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"An Inspector Calls" as a Tool for the Political and Social Criticism of the Elite

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January 28, 2003 "An Inspector Calls" as a Tool for the Political and Social Criticism of the Elite -Abhishek Agrawal "An Inspector Calls", by J.B. Priestly, is in effect a method the playwright uses to convey an imperative political and social message to his readers. John Boynton Priestley was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, in the north of England. After finishing school, he decided to abandon education to pursue his passion for writing and literature. In 1914 at the age of twenty Priestley was called to fight in the First World War. As one may expect, the years Priestly spent on the frontline, had an immense impact on his ideas towards the social and political system in Britain, and are what fuelled his great politically charged writings. Priestly began to ponder the state of society and the way the social system worked. Perhaps most importantly, he realised that while large numbers of people were suffering, there were many egocentric individuals who were enjoying grand luxuries. "An Inspector Calls" was written in the very week that the Second World War culminated. This shows the urgency with which Priestly wanted to communicate his message. This play, like some of Priestley's earlier work, explores the concept of time, and the phenomenon of how someone's actions can affect someone else's life in the long run. ...read more.


(Act 1, pg 4) Here, Priestly shows that even on such an important occasion, money is Birling's main concern. One very important aspect of the play that Priestly emphasizes on is to make sure that his audience knows that whatever he says about the Birlings, he refers to the whole upper class. He does this by making his characters use expressions and speak about topics that would only be common among the elite. He makes reference to such terms as port, a wine whose knowledge is a sign of the elite. Priestley's playing with time is shown with time when Birling shows his sheer pomposity as he talks about issues, as if he were a connoisseur. He disregards all the reports he has heard of war: "The Germans don't want war. Nobody wants war, except some half-civilised folks in the Balkans." (Act 1, pg 6) This leads to an awkward situation on the set. Birling speaks very self-confidently, but the audience know he is wrong as the Second World War has already ended. The audience is shown that Birling's attitude is wrong and he is portrayed as an ignorant fool. Priestley is showing how ignorance and narrow-mindedness can be the greatest causes of suffering. Later in Act 1, when Birling is left alone with Gerald, Priestley emphasizes tremendously on the importance of social status to the elite, and comments on the egocentricity of the upper class. ...read more.


He wants us to be conscious of our actions and their repercussions. This has the effect of conveying both a political and social message. It tells the audience that when they are doing something that may affect someone, it can affect their lives even to a grave extent. While poor political decisions can lead to wars, poor social decisions can end with tragedies such as the suicide of Eva Smith. We learn that Eva Smith was fired form Mr. Birling's factory as she asked for higher rates of pay. In his defence, Mr. Birling says: "Well, it's my duty to keep labour costs down, and if I'd agreed to this demand for a new rate we'd have added about twelve per cent to our labour costs." (Act 1, pg 14) Again greed and egocentricity is shown among the higher class. Birling says he had to come down sharp or else they would have been asking the Earth. To this the inspector replies: "They might. But after all it's better to ask for the Earth than to take it." (Act 1, pg 15) Here Priestley is bluntly expressing his anger at the exploitation of the poor by the rich. At its simplest, "An Inspector Calls" is just another moral story, no different from Aesop's Fables. Priestley is trying to teach his audience that individualism and narcissism are one of the greatest evils. He wants us to be aware that our actions today immensely affect events tomorrow. Word Count = 1369 1 ...read more.

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