An Inspector Calls - Context and Themes

HideShow resource information

All Themes

  • Britain in 1912 & 1945
  • Family life
  • Social Class
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Judgement
  • Learning About Life
  • Social Responsibility
1 of 9


  • The style of the play is like a murder mystery as well as a morality play.
  • Morality plays were religious places that tried to teach people how to behave and were warnings of danger
  • Inspector Calls follows the same kind of idea - points out sings, confess and repent
  • It isn't religious however so it is secular
  • The Inspector represents temporal law (courts) but in the end it's not a legal issue but a moral issue.
  • Sheila she's had an idea "all along" that the Inspector was different. QUestions supernatural side of things. She asks WHAT he was not WHO
  • In the end, doesn't matter who he is, it's the fact he's taught them a lesson 
  • Gerald, Arthur and Sybil - decide it was a hoax and so they have been let off the hook
  • Sheila andEric - learnt their lesson
  • "You admit to being prejudiced against her case?" Sybils judgement that Eva/Daisy wasn't worthy of charity. Suddenly it's flipped and now Sybil and her family are being judged
2 of 9

Learning About Life

  • Some people never learn - Arthur's views are made clear in Act One and they never change. Arrogance is the reason why he is so stubborn.He doesn't think anyone has anything of use to tell him. Sybil's and Gerald's arrogance also prevents them from changing; they don't see anything wrong with the way they act/think.
  • Others try to change - Eric and Sheila are affected by the Inspector  as they are ashamed of their behaviour. They understand that the important thing was the lesson learnt rather than whether the Inspector was real
  • Sheila also changes her personality - started off as playful and self centered, finishes as mature and sensitive.
  • Ignorance is bliss - happy living in ignorance, working class doesn't affect them (older generation) so they don't want to know, much like prostitution, ("I see no point in mentioning the subject" Mr Birling said) womanising, ("You don't mean Alderman Meggarty!" Mrs Birling) and drinking ("It's not true" says Mrs Birling when Eric's habit is released.) 
  • "You and I aren't the same people who sat down to dinner" - Sheila is no longer angry at Gerald and respects him for telling the truth finally. She knows the visit has changed them both and she accepts that she can't go back to her orignial life
3 of 9

Social Responsibility

  • Birling believes that community responisiblity is nonsense. Interests of business are more importnat than worker's rights
  • Mrs Birling - no responsibility to the working class, prejudices so ingrained they cant be altered
  • Eric - realises too late his selfish actions were responsibile for ruining Eva's chances of imporving her life
  • Sheila - realised getting Eva sacked was irresponsible, Inspector challenges her to improve her behaviour
  • Inspectors final speech is clear and to the point about his lesson in social responsibility
  • Priestley was a supporter of socialism and his plays promote social responsibility and criticise the class divide problems
  • The play makes audience question not only their social responsibiliy but also how responsible they are for their own actions
4 of 9


  • Women Stereotype - be obsessed with clothes, shopping and weddings - Sheila gazes adoringly at her ring and asks "is it the one you wanted me to have?", protected against "unpleasant and disturbing"things, pride, vanity, jealous, hysterical (a state associated with women at the time)
  • Men Stereotype - preoccupied with work and public affairs - "the miners came out on strike", Gerald is allowed to sleep around before his marriage and Arthur says that even in his day they "broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes". Different rules from men and women
  • Eva/Daisy breaks out of stereotype - questioned decision of her boss, didn't relying on a man to save her, refused to accept Eric's stolen money
  • Sheila beraks out of stereotype - interrupts and challenges everyone at different times, apart from Insepctor
  • As the play goes on: Gerald, Birling and Eric get weaker, Sheila gets stronger. Priestly does this to challenege the audience's views on women at the time. 
  • Gerald's rejected by Sheila 
  • Eric is revealed to be a nervous, lazy drunk
  • Birling suffers the most - undermined his authority, he's panic stricken as he speaks the last line
  • Sheila starts stating own opinions - "That's whay's important and not whether a man is a police inspector or not" Learnt to think for herself
5 of 9


