The play “An Inspector Calls” was written by J.B. Priestly in 1945. It was set in a Midland Industrial town in 1912. The plot of this dramatic play is based around a visit by a police inspector to an pompous upper-middle class family. The Edwardian period it was set in was an unfair time for the working class, because there were strong distinctions between the upper and lower classes and this hierarchy took over the society. People were ranked by their properties, gender, family and social status. Capitalism was leading the society and the idea of individualism was widely spread. Priestley believed in socialism, which is different from capitalism and advocates people to live as a community instead of individuals. Through writing this play, Priestley encourages people to believe in socialism rather than capitalism, also he reminds people to seize the opportunity the end of the war had given them to build a better, more sharing and caring society.
The Inspector enters the play in an arresting way which makes his socialist purpose clear to the audience. When The Inspector arrives, the light turns from “pink and intimate” to “brighter and harder”. JB Priestly uses the lighting to suggest a change in the atmosphere and to insinuate that the Birling family are going to face some hard truths. The pinky light at first sets a comfortable, complacent and dreamy atmosphere, presents how pleased the Birlings are with themselves and their lives, but when The Inspector comes, “the brighter and harder light” suggests that something is going to be exposed from the dark, and creates a tense and serious atmosphere. Further, the way Priestley describes The Inspector in the stage directions show his gravitas to the audience. He writes, The Inspector doesn’t have to be physically tall and strong, but he has to create “an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness”. Priestley uses the strong figure of The Inspector to symbolize the image of socialism; he suggests socialism ought to be firm and purposeful, which presents his socialist point of view clearly. Moreover, Priestly uses the point when The Inspector enters to express his political stand. Before he arrives, Mr. Birling is delivering a long speech about capitalism and individualism, saying how “a man has to mind his own business” and “make his own way.” His opinion about socialism is “community and all that nonsense” which conveys that Birling dismisses and doesn’t understand socialist beliefs. The entrance of The Inspector cuts Mr. Birling’s speech by a “sharp ring.” The use of adjective “sharp” shows it is going to be a difficult visit. Priestley presents The Inspector as a strong and determined character who isn’t afraid of the social hierarchy, who pursues fairness and equality, creates a solemn first impress to the audience and represents the point of view of Priestley.
Priestley employs The Inspector to express many of his socialist opinions throughout the play. One of them is Priestley’s belief in equality. He believes everyone should be equal and should be treated in the same way and has their own rights in the society. When Mrs. Birling talks to The Inspector about why she refused to help Eva Smith in her charity organization, she describes Eva Smith as claiming “elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position.” The use of the alliterated phrase “fine feelings” and the emotive adjective “absurd” reveals her thinking of how ridiculous it is that working class deserves to have their own sentiments. The Inspector replies her with sarcasm saying “her position now is that she lies with a burn-out inside on a slab.” The blunt and shocking tone of The Inspector suggests how shocking and unreasonable he feels about Mrs. Birling’s opinion. He uses the phrase “burnt out inside” to show Mrs. Birling how cruel and cold she is to judge and criticize someone who already died in pain. Priestley uses the character’s exact words “her position” against Mrs. Birling to reflect to the audience how unfair and ridiculous capitalists are, they define people only by their social status, even when someone died in a horrible way. Mrs. Birling represents capitalists, who thinks that people in the working class aren’t suppose to have complex emotions, she sees them as working machines instead of humans. But in Priestley’s view, whatever class you are in, it is your right to have your own feelings and emotions, it has nothing to do with your properties or position, everyone is equal as everyone is human. Furthermore, Priestley illustrates his opinion of equality in the conversation between The Inspector and Sheila. When Sheila told The Inspector about how she got Eva Smith fired just because she was jealous of her, The Inspector questions her by saying “You used the power you had, as the daughter of a good customer, to punish a girl just because she made you feel like that?” The rhetorical question Priestley uses presents his opinion that people shouldn’t be able to abuse their privileges to punish innocent others. He also reveals how unequal the society was at that time and the huge differences in power between the working class and the upper middle class. Priestley uses The Inspector to criticize the greed of capitalists who takes everything away and leave nothing to the working class. He advocates socialism and being equal in the society while everyone should have the same power, rights, and the same status in certain respects.
Another socialist idea Priestley uses The Inspector to deliver is to take responsibility for your actions, that everyone in the society has responsibility for each other. When The Inspector is questioning Mrs. Birling about Eva Smith, Mr. Birling claims that The Inspector should apologize for his attitude, he also tries to impress and scare The Inspector by saying that he is a “public man”. The Inspector interrupts his sentence by saying “Public man, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” The blunt tone of The Inspector suggests that he is warning all the public people and capitalists, and perhaps the audience members who would be wealthy, that the more privileges you have, heavier the responsibilities are on your shoulder. Not only you should take responsibility for yourself, but also people who are linked to you in you life; you should take responsibility for the community and the entire society. The Inspector is gaining in power and control over the situation in Act 2, he “massively” silences Birling with a put-down. It shows that Priestley’s criticism towards Mr. Birling, who represents capitalists, not to see that the public positions they are in entail a duty of responsibility to other people, and he reminds the audience that everyone who has power must come accept corresponding responsibilities. Moreover, Priestley also shows the importance of taking responsibility when The Inspector is summarizing how did the Birling family cause Eva Smith to die. Before his last speech, he asserts to the Birings that “each of you helped to kill her.” The incisive tone The Inspector uses and his emotive accusation creates an harsh atmosphere and suggests that he wants every one of them to remember what they did, to remember they all have responsibilities for Eva’s death. Priestley uses The Inspector to sum up, showing that the morally neglectful actions of the upper middle class family have condemned a working class girl to her death, and nobody in the family is without blame, no one can avoid or disclaim their responsibility, and they have to pay for what they did. Priestley uses The Inspector to warn society, especially the rich with power and privileges, that everyone has responsibility in the community; that the privileges you own will always equal to the amount of responsibility you should take. He also conveys the idea of everyone in the society links to each other and eventually you will have to take responsibility of what you did no matter what position you are in.
