An Inspector Calls

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  • Created by: ellharper
  • Created on: 20-05-16 16:47

Themes > 1912 - 1945

  • Priestly set the play in Brumley (a fictional town in the North Midlands) in 1912
  • Written in 1945, during WW2

1912 = Just before WW1

  • Society wasn't equal - people with more money & from a higher class had more power
  • Only men who owned property could vote
  • Women weren't allowed to vote in national elections at all - there lives were controlled by their families & husbands
  • There wasn't much government help 

1945 = End of WW2

  • Britian was still divided by class, but by 1928 all men & women over 21 got the vote
  • Still conflicts between business owners & workers such as the General Strike 1926 
  • From 1930, The Great Depression hit many British industries, there was a big increase in unemployment & many workers faced terrible poverty
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Themes > Family Life

Expections of Middle-Class Families in 1912  

  • 'Gender Roles' were well defined for the wealthy middle class
  • Men= 1)Work to support their 'perfect' family 2)Protect women especially their wives & daughters
  • Women= 1) Marry into money so they didn't have to work 2) Plan parties, visit friends & have children 

The Birling Family 

  • The gender roles are clearly defined - the women "withdraw" to let the men talk. The Birlings want to be persieved as the "perfect family". 
  • The clear hierachy at the beginning is destroyed by the Inspector's arrival. Without their parents' influence, Sheila & Eric can think for themselves.
  • Sheila & Eric refuse to "go on behaving just as we did", they don't want to pretend anymore. The parents no longer have any authority over their children.
  • Eric says his mother doesn't "understand anything" & that Birling's "not the kind of father a chap could go to" for help.
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Themes > Social Class (1)

  • The class system had existed for a long time & Priestly didn't agree with it

Class Structure

  • Working Class= had all the hardest jobs & little money e.g. Eva/Daisy - struggled through life
  • Middle Class= owned factories or were professionals, had plenty of money & control e.g The Birlings - wealthy, owned a business
  • Upper Class= inherited loads of land & money, were often Lords & Ladies e.g. Gerald - Gerald's family own land & are socially 'better' than Mr Birling, have a high status 
  • Priestly portays the upper classes as having limited senses of social responsibility for those well off. Higher classes didnt question the class system as it worked for them. 

The Birlings

  • Mr Birling's biggest concern about Eva's death is that he won't get his knighthood
  • Mr Birling thinks his positions of authority make him more important
  • Birling uses Gerald to promote his social class that's why he is pleased his daughter is marrying him
  • Mrs Birling is only involved in WCO for the social status
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Themes > Social Class (2)

Priestly thought Class shouldn't matter

  • He uses the play to reveal the unfairness of the class system
  • The Birlings are used as exaggerated caricatures of all the bad qualities 
  • It shows how Priestly saw society & not just 1 family's scandal

How people act isnt just about Class

  • Eva/Daisy is expected to have low morals, but she refuses to accept stolen money even when desperate
  • The Birlings think that class is all that matter, but Priestly tries to present the opposite view
  • By presenting Sheila & Eric as having changed at the end of the play, turing against the views of their own class, Priestly's saying that class isn't all that matters 
  • Individuals can break out & choose to act differently
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Themes > Young & Old

Older Generation

  • Old-fashioned
  • Priestly presents Mr & Mrs Birling as having traditional views, they don't like their authorities challenged
  • Priestly also questions their obsession with social class

Younger Generation

  • Some are ambitious, determinded & motivated
  • Shown as challenging the authority of their elders
  • Because the younger generation learn their lesson, there's a chance for an equal & fairer society
  • By the end of the play Sheila & Eric are no longer controlled by their parents

Mixture of Young & Old

  • Gerald is the oldest young man around, he's a younger version of Mr Birling - shallow & stubborn
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Themes > Men & Women

The Women & Men start out as Stereotypes

  • Women= supposed to be obsessed with clothes, weddings & shopping, they're are protected, hysterial, proud, vain & jealous
  • Men= preoccupied with work & public affairs, allowed to sleep around before marriage 

The Women Challenge the Stereotypes

  • Eva/Daisy questioned the decision of her boss instead of quietly accepting it
  • Instead of relying on a man to save her, Eva/Daisy refused to accept Eric's stolen money
  • Sheila interrupts & challenges everyone at different times, apart from the Inspector

By the End the Stereotypes are tuned upside down

  • Birling, Gerald, Eric get weaker, when Sheila gets stronger - Priestly does this to challenge the audience's view of women at the time
  • Sheila starts saying her own opinions, not those she is 'supposed' to have - she learnt to think for herself
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Themes > Judgement