  • Older generation - traditional views, think children should be seen and not heard, don't like their authority being challened, represent the views of the ruling class
  • Priestly questions their obsession with social class - suggests whole class system is out of touch 
  • Younger generation - ambitious, determined, motivated (Eva/Daisy "had a lot to say - far too much"), challenging authoritiy, learn their lessons so there's a chance that the future will be equal and fair
  • Eric and Sheila learn that they are responsibile for their actions and their decisions do affect other people
  • Gerald - younger version of Arthur, shallow, stubborn, marriage to Sheila is for business reasons, agrees with Birling that Eva/Daisy had to be fired, he doesn't learn anything
  • Priestley makes a criticism of the upper class through Gerald, saying how they are all stuck in their ways and unlikely to change
  • "The famous young generation who know it all" - Birling's sarcastic however it shows that the only people who listened to the Inspector's message was Shiela and Eric
6 of 9

Britain In 1912 And 1945

Britain in 1912

  • Society firmly divided along class lines
  • Only men who owned property could vote
  • Women weren't allowed to vote
  • Women were controlled by their families and husbands
  • Not as much government help for people in need as there is today
  • Was heading into the first world war

Britain in 1945

  • Still divided by class by all men and women over 21 got to vote which meant power was spread more evenly
  • Still conflicts between business owners - 1926 General Strike which made industrail come to a stand still
  • Increase in unemployment 
  • Labour Party won and focused on improving the welfare system
7 of 9

Family Life

  • Family members expected to know their role and be content within it. Parents were in charge of the family, children supposed to be obedient and unquestioning
  • Gender roles were well defined for the wealthy middle class: Men - work to support family, protect women (especially wives and daugters) Women - marry into money, plan parties, visit friends, have children, didn't do jobs like wahsing and cleaning
  • Working class families had very different roles like woring in factories for example
  • Birlings want everyone to believe they are the perfect family
  • Gender roles are clearly defined - ladies withdraw so men can talk about man stuff
  • But there is tension under the surface - Mrs Birling keeps amending family's social mistakes, Eric laughs out of turn, Sheila teases Gerald, half serious, half joking about last summer
  • The hierachy is destroyed when the inspector arrives
  • Sheila and Eric can therefore think for themselves: Sheila doesn't know whether she'll marry Gerald, Eric says his mother doesn't "understand anything" and Birling is "not the kind of father a chap could go to"
  • The family is a mess and Sheila and Eric refuse to "go on behaving just as we did"
  • Parents no longer have authority 
  • "You seem to be a nice well-behaved family" - held together by lies and when the truth is revelead it is ugly
8 of 9

Social Class

  • Priestley desiged the characters to put across his message about social responsibility
  • Characters represent the classes and Priestley challenges their views and behaviour in order to challenege the class hierachy
  • Eva/Daisy - working class, little money, hardest jobs
  • The Birlings - middl class, owned factory, plenty of money and control, live very comfortably
  • Gerald - inherited loads of land and money, better than Birlings
  • Priestly protrays upper class as having a limited sense of social responsibility for the lower class
  • Priestly suggests that the higher classes didn't question the system because it worked for them, they also didn't talk much about womanising or alcoholism as it was easier to ignore it
  • Inspector tells them they must accept responsibility for each other or it will end in 'fire and blood and anguish'
  • Sybil only involved in charity for the social status
  • Arthur's only concern on Eva's death is that there will be a public scandal and so he won't recieve his knighthood
  • Play shows how Priestly saw society - Birling's arrogant behaviour and selfishness represents the middle class, Eva's victimisation represents the working class, Eva could have been anyone. He's showing that class isn't all that matters, individuals can break out and act differently.
  • Inspector doesn't conform to a class and thinks everyone should be treated equally
9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all An Inspector Calls resources »