Introduction and basic information to note
An Inspector Calls is about society and class divides.
In 1912, when the play was set, society wasn't equal - people with more money and from higher class had more power.
Priestley used the unequal society in 1912 as a setting to get people to think about inequality in 1945.
The audience know that the characters' worl is going to go through terrible changes. 1912 was just before the First World War - which began in 1914 and killed millions of people.
Priestley wrote an Inspector Calls to challenge his audience to think about how many more disasters lay ahead for them if they didn't learn from past mistakes.
The play was written during the end of the Second World War, so the audience who have seen how war affected everyone. Soldiers were returning from the war and hoping for a better life. An Inspector Calls asks the audience to unite to improve society.
Priestley was born in bradford in 1894. In the First World War he was wounded, but survived. Priestley presented a popular BBC radio programme 'postscripts', but the show was cancelled by the government as they decided, Priestley's views were too socialist. A few years after this Priestley founded various socialist organisations.
Act One Analysis
The Birlings are Priestley's idea of a 'perfect middle-class family':
- the father's a succesful buisnessman.
- thw mother woeks hard to keep up the Birlings' reputation in the community.
- the son works for the father in the family business.
- the daughter's engaged to the son of their competitor - this should improve the buisness because the two compnaies could merge into one.
However, Act One can be seen to show hints of conflict under the surface.:
- Gerald's family, the Croft's, are more established and socailly superior. This mkaes Arthur Birling anxious.
- Gerald says he was busy with work last summer. But Sheila's not really satisfied with this answer - "Yes, that's what you say."
- There are big differences between what's expected of men and women.
Birling lecturs the young men about war and business:
- Arthur Birling's confident about the future for his family. He gives a speech of predictions of the future. But the audience of 1946 know what's coming, and it's not what Birling thinks.:
- he says technilogical progress will contine and uses the Titanic as an example. He says it's "unsinkalbe, absolutely unsinkable."
Priestley uses dramatic irony to make Birlig look overconfident. This makes the audience think that Birling may be wrong about lots of other things, such as his beliefs in the motto, 'Every man for himself' - soldifying Priestley's socialist message to his post-war audience.
Themes: Social Responsibility
Birling sees employees as "cheap labour". If he can get them to work for less, he will do. He wants the opposite of 'social responsibilty' - maximum profit for the indivual. This gives the play a political element. Priestley's positioning the rights of the workers against the interest of the buisnessman.
- Massively takes charge. He is the driving force of the place.
- He is moral; "We don't live alone. We are members of one body."
- He is authoritative; "All in good time."
- He is mysterious; "Was it a hoax?"
- He is an outsider; "The rude way he spoke to Mr Birling and me - it was quite extraordinary". He is the driving force of the play, through asking pressing and personal questions, and reveals new information, "this girl was going to have a child."
- The Inspectors, 'calling' is ominous. Although, he may appear spontaneous, the inspector is single minded and calculating, he 'calls' the shots. His language is emotive and personal. He uses attractive adjective to describe Eva - "pretty and lively", and uses harsh and violent language to describe her death. - "burnt-out inside on a slab."
- The inspector is blunt and uses shock tactics.
- He uses exits and entrance to allow suspicion to grow and Sheila to interrogate Gerald. The Inspector leaves both the characters and audience, "staring, subdued and wondering."
- The Inspector is from a different world, he is classless and treats everyone equal. He is not impressed by public position.
- The inspector is a mouthpiece for Priestley's socialist message.
- Arthur likes to be control, and keeps reminding everyone that he's in charge, "Well - if you don't mind - i'll find out first.
- Birling's authority is undermind in the play. The Inspector revels Birling as an ambitious, anxious man, who will do anything for profit and reputation.
- Birling is ambitious, - "there's a very good chance of a knighthood."
- Birling is business minded, - "a hard-headed, practical man of business."
- Birling is selfish, - "a man has to make his own way."
- He is anxious, - "there'll be public scandal - unless we're lucky."
- Birling is very optimistic about the future and believes nothing will come of "silly war scares."
- Priestley uses dramatic irony to make Birling seem foolish and short-minded.
- He won't accept responsibility for the death of Eva Smith.
- Birling likes to be respected and wants to be incontrol. He isn't used to being challenged. The Inspector barely says twenty words and Birling shows, "a touch of impatience."
- Birling is desperately trying to win Croft's approval by talking about a knighthood.
- The Inspector threatens Birling's middle class values. Birling is rattled by this and has spent his entire life believing that these things matter.
- Birling uses authoritive language to show control: Birling should be, "provincial in his speech", making it clear Birling is middle-class, not upperclass. Birling has the most continuous speech - he likes to talk and doesn't like being interrupted. "Let me just finish Eric." He repeatedly shouts to dismiss what others say, and finishes his sentence with, "of course", to give a matter-of-fact tone.
- Sybil is proud of her social status. She has traditional, unchangeable views about etiquettes and how her family should behave. These rules are more important to her than moral rules.
- Sybil is traditional, - "when you're married you'll realise."
- Sybil is proud, - "I was the only one of you who didn't give in to him."
- Sybil is prejudice, - "As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money."
