An Inspector Calls - Final Draft

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An Inspector Calls - Final Draft

    Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    Explore the ways in which Priestley communicates his message

    in “An Inspector Calls”.

     In order to establish how J.B. Priestley communicates his message within “An Inspector Calls”

    we must first establish what is the central message within the play. The central theme that Priestley is

    trying to communicate is very similar to that which Dickens communicates in “A Christmas Carol” in

    which a series of ghosts appear to show Scrooge the error of his ways. Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that

    he has been cast into purgatory for eternity because he has concentrated too much on business and

    profit. When Scrooge says “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob”. Marley states what is

    the central them of both “A Christmas Carol” and “An Inspector Calls”:

    “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy,

    forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were

    but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.”

    (A Christmas Carol: Chapter 3; Charles Dickens)

In a similar way, Inspector Goole (Ghoul) also appears like a ghost in the night to try to convey this

    message to the Birling family. In the Inspector's key speech in the play, before he departs for the last

    time in to the night, Priestley's main concern within the play is spoken directly:

    Inspector: We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible

    for each other.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

This theme is developed in a number of ways which are explored in the remainder of this essay.

     As with “A Christmas Carol” the whole purpose of the play is to promote the theme that we are

    responsible for each other. The plot of the play is structured to show how each member of the Birling

    family mix with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in a selfish way until this leads to her death. The family has

    not grasped the truth that “we are responsible for each other” and the Inspector wants to reveal this

    truth to them. The Inspector unravels their lives and makes them aware the awful truth of their behavior.

    Firstly, Mr Birling sacks Eva Smith for being one of the trouble-makers in his factory who wanted a

    higher wage. Mr. Birling actually turns his back on the central message of the play:

    Mr.Birling: Still, I can't accept any 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?

    Inspector: Very awkward.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

Eva/Daisy luckily finds a new job later that year in the clothes shop Milwards. The Inspector then

    retells her experience at Milwards where a chance encounter with Sheila Birling once again results in

    her receiving the sack. Because Sheila had been in a bad temper at the shop and happened to catch the

    pretty Eva smiling at her, she told the manager that she would close the Birling account with the shop

    if the girl was not removed. Sheila, unlike her father, understands the implications of what she had

    done in a moment of temper:

    Sheila: But she was very pretty and looked as if she could take care of herself. I

    couldn't be sorry for her . . . . it didn't seem to be anything very terrible at the time.


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    Don't you understand? And if I could help her now, I would -

    Inspector: (harshly) Yes, but you can't. It's too late. She's dead.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

In Act Two the Inspector makes Gerald Croft talk about his acquaintance with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.

    There seems to be some good in Gerald in that his first encounter with Daisy was to save her from the

    clutches of “one of the worst sots and rogues in Brumley”. His initial reaction is to help and then he

    pities her. However, what starts as pity and help soon turns into an affair. It is unfortunate that whilst

    Gerald starts following Priestley's message, that we are responsible for each other, when the decisive

    moment arrives and Gerald decides he wants to marry Sheila, he casts Eva/Daisy off without much care.

    However, the most shocking encounter with Eva/Daisy is reserved for Mrs. Birling who in her position

    as charity worker should recognize the importance of responsibility to her fellow man bit is shallow

    enough to allow supposed “ impertinences ” to get in the way of help:

     Mrs. Birling: She was giving herself ridiculous airs. She was claiming elaborate

     fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

What Mrs. Birling makes herself believe as “airs” were, in fact, Eva/Daisy simply refusing to expose

    Eric because Daisy, unlike any of the Birling family, does feel responsible for others.

And finally, we have Eric's final betrayal of Eva/Daisy. Eric has an affair with Daisy and she becomes

    pregnant with his child. However, at this most crucial time Eric does not act responsibly and confront

    his parents with these facts; he simply steals money to help her get by. This is weak and foolish and

    leaves Daisy in a position where in spite of her inferior and vulnerable position she has to take

    responsibility for him and turn Eric away:

     Eric: She wouldn't take any more, and she didn't want to see me again.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

The Inspector leaves the Birling family with the vital message that if they do not start to mend their

    ways then the world will be destroyed/

    Inspector: And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn

    that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

However, as soon as Goole has left and the family start to doubt that he is a real inspector(Gerald and

    Mr. Birling both call him a “fake” (P.62)), the majority of the Birling family (Mr. Birling, Mrs. Birling

    and Gerald Croft) try to avoid the lesson:

    Mr. Birling: But the whole thing's different now. Come, come, you can see that

    can't you? ....You'll have a good laugh over it yet. Look. you'd better ask Gerald

    for that ring you gave back to him, hadn't you? Then you'll feel better.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

It is only the younger members of Birling's (Sheila and Eric) that seem to have understood

    Goole's/Priestley's message and the reality of the situation. Sheila (with Eric agreeing with her)

    ironically replies to her father:


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    Sheila: So nothing really happened. So there's nothing to be sorry for, nothing to

    learn. We can all go on behaving just as we did . . . I tell you whoever that Inspector

    was, it was anything but a joke. You knew it then. You began to learn something.

