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About this sample
Words: 1644 |
9 min read
Published: Aug 14, 2023
Words: 1644|Pages: 4|9 min read
How is responsibility shown in 'An Inspector Calls'? This essay discusses how, during J.B. Priestley's play 'An Inspector Calls', the responsibility of members of society is extensively questioned and explored, as the clashes of contemporary political views are presented for the audience to debate. Priestley's own opinion on responsibility reflect in the play in the form of personal endorsements from the Inspector, who is essentially a socialist mouthpiece; a puppet on a string for priestly to use to commend the left-wing ideology. Through the course of the play the Inspector and Mr Birling - two strongly opinionated men that share their views is vastly different style - both provide their view on the responsibilities of member of the Edwardian society, and battle to prove that they are right.
Priestly explores responsibility is many ways â most prominently is the fight between socialism of capitalism, and Priestley's more than clear opinion on the matter. Mr Birling, a prosperous businessman who cares only 'the progress we're making' in improving the lives of the upper class and bringing them even more comfort and luxury shares his conservative, capitalist views from the very beginning of the play when he declares that he must make a speech and proceeds to share his disdain towards 'community and all that nonsense'. The paring of the word 'community and nonsense' show how little it means to him; he lives his life solely on the principles of looking out for number one and how he must 'mind his own business and look after himself and his own.' The repetition of 'own' and 'self' places heavy emphasis on the lack of responsibility for other Mr Birling feels and his highly inflated, almost narcissistic self-worth. This repetition also suggests that these words remain at the front of Birlings head at all times; he has built his entire personality and shaped his life around these principles. Priestly purposefully creates a remarkably dislikeable character for reason. The hatred a post World War two 1945 audience would feel towards the arrogant Mr Birling and his dislike of community and disbelief of a war is designed to rile the audience up and create a subconscious association of Capitalism with people like Birling: Selfish, greedy, uncaring individuals, encouraging them to favour Socialism. In this sense the play is essentially propaganda; responsibility and community involvement - all things that would be favoured by a 1945 audience that experienced blitz spirit, rations, and a general environment of community involvement - are core values of the Inspector.
The question of 'should everyone be responsible for everyone' is heavily discussed in An Inspector Calls. Birling doesn't think so. For example, Eva smith 'was one of [his] employees and then [he] discharged her.' This demonstrates that their relationship was purely work based. He did not care about her, nor did he have any care as to what happened to her when she was fired or how she was in her outside life. The use of a carefree, casual tone also expresses that this felt like the natural thing to do and emphasises his lack of care and responsibility for anyone else, especially the lower classes. This statement is furthered by Birling explaining how he personally feels he 'can't take any responsibility for what happened,' almost suggesting it would be burden to him to have to be even partly responsible, exemplifying Birling's hatred of community and increasing the audiences dislike of the character. In contrast, the socialist Inspector very much agrees that 'public men have responsibilities' and repeatedly reminds Mr Birling that his views are harmful and selfish, telling him he should be more empathic, reminding Mr Birling that 'it would do us all a bit of good if sometimes we tried to put ourselves in the place of these young women counting pennies in their dingy little back bedrooms.' In his closing speech at the end of play he explains how 'We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.' The use of Anaphora with the first-person plural pronoun 'we' makes the speech all the more powerful, showing juxtaposition between the Inspectors 'we' (socialism) mindset and the 'I' mindset (capitalism) the Inspector is attempting to break Mr Birling out of for good. The Inspector also used the noun 'members,' a profoundly new word for Mr Birling, yet one that the audience hopes will prevail for the rest of his life. Again also is the use of 'responsible,' the main word outlining the clash between Mr Birling and the Inspector.
