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How does Priestley explore the theme of responsibility in the play, An Inspector Calls?

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Post 1914 Drama Coursework How does Priestley explore the theme of responsibility in the play, An Inspector Calls? Written in 1947, J.B. Priestley's didactic murder-mystery, An Inspector Calls, accentuates the fraudulent Edwardian era in which the play was set. Britain in 1912 was inordinately different to Britain in 1947, where a country annihilated by war was determined to right the wrongs of a society before them. In 1912 Britain was at the height of Edwardian society, known as the "Golden Age". A quarter of the globe was coloured red, denoting the vast and powerful Empire and all Britons, no matter what class they belonged to were proud to be British - the "best nation in the world". Theatres, musicals, proms concerts and films entertained the growing population. The upper classes led such a lavish life of luxury that the Edwardian era is now infamous for its elegance, ostentation, extravagance and sexual license. However despite the illusions of these secure times this epoch was full of hypocrisy, prejudice and exploitation. There was a huge divide between the upper and lower classes and the difference between the affluent lifestyle the wealthy lived compared to the downtrodden existence of the poor was remarkable. In 1947 Britain had just come to the end of a devastating world war where families had suffered immense losses and society was desperate for a fairer, more equal lifestyle. Socialism and left-wing Labour views were becoming increasingly popular and Priestley, himself a Socialist, was anxious to point out the flaws of a society which rewarded rich men who openly exploited the poor for profit. ...read more.


"Goole" is similarly sounding to the word "ghoul", a ghost or phantom. It introduces a very eerie, morbid feel to the play as if the Inspector is not real, a ghost from the past and ever present in the lives of the Birling family. The Inspector is a "father-confessor", a moral force who has made the characters judge themselves. He claims to know a limited amount but expertly draws the confessions from each individual character. Throughout the play he has used relatively simplistic language, often minimal amounts, allowing the members of the family to relay their versions of events in their own time and manner. However when he states to the family, "each of you helped to kill her", he links all of the events together, recalling each character's involvement. His final speech dramatically contrasts his use of language throughout the play. He uses ornate, oratorical, exaggerated and hyperbolic diction in an almost biblical tone, preaching to the family and the audience. He moves from commenting on one particular person to all of those people who are cruelly and unnecessarily exploited in society, "millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths". This is Priestley's main message, echoed in the character's actions and the Inspector's interrogation through the play; we are all responsible for each other. Arthur Birling is head of the family, head of a firm and represents the views of Edwardian Britain. He is a traditionalist and is very pleased with himself but the character of Birling is in direct contrast to that of the Inspector. ...read more.


The two intervals are simply for the convenience of the audience and each act begins with the same scene and situation as the latter act. The confessions made by each character are in chronological order, except at the end of the play when Mrs. Birling's confession is presented before Eric's. This order of events can be viewed as an increase in responsibility, which allows a progressive climatic culmination. Priestley's two clever final twists in the plot after the Inspector departs leave the audience disconcerted and mystified. The Inspector was not real and there was no dead girl. However the telephone call at the end was genuine and this allows the audience to almost predict their own ending; how will the family react to the arrival of the real Inspector? Will they acknowledge this as a chance to admit to their mistakes or will they try and conceal their guilt? I thoroughly enjoyed studying An Inspector Calls and have learned a great deal about how society has changed and how moral ideals have evolved over time. I found the play effective although because of the way in which society has developed Priestley's morals may not be applicable to life today. As wealth and power have become increasingly more important socialist feelings of responsibility for one another have been progressively weakened. However I do feel that we as a society might be able to learn from some of Priestley's teachings and work together to form a more equal society for our future generations. ...read more.

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