Themes in AIC

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Britain in 1912 and 1914

In 1912, when the play was set, British society was very different to how it is now;

  • British society was divided very firmly between class and those with the most money had the most power. In 1906 the Labour Party was formed with the interests of the poorer people
  • Voting was an unfair system as only men who owned property were allowed to vote, women could not vote at all and women's lives were a lot more controlled by their families and husbands than they are today
  • There was little government help for those that needed it, which is why charities like Mrs Birling's were so important+
  • There were dangerous levels of conflict in 1912 between european countries which resulted in WW1, it caused people to question the leadership of the upper classes

Things had changed by 1945, though there were still huge problems;

  • By 1928 all men and women could vote so power was spread more evenly, though people were very much still divided by class
  • The play was written during the war when millions of people from all classes had fought
  • The labour party won a landslide victory in 1945 which focused on the welfare system
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Family Life

There were expectations for middle class families, family members were expected to know their role and be content with that position, the adults were in charge whilst the children should have been obedient and unquestioning.
Men's roles were to work to support their family and protect the women, ecspecially wives and daughters
Women on the other hand were meant to marry into money so they didn't have to work, their job was to plan parties, visit friends and have children

The Birlings want everyone to believe that they are perfectly normal, they have defined gender roles- but there is tension under the surface when Mrs Birling has to correct Mr Birling's mistakes, when Eric laughs out of turn and also when Sheila has to half playfully and half seriously tease Gerald

When the Inspector arrives the hierarchy becomes less clear, Sheila and Eric clearly think for themselves, at the end Sheila and Eric refuse to 'go on behaving as we did' and don't want to pretend anymore

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Social Class

The message of the play is social responsibility therefore class is a major theme:

Priestly portrays the upper classes as having a limited sense of responsibility for those less of; for example, Mrs Birling doesn't recognise Eva's picture as to her she has no identity. Priestly suggests the characters don't question it because it worked for them

The Birlings think that class is most important:

  • Birling's biggest concern is how there will be a 'public scandal' and no knighthood
  • He thinks his positions of authority make him more important- ironic he dishes out judgement when he is immoral
  • He uses Gerald to promote his social class
  • Mrs Birling is only involved in the charity for the status she clearly doesn't care about the girls

Priestly had the opposite views:

He uses the play to reveal the unfairness of class, the Birlings are characitures of the bad qualities
Priestly's presentation of Eva may surprise the upper classes as she acts honourably 

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Young and Old

The Birlings

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