The Inspector also spends a great deal of time trying to encourage the rest of the Birlings to take more responsibility. The change this causes is perhaps most notable in the character of Sheila Birling - A character that begins materialistic, naive, and rather dislikeable but morally evolves into a responsible character that understands the flaws in society. We see evidence of this in Act 1 where she shows respect for the lower classes and a profound knowledge of working rights and conditions, expressing that 'these girls aren't cheap labour - there people!' in response to Birling comment about finding cheap labour in young lower-class girls. Mr Birlings dehumanizing language that removes humanity and individuality from the workers - by removing the acknowledgement of them as people - is contrasted by Sheila calling them people, showing that she can see the thing that Mr Birling cannot in his arrogant, irresponsible personality, but the Inspector can in his socialist ideology. This confirms that Sheila is becoming more responsible on part of the Inspector. The idea of second-hand responsibility and the Inspectors influence of the younger generations. The inspector himself even admits that they are 'more impressionable' - is explored in the later acts as the audience sees the introduction of Eric's problems to the fray. When the Inspector leaves after his final speech Eric's reaction is very similar to Sheila's, both of which are in great contrast to Mr and Mrs, who's main concerns are the 'public scandal' it could cause were the information of the Inspectors visit to leak, with Mr Birling angrily remind how he 'was almost certain for a knighthood in the next honours list'. During act one Eric, a character who spends a good deal of the play being silenced by his parents, speaks out in a first small act of defiance, telling his father that its not a 'free country' if the women he fires 'can't go and work somewhere else.' Later in the play the responsibility he takes increases, and the Inspectors influence takes hold. In a surprising change of character, he exclaims 'oh for god's sake!' and laughs at Birling, asking him 'why does it matter now if they give you a knighthood or not.' This outburst from Eric is powerful, with his using blaspheming language in the phrase 'oh for god's sake!' that he knows will be frowned on by his upper-class formal parents, but not worrying because he now knows that he must take some responsibility. This illuminates how the Inspector has opened his eyes to the rest of the world and the struggles faced by the lower classes. Shortly after Eric makes a sarcastic reflection of his father's speech from the start of the play, mocking how he told them 'That a man has to make his own way, look after himself and mind his own business', and finishes by insulting Mr Birling, pointing out how he 'didn't notice that [Birling] told [The Inspector] that is every man for himself' suggesting Birling was afraid of the Inspector. Eric is tired of living under Birling's principles, and is taking the responsibility of standing up to Birling, and his capitalist views, much like Sheila who also goes under moral evolution, leaving both the younger Birlings able to see a more inclusive, equal future and grow responsible for others as they reflect on their mistakes and their influence on the story for the audience is not certain whether Eva Smith ever existed at all of Eva Smith. Priestly puts emphasis on the younger people being 'more impressionable.' He does this because he feels the younger generations are the hope for change. This is reflected in the play; the younger generations who are represented by Sheila and Eric are able to see a better future, in contrast to the stubborn older generations, represented by Mr and Mrs Birling, as well as Gerald, see no such future and are caged in by their capitalist views, and lack of responsibility for others.
In conclusion, in an Inspector calls Responsibility is explored in many ways, with strong focus on the responsibility of members of a 1945, class focused, society and the neglect the'Eva and John Smiths'' A metaphor created by of society face due to the lack of responsibility the rich, capitalists take. There is also considerable emphasis on the generation barrier and how this effects different ages perception of responsibility, and how the younger generation are able to adapt and change to take more responsibility for the benefit of the less fortunate members of society. Priestley does this to show the benefits socialism, his personally preferred political ideology, will how on society, and how capitalism can damage it.
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Stevenson, R. L. (1886). Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Longmans, Green, and Co.
Thompson, N. (2000). An Inspector Calls: York Notes for GCSE. Pearson.
Berman, R. (1987). J. B. Priestley. Macmillan International Higher Education.
Blythe, H. (1992). Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain. Viking.
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Timms, E. (2010). Understanding 'An Inspector Calls': A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents. Greenwood.
Deery, P. (2003). A Blueprint for Civilisation: J.B. Priestley's Post-war Utopianism. Journal of Australian Studies, 27(76), 111-122.
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