Old Morality Play

  • AIC is like a murder mystery-but it's also like a morality play (morality=religious plays written in the late Middle Ages, they tried to teach people how to behave & were warnings against the dangers of sin) - Priestly makes his morality play secular
  • AIC follows the same kind of idea as these morality plays-it points out everyone's sins & tries to get them to confess & repent

The Inspector

  • His origin is unkown & he appears omniscient
  • Priestly deliberately leaves questions about him unanswered, as it increases the mystery & tension within the play

Learning Lessons

  • Sheila & Eric hold true to their moral insticts, however, the others act selfishly & never take responsibility for their actions
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Themes > Learning about Life

Some people never learn

  • Birling is arrogant and he doesn't think anyone has anything of use to him-especially not his children or a lowly Inspector
  • Mr & Mrs Birling, & Gerald's arrogance prevents them from changing-Mr Birling's views are made clear in Act One & they don't change

Others try to change

  • The Inspector has an effect on Sheila & Eric, who are ashamed of their behaviour
  • They criticise their father's behavoiur, before they are told they were also involved
  • Sheila changes not only her views but also her personality-starts out playful,self-centred & obedient & becomes more aware,sensitive & mature


  • The older generation refuse to change-the problems of the working class don't affect them, so they don't want to know
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Themes > Learning about Life Quotes

"I see no point in mentioning the subject" > Mr Birling doesn't like to think about prostitution 

"you don't mean Alderman Meggarty? > Mrs Birling uses his name to represent womanising

"It isn't true" > Mrs Birling doesn't want to believe that Eric has a drinking problem

"it didn't seem to be anything very terrible at the time" > Sheila tries to forget about her bad behaviour by trying to persuade herself she did nothing wrong

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Themes > Social Responsibility

Characters' views are challenged

  • Mr Birling= ...thinks that community responsibility us 'nonsense'. The interest of business are more important than worker's rights
  • Mrs Birling= ...believes that they have no responsibility to the working class-her prejudices are so ingrained that they can't be changed
  • Sheila= ...realises that getting Eva/Daisy sacked out of spite was irresponsible-but she didn't do anything about it at the time. The Inspector challenges her to improve her behaviour.
  • Eric= ...realises to late that his selfish actions were responsible for ruining Eva/Daisy's chances of improving her life

Social Responsibility is the Inspector's main focus

  • His final speech is clear & to the point
  • Priestly's moral seems to be that it doesn't take great people to change the word-we all change it everyday just by the way we treat others
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Writer's Techniques > J.B Priestley

The play reveals a lot about Priestley's Socialist ideas

  • Priestly was a supporter of socialism - his plays promote soical responsibility & criticise the problems caused by the class divide
  • Priestly uses Birling to promote socialist ideas
  • The audience are already wary of Mr Birling's short-sighted opinions, so when he criticises socialism, the audience are more inclined to disagree with him 

The reasons for the set

  • Priestley's design helps make the atmosphere of the play seem more claustrophobic & intense
  • The play takes place in one room - suggesting the characters have closed themselves off from the world- with their close-minded behaviour
  • The lighting is 'pink & intimate' at the start, as if the Birling's are looking through 'rose-tinted glasses' 
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Writer's Techniques > Dramatic

Priestley paces the action to build tension & create conflict

  • Beginning of Act Two, the audience expects the story to move onto Gerald's confession but instead Priestley delays the action by shifting the audience's attention to Mrs Birling & Sheila
  • Priestly also increases tension by having the Inspector release information bit by bit
  • Priestly freezes the action between Acts to create tension

Entrances & Exists

  • An exit can be a signal a character escaping someone or something e.g. Sheila runs offstage when she realises she's the reason Eva was sacked
  • The front door bangs every time someone leaves or enters the house
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Writer's Techniques > The Language

Language reveals more about the character

  • Birling uses words that were popular with middle & upper-class people in 1912: "chaps" "jingo" "squiffy" "hoax" "an elaborate sell!" 

The Inspector uses language differently

  • Plain & direct language
  • Uses silence
  • The older Birlings find him offensive because of his manner & language

Sheila's language changes during the play

  • Starts off using simple & childish language
  • By the end she's confident & assertive
  • She directly disagrees with her parents
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Writer's Techniques > Language Techniques

  • Priestley uses dramatic irony to influence the audience
  • Dramatic irony = when the audience know more than the characters

The Birlings use Euphemism to hide what they mean

  • "went on the streets" "another kind of life" "woman of the town" > these are euphemisms for becoming a prostitute

The Inspector uses imagery

  • "burnt her inside out" > create an image that distresses Sheila & the audience
  • The Inspector's final speech uses imagery from the Bible - makes the Inspector sound like a religious figure e.g "we are members of one body"
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