    And now you've stopped. You're ready to go on in the same old way.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

     Each of the characters seems to represent a particular viewpoint which is either the same as, or

    opposes, the central message of the play. Mr. Burling and Gerald Croft are Capitalists whose main

    idea in life is self-sufficiency and profit:

     Mr Birling: But what so many of you don't seem to understand now, when things

     are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way has to look after

     himself and his family too, of course, when he has one and so long as he does that

     he won't come to much harm. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now,

     you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up

     together like bees in a hive community and all that nonsense.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

Mrs Burling also represents the Capitalist idea of looking after only yourself (and family) but with her

    role as a prominent member of the Brumley Women's Charity Organization should in fact be more

    sympathetic to those in need but is not:

     Inspector: She came to you for your help, at a time when no woman could have

     needed it more. And you not only refused it yourself but saw to it that the others

     refused it too. She was here alone, friendless, almost penniless, desperate. She

     needed not only money but advice, sympathy, friendliness. You've had children.

     You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

Sheila and Eric are both young and perhaps a little foolish in their behavior but seem to learn from the

    “inspection” perhaps because, as the Inspector points out, they often have an affect “on the young ones.

    They're more impressionable.” Sheila and Eric look as if they are to change their ways. When the

    inspector has left, and it looks as if the Birlings are about to go back to their old, comfortable ways, the

    younger members of the family object:

     Sheila: I remember what he said, how he looked, and what he made me feel. Fire

     and blood and anguish. And it frightens me the way you talk, and I can't listen to

     any more of it.

     Eric: And I agree with Sheila. It frightens me too.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

Sheila and Gerald's response to the central theme is so different that they are pulled apart and Sheila

    calls off the engagement. Eva/Daisy cannot speak for herself but her actions prove that she

    understands the idea of responsibility to others. She goes on strike not just for herself but for others

    who need a little extra money. When Gerald breaks off their relationship, Eva/Daisy is very gallant

    about it and spares his feelings by the way she acts:

     Gerald: She told me she'd been happier than she'd ever been before but that she

     knew it couldn't last hadn't expected it to last. She didn't;t blame me at all. I wish to


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

     God she had now. Perhaps I'd feel better about it.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

And, finally, Eva/Daisy will not allow allow it to become public knowledge that Eric is the the father of

    her child, because she knows it will ruin his respectable life, at the cost of her own life:

     Mrs. Birling: She had to admit after I began questioning her, that she had no claim

     to the name, that she wasn't married, and that the story she told at first about a

     husband who'd deserted her was quite false.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

The Inspector can be seen either as a god-like, all-knowing figure or simply as perhaps the moral

    conscience of society. It is the Inspector who after all tries to drive home the message on behalf of

    Eva/Daisy (and all of the Eva Smith's of the world) that we are responsible for each by stating that we

    would perhaps be more sympathetic to each other if we put ourselves in the shoes of other people from

    time to time:

     Inspector: There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence in every city

     and big town in this country, Miss Birling. If there weren't, the factories and

     warehouses wouldn't know where to look for cheap labour. Ask your father.

     Sheila: But these girl's aren't cheap labour they're people.

     Inspector: (dryly) I've had that notion myself from time to time. In fact, I've thought

     that it would do us all a bit of good if sometimes we tried to put ourselves in the place

     of these young women counting their pennies in their dingy little back bedrooms.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

     The “Whodunit” thriller genre makes what could be a dry idea (i.e. “we are responsible for each

    other”) into an interesting experience so that the audience is more willing to be captured by the idea..

    We are immediately presented with an isolated large mansion-style house in the dark of the evening.

    Not long after that the Inspector presents us with the fact of a dead body. We are left to wonder is this

    murder or a natural death. The Inspector immediately cuts in: “Suicide, of course” (P.11). But this is

    said almost questioningly and there would appear to be sinister overtones. The Inspector, dressed

    mysteriously indark suit and hat, has a mysterious way of asking questions and makes the audience

    keen to know what happened to Eva Smith how did she die? The Inspector then leads us through the remainder of the play, by way of a series of clues and incidents including Gerard's affair and Eric's

    drunkenness and near hysterical behavior, until Priestley, finally uncovers, through the Inspector, who

    is the real culprit in this sad case:

    Inspector: This girl killed herself and died a horrible death. But each of you

    helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. (He looks from one to the

    other of them carefully)

