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Discuss the role of the Inspector in J.B Priestleys play "an inspector calls"

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Discuss the role of the Inspector in J.B.Priestley's play An Inspector Calls The Inspector's arrival at the Birling household comes as an unwelcome surprise to the family. He arrives as the Birlings are celebrating an engagement; Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft of Crofts limited are to be married. The Birlings and Gerald have just finished a grand celebratory dinner and are in high spirits when Edna, the Birling's servant announces the Inspector's arrival. The Inspector quickly changes the mood of the household when he tells Mr Birling that a girl called Eva Smith had committed suicide earlier that evening by drinking disinfectant, and now rests dead in the infirmary. The Birlings and Gerald's shock and sympathy for the girl quickly turns to curiosity and intrigue as the Inspector begins to ask them questions. The Inspector questions each of them in turn, and with the help of a photograph of the girl he catches them off guard and forces them to reveal acts they have committed which contributed and eventually led to the death of Eva Smith. As the play evolves the audience is kept in suspense as one by one the characters let slip new items of information. These include affairs, selfish acts and class prejudice which eventually, build up a picture of a series of events that led to the girl committing suicide. As the play draws to a close the Birlings are tainted by scandal which if it became public would ruin their reputation and social standing. ...read more.


After an initial power struggle with Mr Birling the Inspector asserts his dominance and then leads the events throughout the play. "Inspector- it might be you no, Birling- I don't like that tone, Inspector- I'm sorry but you asked me a question, Birling- you asked me a question before that, a quite unnecessary question too, Inspector- It's my job to ask questions." He also asserts his authority when he refuses to show the picture of the girl to Eric and Gerald and also by the way he insists on questioning the Birlings one by one. His great power and authority is also highlighted in the stage directions when he is described to speak with "calm authority" and also to "take charge masterfully." He also intimidates the characters "watching Birling." The Inspector also plays a key role in how the tension builds and falls and also how the atmosphere changes throughout the play. He uses his questions and also the information he already has to tell the characters stories and build the tension as he does so. However when the tension builds too high, and the atmosphere becomes too heated between the characters he also has the ability bring it back down again "Birling- why you hysterical young fool, get back, or I'll, Inspector-Stop! they are suddenly quiet staring at him." This quote shows the Birling family instantly silenced by the inspector; this displays his power and superiority. ...read more.


This is a persuasive dramatic technique which allows the audience to side with the socialist inspector and Priestley and puts the Birlings clearly in the wrong. Priestley uses the Inspector to get across his socialist ideas for the future through to the audience. He uses the play to show how an uncaring society can have disastrous consequences for those not lucky enough to be born in to a wealthy family, that lack of community spirit leads to conflict and that all it takes is honesty and willingness to accept responsibility to instigate change. In conclusion I believe the most important role of the Inspector in the play is that of a moralist. He teaches the characters, notably the younger generation the morals and ethics of Priestley and therefore at the same time teaches those same morals and ethics to the audience. The death of Eva Smith affects Sheila and Eric by far the most "Sheila- they're not cheap labour, there people." However the older generation, Mr and Mrs Birling, are relatively un-affected by the ordeal and are perfectly content to go on the same way as they did before. This shows the audience that the capitalist philosophies are old fashioned and that socialism and sharing responsibility are fresh new ideas and are therefore a step forward. This division between the views of the younger and older generation is highlighted by the two endings. Eric and Sheila were genuinely upset about what happened to the girl, whereas Mr and Mrs Birling were only concerned with how it would affect their social standing and reputation. ...read more.

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