in AIC as the characters represent the seven deadly sins.

Envy = Sheila

Gluttony = Eric (his drinking problem)

Greed = Arthur Birling & Gerald (capitalistic and materialistic greed)

Lust = Eric and Gerald 

Pride = Sybil 

Sloth = Eric

Wrath = Arthur Birling

Characters who represent more sins are seen to be more responsible for the suicide.

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Christianity

Morality plays are rooted in Christian tradition.

80% of Priestley’s audience would have gone to church and been believers. Priestley therefore uses Biblical references and Christian language to influence the people.

‘we are all members of one body’ mirrors text from Romans and Corinthians.

The audience would be familiar with these references and would understand the socialist message as Godly and the right choice.

 

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Tragedy

Tragedy was invented by the Greeks and had three main rules:

-The play should have one unified plot with no subplot

-All the action in the play should occur within one day

-The setting should be limited to a single place

Hamartia = Greek word for ‘fatal flaw’ or ‘tragic flaw’

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Tragedies in real life

The world wars 

Eva’s death and the second death arguably represent the two world wars.

Priestley used this to show that these tragedies were caused by capitalism and were mistakes.

Titanic

The titanic was a huge tragedy in public consciousness and rarely talked about.

This foreshadows that the events due to happen will also be a huge tragedy.

 

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Capitalism

The capitalistic system was created for businesses to make money for people who own them

They were often owned by single families and therefore most of the country’s wealth was owned by a very small percentage.

Investing money in businesses made you a shareholder and you would be payed if the business succeeded.

Through this, it was very easy to stay rich once you had money. This caused the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

 

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Socialism

The socialist system means that the government owns as much of business as possible.

The profits go to the government and are used towards funding welfare and to pay the workers correctly.

Prices are low in general as businesses are not aiming for profit.

 

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Theatre

People going to the theatre in the 1900s would be rich and probably have capitalistic outlooks.

The inspector is used as a teacher and teaches about the dangers of capitalism, benefits of socialism, and the christian morality of being a socialist.

 

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Birling quotes

‘I don't see that it's any concern of yours how I choose to run my business.’

‘It might be, you know.’

These quotes show that the play has a political message.

The play isn’t just a murder mystery but has deep-rooted themes of politics.

 

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The earth

‘It’s better to ask for the earth than to take it’

This foreshadows Eric’s stealing.

The notion of ‘stealing the earth’ reminds us that capitalism is unnatural.

 

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Oppressed but deserving working class

‘he says its important’ -Edna

The ‘says’ emphasises how the working class do not know how to stand up for themselves as they have been so oppressed and believe that they deserve to be poor.

Alternatively, the ‘he’ shows that the inspector is a voice of authority. It also points to a patriarchal society as Birling and the family were more likely to listen to a man.

‘an inspector’s called’ 

It is not a coincidence that Edna introduces the inspector.

It allies him symbolically to the lower classes and wants to fight for their rights.

 

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Capitalism is theft

Eric gives Eva £50 from his father’s business. 

That sum of money is nearly a years salary for lower class women like Eva posing a question: why does Eva go to the charity if she gets so much money?

This could mean that Eric has lied and kept some of the money to fuel his drinking habits, however the inspector does not accuse Eric of lying as Priestley wants to keep the theme of a murder mystery. 

The inspector asks if Eric stole and he does not accept responsibility saying

‘You mean – you stole the money?’ 

‘Not really.’

Since he denied that it was theft, Priestley uses this to present capitalists as criminals.

 

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The feminist message

Priestley chooses an industry dominated by women instead of men to promote how women are more vulnerable to capitalist exploitation.

Even though Priestley’s audience would be ablate vote, women did not have this right in 1912. This is used to show how much the world has changed and how much it can change if Labour are voted in.

‘put ourselves in the place of these young women counting their pennies in their dingy little back rooms’

Priestley wants the audience to put themselves into the shoes of the lower class women.

‘little back rooms’ shows that women were inferior both symbolically and in society.

 

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Patriarchal society

The Birlings expect Sheila to marry Gerald even if he has had a mistress showing that they treat her as property and a money making opportunity.

Mr Birling is exploiting his daughters happiness to be able to grow his business just like he exploits other women by paying them for sex and paying low wages for labour.

