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. 1
in fact.62)). the majority of the Birling family (Mr. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. J. you'd better ask Gerald for that ring you gave back to him.B.B. Eva/Daisy simply refusing to expose Eric because Daisy. 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. Birling makes herself believe as “airs” were. 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. and she didn't want to see me again. Come. come. Priestley) However. J.. Birling. Mrs. Sheila (with Eric agreeing with her) ironically replies to her father: 2 . he casts Eva/Daisy off without much care.You'll have a good laugh over it yet. Birling: She was giving herself ridiculous airs. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3.. J. he simply steals money to help her get by. However. Birling and Gerald Croft) try to avoid the lesson: Mr. Priestley) What Mrs. His initial reaction is to help and then he pities her. I would Inspector: (harshly) Yes. we have Eric's final betrayal of Eva/Daisy. However. Eric has an affair with Daisy and she becomes pregnant with his child. does feel responsible for others. It's too late. And finally. you can see that can't you? . 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: But the whole thing's different now. what starts as pity and help soon turns into an affair.B. J. Birling both call him a “fake” (P. (An Inspector Calls: Act 2.B.B. She was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position.. Look. She's dead. when the decisive moment arrives and Gerald decides he wants to marry Sheila. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. that we are responsible for each other. the most shocking encounter with Eva/Daisy is reserved for Mrs. 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”. but you can't. then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. as soon as Goole has left and the family start to doubt that he is a real inspector(Gerald and Mr. if men will not learn that lesson. However.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 Don't you understand? And if I could help her now. hadn't you? Then you'll feel better. 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. It is unfortunate that whilst Gerald starts following Priestley's message. unlike any of the Birling family. J. at this most crucial time Eric does not act responsibly and confront his parents with these facts. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3.
And now you've stopped. it was anything but a joke. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. So there's nothing to be sorry for. J. She was here alone. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now. Priestley) Sheila and Eric are both young and perhaps a little foolish in their behavior but seem to learn from the “inspection” perhaps because. 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. (An Inspector Calls: Act 2. Priestley) Each of the characters seems to represent a particular viewpoint which is either the same as. She goes on strike not just for herself but for others who need a little extra money. at a time when no woman could have needed it more. I tell you – whoever that Inspector was. desperate. . . J. almost penniless. Eric: And I agree with Sheila. When the inspector has left. She didn't. Eva/Daisy cannot speak for herself but her actions prove that she understands the idea of responsibility to others. and what he made me feel. when things are so much easier. or opposes. I wish to 3 . J.” Sheila and Eric look as if they are to change their ways. they often have an affect “on the young ones. 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. 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. Mr. you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else. as the Inspector points out. It frightens me too. when he has one – and so long as he does that he won't come to much harm. and it looks as if the Birlings are about to go back to their old. friendless. And you not only refused it yourself but saw to it that the others refused it too. sympathy. When Gerald breaks off their relationship. J. and I can't listen to any more of it. nothing to learn. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense.B.B. She needed not only money but advice. And it frightens me the way you talk. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. They're more impressionable. the younger members of the family object: Sheila: I remember what he said. is that a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too. Priestley) Sheila and Gerald's response to the central theme is so different that they are pulled apart and Sheila calls off the engagement.t blame me at all. comfortable ways. You began to learn something. how he looked.B. We can all go on behaving just as we did .B. You've had children. Fire and blood and anguish. You must have known what she was feeling.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 Sheila: So nothing really happened. of course. And you slammed the door in her face. friendliness. the central message of the play. You're ready to go on in the same old way. You knew it then.
. Ask your father. 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. Priestley) The “Whodunit” thriller genre makes what could be a dry idea (i.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 God she had now.B.B. there is a darker side to things. Birling's pompous and over-blown speeches in which he ignores the opinions of others 4 . Priestley) And. The Birling family are well-respected citizens of the “right” social class and aspire to greater things. who is the real culprit in this sad case: Inspector: This girl killed herself – and died a horrible death. In fact. If there weren't. 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. through the Inspector. The Inspector immediately cuts in: “Suicide. Priestley) The Inspector can be seen either as a god-like.11). But each of you helped to kill her. that she had no claim to the name. 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. “we are responsible for each other”) into an interesting experience so that the audience is more willing to be captured by the idea. J. dressed mysteriously indark suit and hat. 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). finally. When Mr. (He looks from one to the other of them carefully) (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. We are left to wonder is this murder or a natural death. The Inspector. However. Remember that. Men are referred to as “chaps” and Gerald calls Mr. all-knowing figure or simply as perhaps the moral conscience of society. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1.e. J. finally uncovers. until Priestley. the factories and warehouses wouldn't know where to look for cheap labour.B. (An Inspector Calls: Act 2. But this is said almost questioningly and there would appear to be sinister overtones. Birling: She had to admit after I began questioning her. Birling “Sir”. (An Inspector Calls: Act 2. Inspector: (dryly) I've had that notion myself from time to time. at the cost of her own life: Mrs. of course” (P. Eva/Daisy will not allow allow it to become public knowledge that Eric is the the father of her child. by way of a series of clues and incidents including Gerard's affair and Eric's drunkenness and near hysterical behavior. We are immediately presented with an isolated large mansion-style house in the dark of the evening. Perhaps I'd feel better about it. as we see with Mr. Never forget it. Not long after that the Inspector presents us with the fact of a dead body. J.B. that she wasn't married. Miss Birling. because she knows it will ruin his respectable life. There is nothing really wrong with this and it may even show a certain respect and charm. Sheila: But these girl's aren't cheap labour – they're people. Priestley) The language used by each of the characters' in the play shows their social attitude and their attitude to others. and that the story she told at first – about a husband who'd deserted her – was quite false. J.
