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How are different attitudes and perceptions shown between generations in the play 'An Inspector Calls'

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Introduction

How are different attitudes and perceptions shown between generations in the play 'An Inspector Calls' J.B. Priestly's play 'An Inspector Calls', written in 1945, is set in the spring of 1912 in the household of an upper middle class family in the north of England. The plot of the play is based around the Birling family's involvement in a young woman's suicide and the tensions, which are created between characters by the arrival of the mysterious Inspector Goole. The different generations in the play are represented by Sybil and Arthur Birling on the one hand and on the other their children Sheila and Eric and Sheila's fianc� Gerald Croft. Arthur Birling is a heavy-set, rather pompous man in his mid fifties with a northern accent. He is optimistic about the future as he states that '...there isn't a chance of war.' (p.6), and describes the Titanic as '...absolutely unsinkable.' (p.7). He also describes enthusiastically the technological progress being made in the aeroplane and car industries. On several occasions he describes himself as '...a hard headed, practical man of business' (p.6). He does not believe he has a responsibility to society, only to his family, stating to Eric and Gerald as young men that '...a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own' (p.10). ...read more.

Middle

(p.3). Her attitude towards the younger generation is somewhat dismissive as typified by the way she treats her daughter Sheila. 'I think you ought to go to bed and forget about this absurd business.' (p.30). In many ways she is shown to be na�ve and ignorant about the ways of the world. She is shocked to find out about her son Eric's drinking problem and the activities of the 'notorious womaniser' Alderman Meggarty. Mrs Birling was a firm believer in the class system and her attitude is summed up when she says of Eva Smith's death '...I don't suppose for a moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class-' (p.30). It is also evident when the inspector interrogates her regarding her role in Eva Smith's meeting with Brumley Women's Charity Organisation. Mrs Birling admits that she used her influence as the most prominent member of the society to refuse Eva's case because she '...didn't like her manner.' (p.44), and objected to her 'impertinent' use of the Birling family name. Sheila Birling starts the play as a happy, bubbly and rather spoilt individual, treated by her mother as if she was still a young girl. ...read more.

Conclusion

When Mr Birling makes his speech about his delight at the impending marriage of Sheila and Gerald and the ending of the Business rivalry between the Crofts and the Birlings, Gerald says 'Hear, hear! And I think my father would agree to that.' (p.4). When Mr Birling explains the circumstances of him sacking Eva Smith, Gerald sympathises, saying that 'You couldn't have done anything else.' (p.15). When Gerald is interrogated about the death of Eva Smith (Daisy Renton), at first he pretends not to have ever known her but after further questioning admits to have been involved with her. He becomes very upset and asks to be excused for a while after the interrogation is finished. When the characters discover the inspector was a hoax, only Eric and Sheila remain remorseful. Mr and Mrs Birling are glad to be let off the hook, Sybil even being amused by the fraud. Gerald assumes everything is all right and that his engagement to Sheila is back on. These perspectives neatly sum up the different attitudes shown between the generations in the play. On the one hand Sybil, Arthur and Gerald representing lack of feeling for the working class and on the other Eric and Sheila showing much more sympathy for those left fortunate than themselves. Angus Lowe, 10X1 ...read more.

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