In An Inspector Calls, the central theme is responsibility. Priestley is interested in our personal responsibility for our own actions and our collective responsibility to society. The play explores the effect of class, age and sex on people's attitudes to responsibility, and shows how prejudice can prevent people from acting responsibly.
So, how does Priestley weave the themes through the play?
The words responsible and responsibility are used by most characters [character: A person portrayed by an actor in a play; an individual in a narrative or non-fiction text; a real or imaginary individual's personality or reputation. ] in the play at some point.
Each member of the family has a different attitude to responsibility. Make sure that you know how each of them felt about their responsibility in the case of Eva Smith.
The Inspector wanted each member of the family to share the responsibility of Eva's death: he tells them, However, his final speech is aimed not only at the characters on stage, but at the audience too:
One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do.
The Inspector is talking about a collective responsibility, everyone is society is linked, in the same way that the characters are linked to Eva Smith. Everyone is a part of , the Inspector sees society as more important than individual interests. The views he is propounding are like those of Priestley who was a socialist.
He adds a clear warning about what could happen if, like some members of the family, we ignore our responsibility:
And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, when they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.
What would Priestley have wanted his audience to think of when the Inspector warns the Birlings of the ?
Probably he is thinking partly about the world war they had just lived through - the result of governments blindly pursuing 'national interest' at all costs. No doubt he was thinking too about the Russian revolution in which poor workers and peasants took over the state and exacted a bloody revenge against the aristocrats who had treated them so badly.
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I would like critique on this essay please
Arthur Birling says, ‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?’
How does Priestley present ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls? (30 marks)
Priestley cleverly uses the contrasting personalities of all of the characters in the Birling family along with the socialist Inspector who is a mouthpiece for Priestley’s view in the morality play. The inspector is seemingly the most responsible in his ideas, as we can see by the connotations of his speech as well as his judgement of the Birling family. He also offers supernatural themes to this otherwise normal play. Priestley sets the scene within the Birling household of a rich family who are very self- satisfied and somewhat ignorant sitting at the table discussing future prospects with the family.
Priestley conveys his own personal ideas about the social class system within the play through Inspector Goole, who could be seen as a mouthpiece for Priestley’s opinion in the play. In act one of the play the Inspector is introduced as someone who ‘creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ This suggests that the inspector is very wise and ‘purposefulness’ can imply that the Inspector knows what his duty is in terms of interrogating the Birling family and also he has a strong sense of social responsibility. Following this, when offered whisky the Inspector immediately emphasises the fact that he is ‘on duty’. This conveys to the audience that the inspector knows what his responsibility is at that point in time and whatever is a distraction is not important to him whatsoever. The Inspector is also portrayed as a moral being who realises that the Birling family’s contribution to Eva’s death was unethical and also due to a lack of social responsibility, in the sense that all of the wrongdoings to Eva also known as Daisy Renton were an equal contribution of their abuse of social authority. The Inspector says “we are members of one body.” This is biblical language that would have been preached by Jesus Christ in the bible, who knew not to do wrong, and had a very strong sense of responsibility. As well as this the Inspector clearly states later in the play that each of the Birling family ‘helped to kill her’. This shows that Priestley believed the Inspector to be the most responsible and morally enlightened character and as a result used him as a mouthpiece of his own views, because he realised that it was through the multi contribution of social abuse and the idea of social hierarchy was what lead to Eva committing suicide.
Linking in with this, Birling has a completely contrasting identity in this play in comparison with the Inspector and seems to lack social awareness, which is conveyed through the use of dramatic irony. In act one, Birling states that the Titanic is ‘absolutely unsinkable’, which of course the audience knows will already take place. Birling’s rich status is clearly a key contribution to lack of social awareness because he believes that life is as perfect as it is for his family for everyone, which is not the case whatsoever. This shows a lack of responsibility because it is evident that Birling does not know the extremes of life in terms of poverty and suffering and as a result he believes that nothing bad can come of the Titanic sailing just because it is built with a lot of money. As well as this, Birling shows a clear lack of social responsibility because he refuses to take any blame for Eva smith’s death. This takes place when he refers to Eva as a ‘wretched girl’. By calling Eva ‘wretched’ this portrays connotations of ignorance to the audience because Birling does not show any remorse even though he knows Eva has died and still makes it clear that he considers her a nuisance that deserved to be fired from his works. Birling may be a mouthpiece of some ignorant people who are at the top of society who refuse to take responsibility for the possible harm they may be causing to those lower down in the social class system such as Eva. The stage direction of ‘still angrily’ shows that instead of taking responsibility for his actions, Mr Birling is instead reacting aggressively and refusing to accept the fact that he contributed to Eva’s death in any way.
However, Priestley does portray some aspects of the Birling family in a good light with the younger generation. He paints the image of a bright future in the absence of the abusing of social class with the reformation of Sheila throughout the play. This is done through the use of the stage direction ‘miserably’ to convey Sheila’s reaction vividly to the audience. ‘Miserably’ shows to the audience that Sheila is clearly showing remorse for what how she had treated to Eva and clearly contributed to her death and is willing to take responsibility for her actions and move forward positively. Another clear connotation of Sheila thinking about others apart from the family is where she asks the question ‘So I’m really responsible?’ This is a personal question that makes it seem as if Sheila is actually asking herself this, which shows that she is pondering deeply about what she did and how she practiced the idea of social responsibility in the past. In this way Sheila could move on and amend her past mistake by focusing on not abusing her social class in the future, in this way she develops a very strong relationship with the Inspector. Priestley could be implying here that the younger audience viewing the play were supposed to act in the same way as Sheila and really take in to account social responsibility to create a better future.
In conclusion, Priestley conveys ideas about responsibility positively in the form of Sheila and the Inspector but also negatively in the form of Mr Birling, who refuses to accept any responsibility for what he has done. Priestley does this through his effective use of language and also stage directions in the play to convey a clear image to the audience on how the character is feeling and reacting to the various testing situations in the play.