man. J. the Inspector cut's in: Inspector: (harshly) Yes.B.B. To Mrs. 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. turns on him.B. This can be seen in her constant use of euphemisms. When Sheila admits her bad behavior and says she would like to make amends. . (To Inspector. when Mr. Priestley) Mrs. Birling: (rebuking them) I''m talking to the Inspector now. .Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 around him (the rumours of war. . J. etc) and tries to impose his narrow view of progress rather than see the darker side of war and poverty. J. 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”). Birling. but I must say that so far you seem to be conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner. .B. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. . J. Eric and Sheila's language is at the beginning of the play foolish (with the use of words like “squiffy” and “I'm sorry. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. 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. (As Birling tries to protest. the 5 . but you can't. That Eva/Daisy's death was their “responsibility”. Look at the progress we're making . Priestley) When Mr's Birling believes that Eva/Daisy is putting on elaborate. (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. 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. It's too late. Birling tries to interrupt himself he is told off in no uncertain terms (see above) And finally. Birling. What did she say? (An Inspector Calls: Act 2.e. rather grandly) I realize that you may have to conduct some sort of inquiry. J.) Don't stammer and yammer at me again. if you don't mind. pomposity and euphemisms of the Birling family so they finally understand the truth of the matter i. in a similar way is also pompous. The world's developing so fast that it'll make war impossible. Birling tries to rebuke the Inspector for being offensive to a “public man”. arrogant and even threatening when trying to retain her power and position: Mrs. Priestley) The Inspector's language is formal and very direct as he tries to cut through the airs. I'm losing all patience with you people. Daddy”) but by the end of the play seems to be more confident and caring: Sheila: Between us we drove that girl to commit suicide. etc: Mr. When she finds a particular subject offensive or beneath her she replaces an inoffensive word or phrase for the offensive but real one.B. Priestley) Mrs. Priestley) And when Mr. She's dead. Birling: I say there isn't a chance of war.
Socialists are seen as cranky trouble-makers by Mr. Mr. . The setting of the play – the time and place . 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). if I'd known that earlier I wouldn't have called you officious and talked about reporting you. . (An Inspector Calls: Act 2. 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. 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. Birling states: 6 . . absolutely unsinkable.B. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. is that wars are still being fought all over the world. Eva and the other trouble-makers are sacked because. 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”. When Mr. Mr. have responsibilities as well as privileges. Therefore. but could in fact be any town or city in Britain.B.also helps put across Priestley's message. However. Look at the progress we're making . J. The world's developing so fast that it'll make war impossible. and proof that the play is still relevant today. . 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. a small industrial town in the Midlands. as Mr. His language is often short and abrupt. The setting is in the mythical town of Brumley. Birlings opening speech very ironic: Mr. A greater irony. The other four exchange bewildered and perturbed glances. Priestley) The Inspector very rarely speaks in long sentences. 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. Birling.B. We have still not learned the lesson of responsibility to each other. Sometimes he speaks one word and often leaves a silence to in an attempt to worry the family. (An Inspector Calls: Act 1. as Priestley well knew when the play was written in 1945. Why. The time of the play is also very important in relation the central message. 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. is that war was not impossible (and two great wars were about to be fought) and that the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. Birling. and unsinkable.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 Inspector puts him in his place and states Priestley's theme directly at him: Inspector: (massively) Public men. The play is set in 1912. Birling has a naive faith in progress and seems to think that it will set the world to rights. . J. just before the first World War. Birling: (with marked change of tone) Well. of course. This therefore makes Mr.Birling: I say there isn't a chance of war. Priestley) The irony.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 twenty-two and six. J.
B. the central theme is of the play is quite obviously the theme of responsibility to each other.B. J. A girl has just died – on her way to the Infirmary after swallowing some disinfectant. 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. has led a life of luxury and selfishness. But when he has left. In conclusion. Priestley) J. Priestley) But the Birlings have already been “inspected” by an Inspector who knew about the death before it had actually happened. But this unexpected twist makes us stop and think about our responsibilities to other people. when the Inspector arrives. It has no regard for people who are seen as “cheap slaves”. 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. Priestley's stage directions once again inform us that the lighting should now be “brighter and harder”. And a police inspector is on his way here to ask some . The “trick”. The Birlings stare at each other “guiltily and dumbfounded”. No time is wasted on other ideas and themes and every skill at the dramatists disposal is used to promote his theme. J. 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. No such girl as Eva Smith or Daisy Renton has died in the Infirmary. Each of them. The Birlings feel as though they are rescued and that they can continue to carry on with their selfish lives. 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.e. One of these ways is his use of stagecraft i. J. they seem (to Sheila's sadness) to recover their composure and wish to pass the whole incident off as a hoax. or dramatic ending of the play. Priestley) Capitalism is concerned with the creation of wealth and profit. 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. However.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 Mr. the final telephone call confirms: Birling: That was the police. However. in their own way.questions (An Inspector Calls: Act 3. physical things that can be done upon the stage itself. he is a dramatist.B. also adds to the message that Priestley wishes to communicate. 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 responsibility. Priestley is not just a writer.B. Each of the 7 . 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. 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. 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. He writes plays to be performed on a stage and knows that this allows him additional ways to communicate his message. having all that they need.
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 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. 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. 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. And finally. The language of the play is used to reinforce the viewpoint of each character.Jack Hopley 10 Bi December 2005 characters within the play is invented in order to represent a particular viewpoint against this central theme of the play. 8 . 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. Priestley even goes to the lengths of using minor bits of stage craft such as lighting to emphasis his point. the people in power use pompous.