Mr Birling also believes that Gerald’s actions with prostitutes are normal and does not see it as an abuse of power

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Birling and Business

‘that a man has to mind his own business, and look after himself and his own’

Priestley uses Birling to represent capitalism. He is not a person, but a construct used to show the corruption of capitalistic society. The inspector appears right after these words are spoken.

‘I’m talking as a hard headed, practical man of business’

‘hard headed’ could represent Birling as unfeeling and suggests that capitalism is unfeeling and selfish. Since there was an election in 1945, Priestley uses these words as the Labour Party manifesto of that year complained about these hard headed businessmen. The audience would see Birling as an immoral person and be more drawn to vote Labour as that is what they stand against.

Birling treats Sheila’s marriage as a business and calls it an ‘opportunity’ for the Birlings and the Crofts to get together.

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Gerald

‘You were the wonderful fairy prince. You must have adored it, Gerald’

‘she’d been happier than she’d ever been before’

Priestley uses Gerald’s kindness and caring character to show that good men are still cruel if they are capitalist. He shows that capitalism makes men corrupt.

‘Daisy knew it was coming to an end’

Although he claims that the end was brought about by needing to go away for business, we know that it actually is because his friend was returning from Canada.

This shows that this was all part of his plan, Gerald was only willing to take Eva under his wing while it was beneficial for him and actually exploiting her.

‘she’d lived very economically on what I’d allowed her’

He’s given her a very little amount of money but feels superior because of it. If he had still been with her after the friend had returned, he would’ve had to pay for an apartment out of his own wallet therefore costing him a lot more than what he was giving her through free will.

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Mrs Birling

‘Girls of that class’

Mrs Birling is very dismissive of anyone who is socially inferior, particularly of the working classes.

‘Girls’ is a way to diminish Eva as she is a woman at this point.

Priestley uses Mrs Birling to show that supporting capitalism and social hierarchy is a bad thing. He believes that everyone should be equal and the way that some feel superior to others due to their status is unacceptable. Priestley supported the idea of a national health service, which is represented in the play by Mrs Birlings charity, and wanted to show her corruption by the fact that she dismissed Eva, a woman of the working class, instead of supporting her.

There is an irony in that quote as someone of a lower class is going to the people who are offering support, only to be turned down as they think of themselves as superior.

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Mrs Birling 2

‘The girl had begun by telling us a pack of lies’

‘girl’ is used again to show Mrs Birling’s thoughts on her

This quote has logical doubts due to the lies which preceded it but also supports the idea that Eva would rather commit suicide than take the stolen money or marry Eric. Priestly suggests that Eric has had a massive effect on her mental state and, by being denied by Mrs Birling, she is somewhat forced to return to him.

Mrs Birling confessed first to make Eric’s confession more dramatic.

‘If the girl’s death is due to anybody, then its due to him’

This is Priestley’s device used to show how Eric is most responsible.

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Eric

‘I think it’s a shame. We try for the highest profits, why shouldn’t they try for the highest wages’

This is a way to show that Eric is anti-capitalist, represents the younger generation, and a voice of hope and change.

‘she told me she didn’t want me to go in’

This shows that he has forced himself into her room and ignored her trying to turn him away. He has, in a way, copied his Mother’s behaviour as he is acting as if he is more superior and therefore should get his own way.

‘in that state when a chap easily turns nasty’

He says ‘that state’ instead of ‘a state’ showing that he expects everyone to know what he is talking about. It proves that being drunk is so common in society that it is not as much a sin.

‘a chap’ makes him seem less violent than if he used the word ‘I’ or ‘a man’. It also adds to the generalisation that being drunk is common in society.

‘nasty’ gives us the notion of **** and the use of his power for bad. This is emphasised as Eva does not want to return to him for help but would rather kill herself.

 

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Sheila

‘No, because I remember what he said, how he looked, and what he made me feel. Fire and blood and anguish.’

We can use this as a point to show that Sheila has learnt the inspector’s lesson and, once he leaves, acts as a proxy for him. She tries to convince everyone that they need to take blame but, possibly because she is a woman and lives in a patriarchal society, she is ignored by the rest of the family.

She further represents Priestley’s point that there is hope in the younger generation and that capitalism is immoral.

‘No, not yet. It’s too soon. I must think.’

If she has learnt the inspector’s lesson she would reject Gerald straight away but she does not. This shows that she has not fully learnt the lesson intended as she accepts the patriarchal society.