- Sybil is cruel, - "i used my influence to have it refused."
- Sybil is Mr Birling's social superior.
- She won't let anyone boss her around and reminds her family to have better manners. When she tells Shelia off for using slang.
- Sybil lives by strict standards.
- Mrs Birling supports charity, but is not charitable.
- Mrs Birling is self-centred and hasn't noticed her son's alcoholism or he daughter's worried about her love life.
- She won't accept responsibility, "I accept no blame at all." And doesn't learn from the Inspector.
- Sybil's language is polite, but her tone is severe and superior. Stage directions says that Sybil answers, "Haughtily", "very sharply" and "bitterly."
- In the final moments, Sybil is "smiling" and tells everyone to feel as "amused" as she is.
- Sheila seems to be different from the rest of the family.
- Sheila is strong-minded, - "i don't believe i will. So you be careful."
- Sheila is sharp, - "he's giving us the rope - so that we'll hang ourselves."
- Sheila is selfish, - "you used the power you had to punish the girl."
- Sheila is moral, - "But hese girls aren't cheap labour - they're people."
- Sheila's language makes her seems childish at first - "very pleased with life.", The use of slang, "squiffy." Childish names - "Look - mummy" and "sorry daddy."
- Her childishness may be a way to hide her "serious concerns", "half serious, half playful."
- She has wise instincts.
- She;s not naive.
- An the Inspector says, "she isn't living on the moon" and as she says to her father, "I'm not a child"
- Sheila has moral standards, she learns from her consequences.
- She is used as moral judgement at the end of the play.
- The Inspector's revelations change her for good.
- Sheila becomes like the Inspector: She questions Gerald, reveals Eric's alcohilsm, contradicts and undermines her parents and shocks characters.
- Eric is a troubled soul and is isolated from his family, no one understands him.
- Eric is remorseful and regrets his actions.
- Eric is irresponsible, - "I didn't even remember - that's the hellish thing."
- Eric is unloved, - "you don't understand anything. you never did."
- Eric is sensitive, - "my god - i'm not likely to forget."
- Eric is an alcoholic, - "i was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty."
- Priestley drops hints that Eric isn't alright, "not quite at ease."
- Priestley uses Eric's odd behaviour to hint that secrets will later disrupt and threaten the Birling way of life. Eric has been hiding some dirty secrets. His drunkness and bad behaviour represent the dark side of family life. These secrets are potential dynamite - if they got out, the entire family reputation would be destroyed permenantely.
- Eric's behaviour is suggested as normal for a middle-class man as many people, such as Meggarty behave similar to Eric, and no one says anything. Eric lacks self-control and disrupts the polite middle-class illusion of respectability. Everyone is keeping up appearances, except for Eric, making it obvious something murky is going on.
- Eric is a villain and a victim. He's the obvious villain of the piece, but is able to accept responsibility, unlike his parents.
- Gerald is an eligible Bachelor.
- Gerald is respectable, - "the easy well-bred young man-about-town."
- Gerald is upper-class, - "landed people and so forth."
- Gerald is a liar, "I wasn't telling you a complete lie."
- Gerald is traditional, - "i should say so!"
- Gerald is relaxed and comfortable, with a rosy future ahead of him.
- His future looks an awful lot like Birling's. He supports his ideas, is business minded, and both he and arthur are the ones who are determined to take action at the end to find out whether the Inspector or the girl were real.
- Gerald's language shows he doesn't feel sorry for his actions. Priestley makes Gerald sound less passionate than Sheila, and is able to distance him from the tragedy.He thinks he has done nothing wrong - but he is as much to blame.
- Gerald's not simply good or bad, he is a complex character.
- Gerald is confident, but he is also stubborn and doesn't learn much from the end of the play.Gerald had the ability to separate his public, respectable image from secret, private acts - something Eric doesn't get the hang of.
- Gerald is not shallow, he is emotionally challenged.
Eva Smith/ Daisy Renton
- The real identity of Eva/Daisy is never revealed. She could be the same person, or different people who were treated the same by the Birling family. They see one working-class girl the same as another.
- Eva/Daisy is attractive, - "young and fresh and charming."
- Eva/Daisy is honourable, - "she didn't want to take any more money from him."
- Eva/Daisy is working-class, - "girls of that class", "a girl of that sort."
- Eva/Daisy is a prostitue, - "there was some women who wanted her to go there."
- The Birlings take away all of Eva/Daisy's sources of income; as a factory worker, shop assistant, prostitue and mistress.
- She never sought revenge, so the Inspector does it for her.
- She represents the silent, invisible and powerless members of society.
- She is used to teach the Birlings about social responsibility and make them realise their mistakes.
- Eva SMith is a sort of everyman; the identity of Eva SMith is a jigsaw portrait of an ordinary working-class girl, only you don't know if the pieces fit. Eva can be seen to be similar to Eve.
- Eva Smith is central to the play's message; "there are millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths left" and that their chances of happiness are "intertwined with our lives."
- The key point is to tell people to behave responsibly towards others.
- The focus of the play is the life and death of an unidentified and unseen women. Eva Smith is a mix of all the people they've ever treated badly.