The Inspector’s final speech is extremely important because it is a blistering delivery of Priestley’s socialist message. The Inspector starts his speech in a solemn tone by saying “Just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone?but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smith and John Smith still left with us.” The use of imperative verbs at the start makes the speech more strong and persuasive, it creates more power in his words. Priestley uses the pattern of three and the polysyndeton of “and” to reveal that there are huge number of poor working class people in the society, and they are all unfairly and unequally treated just because they are poor and in a lower class. The name “Smith” is a very common surname in Britain; it highlights that Eva actually represents other poor or disadvantage members in the society. The Inspector says that “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 emotive list Priestley uses gets to the heart of what makes us human. He proves to the capitalists that working class are also human beings, they are not ruthless machines, they have complex emotions just like everybody else, they deserve to be treated with respect and equality. We are all the same no matter which class we are in or what jobs we do, we are all human with equal rights. The use of collective pronouns “we” and “ours” in his speech indicates the importance of seeing people as together, unified, a community regardless of class and helping each other like a big family. Priestley shows us that there are still large amount of inequality and unfairness exist between classes, as a community, we should let go of our prejudice, we should care about each other, share everything we have, not defining people by their class and treat each other equally in order to make the society a better and more peaceful place. Moreover, Priestley also conveys the idea of community and responsibility further in The Inspector’s speech. The Inspector express Priestley’s idea by saying “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” The technique of using collective pronouns “we” represents that we are living as a community, living as a unified group rather than as individuals. The three short sentences in a row strength the idea of socialism opinion that we are united and we have responsibilities in the society. Priestley wants to convey the message that our action, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant, always will affect others’ lives in different ways. Priestley sees community as more important than individual interests.
Furthermore, at the end of his speech, The Inspector adds a clear warning about what will happen if we ignore our responsibilities and continue living as self-concerned individuals. He predicts that if we didn’t learn the lesson, we will be “taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” These three things symbolize pain, war and conflicts will come if the society doesn’t change their way of thinking. The words “fire” and “anguish” have appeared in the Bible to reference hell and the end of the world, it suggests that Priestley is warning the society that if men and women are unwilling to take responsibility for one another here on earth, then they’ll be sent to hell to learn the lesson then. This interpretation fits the idea of inspector Goole being a ghost from afterlife or sending message from God to warn people about the consequences of their actions if they don’t learn to take responsibility for their behaviors. The use of “fire, blood and anguish” also relates to the war, as it suggests that The Inspector is warning people that if men and women refuse to look after each other, World War I and World War II are going to happen, with the strike action in 1926 and the Great Depression in 1930s, which Priestley’s 1945 audience already knew about. Additionally, he reveals that the reasons these painful things happened is because people didn’t learn the lesson of the importance of being united and live as a community, they follow capitalism which leads these tragedies to happen. Priestley shows the importance of socialism again to the audience by presenting the brutal consequences of following capitalism, he shows how significant it is to be in the community and only socialism can lead the society to peace and happiness. The last speech of The Inspector fully expresses Priestley’s idea of socialism. Priestley explains that the story hasn’t finished with Eva’s death, there are other women and men need looking after, and it’s essential that we all take responsibility for our actions towards others including those less fortunate than ourselves. We should live as a community and taking care of each other, this is a lesson of life and it’s the only way to have a happy, equal and peaceful society.
In conclusion, Priestley uses The Inspector to fully express his socialist opinions. The mysterious inspector is actually the voice of Priestley himself. He emphasizes the importance of being in a community and everyone should take responsibilities for our actions. Priestley criticizes the Edwardian class system, he stands for justice and equal, he conveys the idea that everyone is the same and should have the same rights. Also, the attitude of Sheila and Eric at the end suggests that Priestley has hope in the younger generation, those who will shape the future society. He believes that the younger generation will stand up to the upper classes, who are set in their old ways, and they are the one who can change the society and lead the world to peace and joy again. Priestley wrote the play in order to express his socialist point of view and encourages people to follow the ideas of socialism, to learn from the mistakes of the past, to recognize that selfish pursuit of riches and power can be destructive, to be aware that our lives are all linked that our behaviors affect one another, to distinguish legal and moral behaviors and to see the need to create a better society. Priestley tries to use The Inspector to awaken the compassion, guilt and repentance deep down in people’s hearts. We need to take care of each other and be brave enough to take responsibilities for our actions. The world is not made of cold relationships of interest, but made of love and care which are more important than anything in the world.