How Guilt is Presented in "An Inspector Calls"

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 595 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Words: 595|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Table of contents

  1. The Manifestation of Guilt
  2. Effects of Guilt on Characters
  3. The Theme of Collective Guilt
  4. Symbolism of Eva Smith
  5. Conclusion

Guilt, a complex and deeply human emotion, serves as a prominent thematic element in the play "An Inspector Calls" by J.B. Priestley. The exploration of guilt is a central aspect of the characters' experiences and the overall narrative. This essay delves into the intricate ways in which guilt is presented throughout the play, examining its effects on the characters and the broader themes of responsibility and morality.

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The Manifestation of Guilt

In "An Inspector Calls," guilt is portrayed as a powerful force that gradually unravels the façades of seemingly respectable characters. The unexpected visit of Inspector Goole disrupts the celebratory engagement dinner of the Birlings, leading to revelations about their past actions. As the Inspector probes into the death of Eva Smith, each character's guilt is revealed through a series of revelations. For example, Arthur Birling's guilt stems from his callous treatment of workers and his refusal to take responsibility for their welfare. Sheila Birling, initially dismissed as a "child," also confronts her guilt for her impulsive actions that contributed to Eva's downfall. The Inspector's questioning exposes their moral transgressions, and the subsequent emotional turmoil highlights the inner conflicts caused by guilt.

Effects of Guilt on Characters

Guilt exerts a profound impact on the characters' emotional states and behaviors. As their guilt becomes undeniable, characters such as Sheila and Eric experience a sense of remorse and self-awareness. Sheila's transformation from a naïve young woman to a more compassionate individual reflects her acknowledgment of the consequences of her actions. Similarly, Eric's guilt over his mistreatment of Eva leads him to admit his wrongdoing and seek redemption. On the other hand, Arthur Birling remains steadfast in his denial of guilt, emphasizing his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions. The differing reactions highlight the various ways in which guilt can shape a person's character and choices.

The Theme of Collective Guilt

Priestley also presents guilt as a collective responsibility rather than an individual burden. The closing remarks of the play emphasize the interconnectedness of humanity and the need to recognize our shared culpability. The Inspector's final speech underscores the idea that society's indifference and disregard for the well-being of others contribute to the perpetuation of injustices. Priestley's message is that true change can only be achieved when individuals confront their collective guilt and work towards a more just and equitable society. The play serves as a critique of the prevailing social norms and highlights the importance of acknowledging one's role in perpetuating societal inequalities.

Symbolism of Eva Smith

The character of Eva Smith serves as a symbolic representation of the marginalized and oppressed in society. Her presence in the play is not limited to her individual identity but extends to the broader issues of class and inequality. Eva's tragic fate is a result of the callous actions of several characters, reflecting their disregard for the less fortunate. The characters' guilt for contributing to Eva's demise symbolizes their guilt for perpetuating a system that exploits and discriminates against the vulnerable. This symbolism underscores the broader social critique embedded in the play.

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"An Inspector Calls" masterfully explores the intricate nature of guilt and its impact on individuals and society. The manifestations of guilt in the characters' actions and reactions, the theme of collective responsibility, and the symbolic representation of Eva Smith collectively contribute to the play's exploration of this complex emotion. As the characters confront their guilt, they are forced to reevaluate their values, behaviors, and the moral fabric of the society they inhabit. Priestley's work serves as a reminder of the need to acknowledge our actions, take responsibility for their consequences, and strive for a more compassionate and just world.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

How Guilt is Presented in “An Inspector Calls”. (2023, September 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“How Guilt is Presented in “An Inspector Calls”.” GradesFixer, 07 Sept. 2023,
How Guilt is Presented in “An Inspector Calls”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
How Guilt is Presented in “An Inspector Calls” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 07 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from:
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