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

     The language used by each of the characters' in the play shows their social attitude and their

    attitude to others. The Birling family are well-respected citizens of the “right” social class and aspire to greater things. Men are referred to as “chaps” and Gerald calls Mr. Birling “Sir”. When Mr. Birling

    discovers that he had been “deceived” by the Inspector he says “By jingo!” Other middle class phrases

    are also used such as “squiffy” (drunk) and “jolly well” (very well). There is nothing really wrong with

    this and it may even show a certain respect and charm. However, there is a darker side to things, as we

    see with Mr. Birling's pompous and over-blown speeches in which he ignores the opinions of others


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    around him (the rumours of war, etc) and tries to impose his narrow view of progress rather than see

    the darker side of war and poverty, etc:

    Mr. Birling: I say there isn't a chance of war. . . The world's developing so fast that

    it'll make war impossible. Look at the progress we're making . . . .

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

Mrs. Birling, in a similar way is also pompous, arrogant and even threatening when trying to retain her

    power and position:

     Mrs. Birling: (rebuking them) I''m talking to the Inspector now, if you don't mind.

     (To Inspector, rather grandly) I realize that you may have to conduct some sort of

     inquiry, but I must say that so far you seem to be conducting it in a rather peculiar

     and offensive manner. You know of course that my husband was Lord Mayor only

     two years ago and that he's still a magistrate -

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

Mrs. Birling wants to retain her lofty position of privilege and does not want to be dragged in to the

    harsh reality of the real world. This can be seen in her constant use of euphemisms. When she finds a

    particular subject offensive or beneath her she replaces an inoffensive word or phrase for the offensive

    but real one. To Mrs. Birling, Eva/Daisy is a “girl of that sort” (she means a lower class girl with what

    she believes to be lower morals) and has found herself in a particular “condition” (she will not say the

    word “pregnant”). Eric and Sheila's language is at the beginning of the play foolish (with the use of

    words like “squiffy” and “I'm sorry, Daddy”) but by the end of the play seems to be more confident and


     Sheila: Between us we drove that girl to commit suicide.

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

The Inspector's language is formal and very direct as he tries to cut through the airs, pomposity and

    euphemisms of the Birling family so they finally understand the truth of the matter i.e. That

    Eva/Daisy's death was their “responsibility”. When Sheila admits her bad behavior and says she would

    like to make amends, the Inspector cut's in:

    Inspector: (harshly) Yes, but you can't. It's too late. She's dead.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

When Mr's Birling believes that Eva/Daisy is putting on elaborate, fine feelings for a girl in her

    position the Inspector interrupts again with sarcasm:

    Inspector: (very sternly) Her position now is that she lies with a burnt-out inside

    on a slab. (As Birling tries to protest, turns on him.) Don't stammer and yammer at

    me again, man. I'm losing all patience with you people. What did she say?

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

And when Mr. Birling tries to interrupt himself he is told off in no uncertain terms (see above)


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    And finally, when Mr. Birling tries to rebuke the Inspector for being offensive to a “public man”, the

    Inspector puts him in his place and states Priestley's theme directly at him:

    Inspector: (massively) Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as


    (An Inspector Calls: Act 2; J.B. Priestley)

The Inspector very rarely speaks in long sentences. His language is often short and abrupt. Sometimes

    he speaks one word and often leaves a silence to in an attempt to worry the family. When Mr. Birling

    asks if the Inspector hadn't come to see just him the Inspector gives a short answer and leaves a

    worrying silence which changes the tone of the conversation:

    Inspector: No.

    The other four exchange bewildered and perturbed glances.

    Birling: (with marked change of tone) Well, of course, if I'd known that

    earlier I wouldn't have called you officious and talked about reporting you.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

This silence is not really language but is communication and is very effective in cutting through the

    nonsense that the Birling's talk to the truth.

     The setting of the play the time and place - also helps put across Priestley's message. The

    setting is in the mythical town of Brumley, a small industrial town in the Midlands, but could in fact be

    any town or city in Britain. Therefore, the message of the play is that the theme of responsibility is not

    simply restricted to a specific place but is in fact universal and that we should all take notice of it. The

    time of the play is also very important in relation the central message. The play is set in 1912, just

    before the first World War. This therefore makes Mr. Birlings opening speech very ironic:

    Mr.Birling: I say there isn't a chance of war. . . The world's developing so fast that

    it'll make war impossible. Look at the progress we're making . . . . Why, a friend of

    mine went over this new liner last week the Titanic she sails next week forty

    six thousand eight hundred tons New York in five days and every luxury, and

    unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

The irony, as Priestley well knew when the play was written in 1945, is that war was not impossible

    (and two great wars were about to be fought) and that the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. Mr.

