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What is the Role of the Inspector and How Does Priestley Use Him to Reveal Ideas about the Birling Family and Society in General?

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Introduction

What is the Role of the Inspector and How Does Priestley Use Him to Reveal Ideas about the Birling Family and Society in General? Written by J.B. Priestley in 1945, An Inspector Calls is a play that follows the story of the Birling Family and their dealings with a woman, Eva Smith. The Birlings are a wealthy family and are happily celebrating an engagement when their evening is rudely interrupted by a police Inspector investigating the death of a working class girl. Throughout the course of the evening, the Inspector deftly uncovers their dirty little secrets and each of their involvements in the girl's death. The play is set in an industrial town in the Midlands called Brumley. During 1912 in the Edwardian era, when the play was set, life was hard for the poor and even harder for women. There was very little help available for people and only the very desperate were given aid and even then they were sometimes not given enough. The local workhouse was available for the sick, old or handicapped but this was an unpleasant place. Women in 1912 were treated as inferior and they could not often do what men could; they were not allowed to vote, they were unlikely to go to university and get decent job and they were expected to give up their jobs once they were married. ...read more.

Middle

The Inspector's direct language makes the characters feel guilty and adds to the dramatic tension. When interrogating the characters, the Inspector treats each character differently. The second character that he questions is Sheila who he questions after Mr Birling. Sheila is treated less harshly by the Inspector, probably because she is a woman and in 1912, women were protected from unpleasant things. However, Sheila is more ready to answer the Inspector's questions and accepts the blame. She is greatly affected by her actions and is 'distressed' and begins 'crying'. Ready and willing to accept full responsibility Sheila asks the Inspector 'so, I'm really responsible?' but the Inspector, sympathetic towards Sheila because she has realised what she has done, says that it is not just her to blame, however he doesn't coat the situation in sugar for her just because she is a women; he makes sure that she cannot deny responsibility once she has accepted it. Eric reacts in a similar way to his sister, fully accepting his role in Eva's death. However, what Eric did is too much for the Inspector to sympathise with him. The Inspector, however, treats the two older Birlings in a totally different way, as they are stuck in their old ways and are too concerned about their social standings to care about what the Inspector has to say. ...read more.

Conclusion

She wanted twenty-five shillings...you made her pay a heavy price for that'. Because Eva wanted a better life she ended up dead; this echoes the times of the play when the poor could not better themselves. Before leaving, the Inspector has a final speech which conveys Priestley's views on society. The Inspector says 'we are responsible for each other'. Priestley, through the play, has shown the audience how only caring for yourself and your own can destroy people's lives and so he is trying to express the message of helping other people. Some commentators on the play have suggested that the Inspector's name, 'Goole', has something to do with his true identity which isn't revealed in the play. 'Goole' sounds similar to 'ghoul'; ghouls are sometimes raised to avenge deaths, like the death of Eva, or it may be indicating that the Inspector is a fake as ghouls are not real. However, what or who the Inspector actually is isn't as important as the messages he puts across throughout the play. The role of the Inspector in the play, An Inspector Calls is to show people that caring for each other and looking after each other is a good thing; Priestley is putting across his socialist views in an easily understood way so his message can reach a wider audience. The message is easily comprehended as it is shown in the play how selfishness is bad and how helping each other is good. However, his message comes across without preaching it, so more people are likely to accept it. ...read more.

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