Priestley presents ideas about responsibility in an 'An Inspector Calls'

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        ‘An Inspector Calls’


The play 'An Inspector Calls' is used by J.B. Priestley as a door to  the minds of his 1945 audiences to the faults that he saw in society; the lack of responsibility people felt towards each other. The play is set in 1912 when a quarter of the globe was coloured red, denoting the vast and powerful empire that was Britain. The upper and middle classes led such a lavish life of luxury that the Edwardian era is now infamous for its elegance, ostentation and extravagance. Men such as Arthur Birling, who is portrayed by Priestley as the stereotypical capitalist, thrived in this society. Yet, despite the illusions of security, this was an epoch full of hypocrisy, prejudice and exploitation. There was a huge divide between the upper and lower classes. Many strikes during the 1900s and food shortages created political tension. In contrast to that, the play was written and published in 1945, just after World War II. Priestley uses this time difference effectively. During the play, the writer ruthlessly unveils how the individual actions of each of the Birlings culminated in the death of an innocent girl called Eva Smith. Throughout the play, the writer conveys his compelling message of how we should be socially responsible as the lives of others may be affected by even our smallest actions. He implies that in order to move forward and to rebuild the country the way forward is socialism.

Priestley presents ideas about responsibility in an 'An Inspector Calls' by portraying the inspector as a conscience, using him to represent a good example of responsibility in society. The clarity of Eric and Sheila's realisation of the consequences of their actions sends a strong message to the audience about responsibility. Priestley emphasises that everyone has a social responsibility and this is explored through different characters in the play. People exploit their positions of responsibility especially the middle class.

Mr Birling is one of the key characters in the play in which Priestley explores the theme of responsibility. He is presented to be an irresponsible figure, despite his social standing in the community, being an employer and an economically wealthy male; therefore he should be a role model. However, this is not shown in the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ as he refuses to give Eva more wage when she politely asks. Thus exploiting his workers, he boldly states ‘duty to keep labour costs down’. This means that he doesn’t feel the need to take responsibility for others because his main concern is earning profits and therefore Priestley is highlighting the draw backs of Capitalism.

Initially, Arthur Birling dominates the play; however, as the plot develops the Inspector becomes the principal character. This role reversal parallels Priestley’s ideals; he wants the capitalists, represented here by Birling to step down and the Inspector to take control. This is because Priestley believes that Capitalists behaved and acted irresponsible and this is highlighted when Birling states ‘I can’t accept responsibility. This shows that he refuses to take responsibility which is ironic as he is in a position of responsibility as he has care and duty for his workers which he does not uphold. Priestley’s uses microcosm to reflect the wider problems in a capitalist society.

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Mrs Birling is also presented to be an irresponsible figure even though she is a parent and ironically the chair person of a charitable committee. However she is not a charitable woman. This is shown when she states ‘she was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position’. This exemplifies that Mrs Birling has hatred for Eva Smith for having high ambitions because she was part of the lower class. This also shows that Mrs Birling is very spiteful and has a rude manner when she refers to Eva’s position, this direct ...

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