    Birling has a naive faith in progress and seems to think that it will set the world to rights. However,

    Priestley and Inspector Goole seem to be more intelligent and understand that unless mankind learns

    the lesson that we must be responsible for each other then it will be taught a lesson and it “will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”. A greater irony, and proof that the play is still relevant today, is that wars are still being fought all over the world. We have still not learned the lesson of

    responsibility to each other.

     In Priestley's time and right up to today there are what seems to be two opposite political

    viewpoints within this country and other countries. There is the Capitalist view represented by The

    Birling family and Gerald Croft and a Socialist view represented by Eva Smith and the Inspector (who would appear to represent Priestley's own view). Socialists are seen as cranky trouble-makers by

    Mr. Birling.The miners have recently been on strike and Eva Smith and her fellow workers have also

    gone on strike for what they believe to be a living wage asking for twenty-five shillings instead of


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    twenty-two and six. Eva and the other trouble-makers are sacked because, as Mr. Birling states:

    Mr. Birling: We employers at last are coming together to see that our interests

    and the interests of Capitalism are properly protected

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

Capitalism is concerned with the creation of wealth and profit. It has no regard for people who are seen

    as “cheap slaves”. Eric has more of a feeling for his fellow man and is therefore more aligned to

    Priestley's central message of responsibility:

    Eric: Why shouldn't they try for higher wages? We try for the highest possible prices?

    (An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

     J.B. Priestley is not just a writer, he is a dramatist. He writes plays to be performed on a stage

    and knows that this allows him additional ways to communicate his message. One of these ways is his

    use of stagecraft i.e. physical things that can be done upon the stage itself. Priestley states within the

    opening stage directions in Act One that at the opening of the play the lighting should be “pink and

    intimate” to reflect the cosiness of the Burling family's lives. Each of them, in their own way, has led a

    life of luxury and selfishness, having all that they need. However, when the Inspector arrives,

    Priestley's stage directions once again inform us that the lighting should now be “brighter and harder”. The Inspector has arrived to shed light and hard truth into their lives the truth of the matter being that

    they have all been totally involved in their own selfish lives and have given no thought to those around

    them who do not have sufficient to get through their daily life.

    The “trick”, or dramatic ending of the play, also adds to the message that Priestley wishes to communicate. It seems as if the Inspector has managed to break through the falseness of the Birling's

    life and managed to make them understand that they should be accountable for their actions. But when

    he has left, they seem (to Sheila's sadness) to recover their composure and wish to pass the whole

    incident off as a hoax. No such girl as Eva Smith or Daisy Renton has died in the Infirmary. The

    Birlings feel as though they are rescued and that they can continue to carry on with their selfish lives.

    However, the final telephone call confirms:

     Birling: That was the police. A girl has just died on her way to the Infirmary -

     after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here -

     to ask some - questions

     (An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

But the Birlings have already been “inspected” by an Inspector who knew about the death before it had

    actually happened. The Birlings stare at each other “guiltily and dumbfounded”. This is probably what

    Priestley expected his audience to do as well. We may also have relaxed and forgotten the central

    message of the play. But this unexpected twist makes us stop and think about our responsibilities to

    other people. The inspection of the Birlings now seems to be an inspection from a higher power and

    perhaps we may one day be “inspected” ourselves and asked to account for our dealings with other

    people around us.

     In conclusion, the central theme is of the play is quite obviously the theme of responsibility to

    each other. No time is wasted on other ideas and themes and every skill at the dramatists disposal is

    used to promote his theme. The whole plot of the play is structured to show how each member of the

    Birling family interacts with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in a selfish way without due regard to their


Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005

    responsibility. The “Whodunit” thriller genre makes what could be a dry idea (“we are responsible for each other”) into an interesting experience so that the audience is more willing to think about the idea. Each of the characters within the play is invented in order to represent a particular viewpoint against this central theme of the play. The language of the play is used to reinforce the viewpoint of each character; the people in power use pompous, grand speech full of euphemisms to gloss over the truth of things but those who want to put forward the idea of responsibility use language that is more forward and direct and gets straight to the heart of the matter. The setting of the play is deliberately a town that could be anywhere and the year of 1912 is deliberately ironic (just before two great world wars) so that Priestley can show that progress will not resolve the problems of mankind - that unless mankind learns the lesson that we must be responsible for each other then it will be taught a lesson and it “will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”. The politics of the time are even used to communicate Priestley's message with the Capitalist idea of profit at all costs being contrasted with the down-to-earth socially responsible Socialist viewpoint. Priestley even goes to the lengths of using minor bits of stage craft such as lighting to emphasis his point. And finally, the dramatic ending of the play makes sure that the audience is really left to think about what has taken place and that maybe there are higher forces at work which believe responsibility to our fellow humans is more important than business or profit. All the writing is focused on the central theme as if Priestley was very aware that if the world did not learn the lesson of responsibility to each other (that we are “members of one body”) then mankind and the world may eventually come to a very bad end.


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