‘And now at least you’ve been honest’ ‘I believe… you helped her’

As the audience knows that Gerald did not help Eva out of pity, as he got rid of her as soon as his friend came back, they would notice that Sheila is lying to herself as society has encouraged her to do this. She is pretending to have an equal relationship even if she does not.

‘Just out of pity’

The sentence is curtailed (does not have a verb in it) which suggests that on a subconscious level she is aware that Gerald did have a motive behind being kind to Eva.

‘And it was my fault really that she was so desperate when you first met her’

This symbolises how women behaved in a patriarchal society. She is blaming herself more than she is blaming Gerald as she wants to convince herself into continuing on with the marriage.

 

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Setting

‘an evening in Spring, 1912’

‘spring’ is symbolic of rebirth, optimism, and hope which suggests that, at the beginning of the play, hope is still possible.

The sinking of the Titanic took place in April of 1912 so when Birling describes the ship as ‘unsinkable’ it is using dramatic irony to show how the play will also be a tragedy. 

This is also during the suffragette movement which is key to the feminist message of the play.

 

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Furniture

‘heavily comfortable’ is an oxymoron used to describe the furniture in the Birling’s house.

‘not cosy and homelike’ is another oxymoron to show that, even though they are rich and of a higher class, the Birlings are not at home with each other.

 

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Edna

‘EDNA is just clearing the table’

Edna represents the working class and Priestley puts her on stage to show the audience that the working women would be ignored and subservient, however also very hard working.

It shows the difference between the working people and the privileged classes as the Birlings are enjoying an evening whilst she is made to work and clean up.

The Birlings do not show gratitude towards Edna, they see it as an expectation for her to clean.

 

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Etiquette

The table ‘has not cloth’

This suggests that the Birlings do not quite understand proper etiquette. Traditionally the cloth used to cover a table would be white and this colour represents innocence; Priestley does not include the cloth therefore as he does not want any idea of innocence associated with the Birlings.

Perhaps, Priestley is just using this to show that the white cloth is just a cover/veneer much like the superiority of the higher classes.

 

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Alcohol

‘champagne glasses’ ‘decanter of port’ ‘port glasses are already on the table’

Priestley could be emphasising how the rich drink a lot and therefore are never in the mindset to make correct decisions.

This notion of alcohol being consumed also makes it easier to show how much Eric is drinking.

Arguably, this could point to the idea that a lot of Eva’s tragedy was caused by the readily available access that higher classes have to alcohol.

Priestley could further use this to show that upper classes do not feel comfortable within their families and need to be intoxicated to get through a night with their supposed close ones.

 

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Clothing

‘all five are in evening dress of the period, the men in tails and white ties, not dinner-jackets’

Priestley uses this stage direction to emphasise how the higher classes do not feel at home in their own skin. The actors in costume would be forced to look and feel uncomfortable due to the formalness and stiffness of the clothes they are wearing for a dinner; dinner jackets would be far more comfortable.

This also points to an idea that class divisions are unnatural and damage the reality of people. The characters are shown to be putting on an act to make themselves seem of a higher class instead of relaxing and properly enjoying an evening.

 

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Lighting

‘pink and intimate’

‘pink’ gives the impression of rose tinted glasses, indicating a desire to see your circumstances in a false light.

‘intimate’ contrasts with the furniture which was not cosy. This is a subtle way to indicate that the family is not harmonious and that the intimacy is just an attempt and cannot work because they are all busy deceiving themselves.

‘brighter and harder’

‘harder’ shows that the inspector is going to reveal the hard truth to the family and make them see things as they really are.

This light when the inspector enters also makes the stage seem like an interrogation and tightens the sense of pressure.

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The table

‘the four Birling’s and Gerald are seated at the table, with Arthur Birling at one end, his wife at the other’

In Edwardian times, it was social etiquette for the man of the house to sit at one end of the table. Priestley, instead, goes against this to symbolise how there is a great distance between Arthur and Sybil Birling.

Another argument is, that this placement isolates Eric. He is alone on one side of the table which presents him as the odd one out and physically shows that he has been isolated by his family.

‘Eric downstage and Sheila and Gerald seated upstage’

Eric is seated close to the audience so that they can notice how he is drunk and uncomfortable. 

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