An Inspector Calls Themes

A set of revision cards with information on the themes of An Inspector Calls for the 9-1 GCSE AQA English Literature Exam

  • Created by: kamna03
  • Created on: 01-10-18 17:06

The key themes in An Inspector Calls

1. Responsibility

2. Community

3. Individual

4. Political Beliefs

5. Old Order

6. New Order

7. Morality

8. Lies and Secrecy

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Responsibility Card 1

  • Most of the characters have a narrow view of what it means to be responsible but the Inspector provides us with a much broader view. 
  • Mr Birling is a businessman and as such he feels that his responsibility is to make as much money as possible even if that means being harsh in his dealings with those who work for him. As a family man, he sees that he has a responsibility to provide the material needs of his family yet it is clear that Eric does not see him as the kind of father to whom he could turn if he were in trouble.
  • Birling: “I can’t accept responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?... We’d all be in an impossible position wouldn’t we?”
  • Inspector – “each of you helped to kill her.”
  • Mrs Birling accepts her responsibility as Chairman of the Women's charity organisation but only sees that it is her responsibility to help those who are worthy of help
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Responsibility Card 2

Eric has little sense of responsibility – he drinks far more than is good for him and he forces the girl into a relationship which has disastrous consequences. He attempts to help her by stealing from his father. 

Gerald shows some sense of responsibility when he rescues the girl from the unwelcome attentions of another man, feeds her and finds her somewhere to live yet he gives into his own desire for personal pleasure and eventually abandons the girl without knowing or very much caring what happens to her.

The Inspector’s role (as Priestley’s mouthpiece) is to shake these people up and to make them aware of the broader view of responsibility which Priestley felt was essential if the world was ever going to learn from its mistakes and become a place where everyone has the right to be treated fairly.

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Mrs Birling - Believes community is divided according to class and she believes her class separates her from girls like Eva (“a girl of that class”). She doesn’t need to think about the community which is ironic since she is involved with a charity which is designed to help people.

Mr Birling - No community spirit – “community and all that nonsense”; “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself”

Gerald - Thinks he is not affected after he knows The Inspector is a fake. He adopts the attitude that it didn’t happy therefore it doesn’t matter.

Eric and Sheila both have a much greater sense of community which shows that age separates community. “The young ones” are seen differently and hold different attitudes. They are “more impressionable” and understand how their actions affected Eva eventually – “I know I’m to blame”.

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  • Essentially, the family is individual as they separate themselves from the world. The Inspector, however, pulls them apart and makes the family a group of individual people with different opinions and beliefs. 
  • Despite his strong sense of community, The Inspector is individual and has individual ways: “One person and one line of inquiry at a time.” He individualises the family members.
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Political Beliefs

  • Mr Birling is presented as a capitalist figure ‘sitting at the head of the table.’ 
  • Arthur Birling is more interested in profit and wealth than the workers themselves such as Eva Smith: “lower costs and higher prices.”
  • The play features consistent references to wealth and consequent power and privilege of the Birlings: “There’s a fair chance that I might find my way into the next honours list.”
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Old Order

  • Mrs Birling does come from a wealthy family and she is socially motivated in that everything she does has to be “socially acceptable.” 
  • She volunteers for a charitable organisation although she does this mostly for the power and social status this brings. 
  • Mr Birling has achieved his wealth and position in an unorthodox way; “lower costs and higher prices.” 
  • Gerald Croft tries to impress Mr Birling by agreeing with all his ideas and opinions, especially about business. His views regarding women and their roles in society are very out-dated – and shown as unusual in contrast to Sheila and Eric. This is shown in the manner in which he speaks to Sheila; he is quite patronising.
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New Order

  • Although each character has some blame to take, only the younger members of the Birling family seem likely to change their behaviour. This could be because the Birlings who support the ‘old order’ are too set in their ways. 
  • Eric states “I don’t feel like sitting down and having a nice cosy chat” and Sheila says (bitterly) “I suppose we’re all nice people now”. 
  • Mrs Birling, on the other hand, comments “really, from the way you children talk, you might be wanting to help him instead of us.”
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  • As the play progresses, the Inspector’s point is put across more and more forcefully. Each character’s involvement with Eva Smith adds to  The Inspector’s argument and he becomes not only a spokesman for the disadvantaged but a voice for the conscience which the Birling’s and Gerald seem to lack.
  • The characters, especially the older ones are increasingly shown to be hiding behind an appearance of respectability which has no foundation in any true sense of morality.
  • In his final speech, the Inspector points out what would happen if injustice and inequality were allowed to continue. 
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Lies and Secrecy Card 1

  • The Inspector keeps the photographs separate, allowing characters to see them one at a time.
  • Act one – Sheila felt Gerald neglected her but Gerald states he was working. The lie is revealed when the Inspector reveals his relationship with Daisy Renton. Gerald tries to deny his secret. After listening to the secret, Sheila reveals that she doesn’t really know him. The revelation of his secret brings about the end of their engagement. 
  • Sheila Birling – episode at Millwards which forms her involvement with Eva Smith. It is clear that she has a secret. It is also clear that she feels guilty for the way that she treated Eva Smith. 
  • Mrs Birling – lies to the Inspector when he shows her the photograph. She becomes very angry when the Inspector states that she is not telling the truth. Mrs Birling defends herself by describing Eva’s lies.
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Lies and Secrecy Card 2

  • Eric Birling – kept his drinking a secret from his parents, yet Sheila knows: “I could have told her months ago but of course I didn’t.” 
  • Eric got Eva pregnant – He chose not to confide in his father. He steals money from his father’s office in an attempt to offer Eva some support. 
  • The characters know very little about each other and that their existence is based on lies and hypocrisy.
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I hope this helps your revision. 

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