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We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other." What are Priestley's mainaims in An Inspector Calls? How successfully does he achievethem?

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Introduction

We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other." What are Priestley's main aims in An Inspector Calls? How successfully does he achieve them? By Ko Takatsuka In this essay I will analyse a play called "An Inspector calls" by J.B. Priestley, written in 1945. The story begins when Mr. Birling, his wife, son and daughter, Eric and Sheila, have been enjoying a family dinner celebrating the engagement of Sheila to Gerald Croft. The family are in a celebratory mood when Mr. Birling makes a speech ridiculing shared responsibility within the community. He tells the family to ignore the "cranks" who talk and write as if everybody has to look after each other. The speech is interrupted by Inspector Goole who is making enquiries about the suicide of a "Eva Smith", a young woman. First, the inspector questions and shows a photograph of the girl to Mr Birling. He admits that he had sacked her from his factory two years ago but justifies his actions by claiming that she was one of the leaders of a strike for higher wages. He is supported by Gerald Croft although Sheila and Eric are unconvinced that his father acted appropriately. Secondly, Sheila is also questioned and shown the photograph. She soon realises that she too had had the girl sacked from her job as a shop assistant. She regrettably admits that she was unjust and immature to do so. The Inspector seems to have a weird sense of knowledge about the family's relationship with Eva Smith and by announcing that the girl had changed her name to Daisy Renton, intentionally causes Gerald to react in shock. This allows the inspector to question him. At this point Sheila warns Gerald to be honest. This illustrates her awareness of the inspector's extraordinary knowledge and reflects the increasing tension between the two. ...read more.

Middle

He shows the audience that if events were repeated, he would still feel that his attitude is the right attitude for a man of business. He also shows the audience how naturally, he tries to protect Sheila from hearing the unpleasantness of the girl's death, yet feels no guilt at not having protected the girl herself. After the Inspector has gone, unlike Sheila or Eric, he simply wants things to return to the way they were and feels relieved and proud when he learns that his scandal can be avoided. I believe that his inability to see his wrong actions make him a sympathetic character in the play, although obviously not as much as Eva Smith. Mrs. Birling is described as a "rather cold woman and her husband's superior." Unlike her husband, her coldness makes her look more "evil" and so unsympathetic. Despite her position as chairwoman of the Woman's Charity Organisation she lacks understanding in how people in classes below her live. This is clear when she says: "Oh- she had some fancy reason. As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money!" She is also seen to lack understanding in her family problems when she has been unaware of her son's drinking problem. This is shown when she says: "But I didn't know it was you- I never dreamt. Besides, you're not that type-you don't drink-" Instead of this lack of knowledge of these realities of life, she is seen to be more interested in being polite and socially correct. This is illustrated when she says: I'll ring from the drawing room when we want coffee. Probably in about half an hour." This is also clear when she corrects her husband for commenting on the quality of the meal. She says: "Arthur, You're not supposed to say such things-" She is the only character that shows no or little reaction to the girl's death. ...read more.

Conclusion

The second twist is 'time'. Although the time span of the play is realistic, the telephone call at the end is completely unexpected and out of character to the rest of the play. The telephone call takes the family back to relive the events and also allows the possibility that the Inspector was a real policeman who has slipped out of real-time and is back to return. Just as the Inspector arrived as if to answer to Birling's original speech, this time the telephone rings just as Birling tells his children that they "can't even take a joke". The ending leaves the audience to imagine that this time round, the Inspector's threat of "fire and blood and anguish will become a reality. I think that Priestley has achieved his aims very successfully in the play because from a personal point of view, as I read the play I felt involved in the story and at the end of each chapter I wanted to read on. This was due to Priestley structuring the play as a "cliff-hanger". I could identify the 'dramatic irony' in Birling's speeches and by the end I too questioned my own responsibilities and was puzzled by the mysterious ending of the play. As well as my own views of the play I can see how successfully Priestley achieved his aims because in the copy of the play I have, published by Hereford Plays, there is an introduction written by E. R. Wood which says: "In 1946 it was produced in London at the Old Vic, and afterwards in Paris and New York. It had a huge success in Germany. Since then it has been translated into scores of different languages and presented all over the world in almost every country that possesses a theatre. It has indeed been one of the most widely produced plays of the last fifty years." Today, 'An Inspector Calls' is still popular at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End and continues to spread its message of shared responsibility. ...read more.

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