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'Inspector Goole is little more than a staging device to explore the sins of the major characters.'

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Introduction

'Inspector Goole is little more than a staging device to explore the sins of the major characters.' The opening scene of the play presents a solidly respectable upper middle class family at ease with itself and the world. They are at a dinner celebrating Gerald Croft's engagement to Sheila Birling and Mr Birling is holding forth on issues of the day. The year is 1912, the 'unsinkable' Titanic is about to set sail and as far Mr Birling is concerned, the First World War is not even a shadow on the horizon. You'll hear some people say war's inevitable. And to that I say - fiddlesticks! The Germans don't want war. So even before the Inspector arrives, Priestly cast doubts on the wisdom of Mr Birling in the minds of an audience who are fully aware of the history of the next six years. On closer examination the romantic nature of the evening is suspect as it transpires that Gerald's affection for Sheila is tempered by the fact that their marriage would form a profitable business association between their fathers' firms. ...read more.

Middle

pregnant. Mrs Birling adds hypocrisy to her lack of Christian charity when dealing with the despairing young woman. All of this storytelling is of course masterminded by Inspector Goole, who gives each character the chance to reveal his or her part in the sordid affair. Sheila begins to understand this when she remarks. No he's giving us rope - so that we'll hang ourselves. In the telling of the story then, Inspector Goole is a staging device. Without him and his apparent foreknowledge of the part played by each person in Eva Smith's life, the play would lack any shape or tension. However, we must also add other aspects to this central role. Just as he is the centre of the plot, the Inspector is the moral centre of the play. During the course of the investigation it does not occur to anyone to ask what crime has been committed and indeed no crime has been committed by any legal definition. ...read more.

Conclusion

As if this coup de theatre was not enough, Priestly turns the tables again when it is announced that a real policeman is on his way. In this case who is Goole? The spirit of Eva Smith? A moralistic busybody who found her diary? A socialist agitator wishing to strike a blow against the arrogant upper classes? All these are possibilities for the audience to discuss as the play closes. J B Priestly has used the naturalistic setting of an Edwardian dining room to produce an old fashioned morality play, and at the centre of all of his achievements is Inspector Goole. He is a plot device but he is also a moral policeman, an embodiment of the collective conscience and some kind of agent acting on behalf of the troubled spirit of a suicidal girl. He is not the same kind of character as the members of the Birling household, but if he had been more 'rounded' he would not have been able to play the many roles assigned to him. ...read more.

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