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What were the inspector's intentions in visiting the Birlings? How successful was he in realising those intentions?

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Introduction

What were the inspector's intentions in visiting the Birlings? How successful was he in realising those intentions? In the play Priestley describes the Inspector, when he first appears on stage, in terms of 'massiveness, solidity and purposefulness', symbolizing the fact that he is an unstoppable force within the play. His 'disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before speaking' gives the impression that he sees through surface appearances to the real person beneath. It also gives him a thoughtfulness that contrasts with the thoughtlessness of each character's treatment of the girl. The Inspector's sombre appearance and the news he brings are a contrast with the happy and elegant air of celebration on stage. His name, Goole (ghoul?), gives him a mysterious, disturbing quality - a ghoul is a spirit which takes fresh life from corpses, and we could certainly argue that the Inspector's existence is a result of the girl's death. If he is not a real Inspector, what is he? A clever impostor (but nonetheless human)? The personification of the social conscience the characters all lack or suppress? A supernatural, God-like being (for he certainly seems to know what each character has done, without being told)? ...read more.

Middle

This is hypocritical because, as the Inspector says, 'the girl's [still] dead, though'. He also has double standards: for he sees nothing strange in wanting to protect Sheila from the unpleasantness of the girl's life and death, yet feels no guilt at not having protected the girl herself. After the Inspector has gone, Birling simply wants things to return to the way they were. He cannot understand Sheila's and Eric's insistence that there is something to be learnt, and he is relieved and triumphant when he feels that scandal has been avoided and everything is all right. Right up until the end, he claims that 'there's every excuse for what both your mother and I did - it turned out unfortunately, that's all'. Birling is not the cold and narrow-minded person that his wife is; he simply believes in what he says. He is a limited man, who is shown to be wrong about many things in the play: It is the Birlings of the world whom Priestley feared - in 1945 - who would not be willing or able to learn the lessons of the past, and so it is to the younger generation that Priestley hopefully looked instead. ...read more.

Conclusion

Eric also continued to feel guilty after learning that there was no Eva/Daisy, just as his sister did. " You're beginning to pretend now that nothing's really happened at all. And I can't see it like that." All of this shows that Eric, despite all of his irresponsible actions, did try to do what was morally right afterwards. In summary each character is punished in an appropriate way. Birling fears for his family's reputation at the inquest; Sheila feels shame for her selfishness; Gerald has his affair revealed in front of Sheila; Mrs Birling has her illusions about the respectability of her family shattered by Eric; and Eric is revealed before his indulgent parents as a spoilt and inadequate young man. But notice how in each case the punishment is a consequence of their own behaviour; the Inspector himself does not bring punishment from outside. Perhaps this is why they are given a second chance at the end of the play - that their experience should have been a warning to them. The Inspector sees through each character. He forces each character to admit what they already secretly know. He is Priestley's vehicle for his views on social responsibility. He is the catalyst for the play's events. He controls the play's events. He has a moral dimension. He brings about each character's punishment through their own actions. He is each character's last chance. ...read more.

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