An Inspector Calls Themes

Themes in An Inspector Calls

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  • Created by: Natalie
  • Created on: 24-03-11 21:13


Priestley was a socialist and wrote the play from a socialist perspective; this is why much of the play focuses on how class determines the decisions that people make in life.  Class is one of the main reasons Eva Smith/Daisy Renton killed herself: if she was of a higher social scale she wouldn’t have worked in Birling and Co. or in Milwards, and therefore the downward-spiral of events would not have occured.  Priestley notes that Sybil is of a higher social scale than Arthur, suggesting social scale is important.  Lady Croft disapproves of her son’s engagement to Sheila because she is of a lower social scale.  Conversely, Sybil Birling is very excited for this marriage, as it will allow to her move into higher social circles.  Arthur also plans to team up with Lord Croft with their businesses.  Mrs. Birling said that Eva was a girl of ‘that class’, a prime example of social discrimination in the novel.  Characters seem unaware that their easy lives are only easy because they leave the labour and hard work to the lower classes.  The Palace Variety Theatre is the music hall where Gerald and Eric meet Eva.  However, they meet her at the bar for those of a lower class, so as the audience we could question why they were there in the first place.  They could have thought of lower class women as being easy sex, or in Gerald’s case a mistress who he could discard as he pleased.

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At the time of the play, women were not yet valued of society and still did not have the right to vote.  Arguably, this made the lower class women in an even worse position than lower class men.  Some women were forced into prostitution, which may be why Gerald and Eric presumed that finding a lower class woman to sleep with would be easy.

Mrs Birling says that she couldn’t believe that ‘a girl of that sort would ever refuse money’, whether it was stolen or not.  This shows us her prejudiced ideas  that she views lower class girls as greedy and desperate.

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The ideas and views of the younger characters (like Sheila and Eric) and the older characters (like Mr and Mrs Birling) contrast deeply:

  • The old are very set in their old ways.  They perceive themselves to be wiser and more knowledgeable than the younger characters, who they believe to be wrong.
  • The young are open to new ideas and from the start of the play show a willingness to change and compassion in their character, like when they learn that their father mistreated Eva when she worked for Birling and Co.
  • The old have not learned anything, and will be unprepared when the real Inspector arrives.
  • The young have nothing to fear from the visit of the real Inspector because they have admitted their wrongdoings and are willing to change their ways.
  • The old want to protect themselves and cover up the scandal.
  • The young are honest, admit their faults and their wrongdoings.  ‘The fact remains that I did what I did’.
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Throughout the play, the Inspector tries to show each character their responsibility in Eva’s death, ‘each of you helped to kill her’.

The Inspector’s final speech is very important, and is aimed not only at the characters in the play, but to the audience, ‘One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do’.  He wants the characters to consider a social conscience and to embrace the idea of their responsibility in society.  He speaks of collective responsibility, that everyone in society is responsible for each other’s wellbeing.

His final words are important and are again aimed at everyone, ‘And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, when they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish’.

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Capitalism vs. Socialism

<To be added>

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Jake Cooper

Realy helpful describes the key themes in good detail :)

Really helpful notes on themes. Thank you soo much :)



Hi did you ever update the flashcrards and add information about capitalism vs socialism

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