He believed that whether we acknowledged it or not, we are in a community and have a responsibility to look after others. He wrote «An Inspector Calls» to highlight these beliefs and share them. In writing this essay, I intend to show Priestley’s aims in writing the play, how he showed these aims and how successful he was in conveying his ideas. You can only speculate on the aims of a playwright in writing a play.
In the case of «An Inspector Calls», a valid speculation would be that the author aimed to educate the audience through the characters’ realisation of their role in Eva Smith’s demise and thus their ndividual responsibility towards other people. Arthur Birling is the kind of character the whole play warns against. «A hard-headed business man», he believes that society is as it should be. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and there is a large gap between the two. He believes that «a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own».
When put with other things Birling has said in the play, we see that Priestley’s views do not concur with Birling’s and he has added statements to make the audience see Birling’s views as false. Birling’s onfidence in the predictions he makes – that the Titanic is «unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable», that «The Germans don’t want a war. Nobody wants a war» and that «we’re in for a time of increasing prosperity» give that audience the impression that his views of community and shared responsibility are misguided also.
Every one of the predictions Birling makes are wrong; the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage, World War one broke out two years after the play was set and the American stock market crashed in 1929, plunging the world into economic chaos. This leads us to egard him as a man of many words but little sense! If we contrast the character of Birling with that of the Inspector, we can see Priestly’s aims showing. The Inspector is the opposite of Birling.
Where Birling’s predictions are wrong, the Inspector predicts that if people don’t learn their responsibilities, they will be taught in «fire and blood and anguish». This prediction refers to World War I most obviously, but also can refer to World War II. The lessons of World War I weren’t learnt so the same mistakes were made and another war started; and though Priestly was unaware of it when the play was written, sixty ears on the same mistakes have caused war after war. This makes his message just as relevant to the audience of 2001 as to his intended audience.
Another contrast to Birling is that while Birling seemingly knows nothing of his family’s affairs, Sheila says of the Inspector «We hardly ever told him anything he didn’t know». At the end of Act Three, Birling seems not to have taken any of the lessons of the evening to heart. The demise of Eva Smith and the part each member of his family played in her death have not shaken his belief that «a man has to mind his own business and ook after himself and his own» and that «there’s every excuse for what (he and Mrs Birling) did» In fact, he is more concerned with his own reputation than with Eva.
Who here will suffermore than I will” He says things that should have been said to him, «you don’t realise yet all you’ve done…you don’t seem to care about anything», yet when he says these things, he is of course talking not about Eva Smith, but about his own reputation and an upcoming public scandal. The attitudes of Mr and Mrs Birling, and to an extent Gerald, and their willingness to explain away the events of the evening to hoaxes and rtfully crafted deception, all go towards the final plot twist – the inspector is returning to teach the Birlings their lesson again.
This ties in with the idea that if you don’t learn the lesson the first time, you will be taught it again, through «fire and blood and anguish». The message of the play was particularly effective to the audiences of 1946. Priestley knew that the message of his play would reach the war-weary audiences of the era more effectively than it would reach the audiences of a different time. The «fire and blood and anguish» reference to the First and Second World Wars would be very influential to the audience.
The setting of the play in 1912 allowed for predictions to be made by both Birling and Inspector Goole. The intended effect of the predictions was to make the audience see a glimpse of the kind of person the predictive character is. In the case of Birling, the audience would see him as a character whose opinion is not to be trusted, whereas the predictions made by the Inspector chill the audience and make them see that the lesson he speaks of has been re-taught through fire and blood and anguish twice already.
The audiences had experienced the horrors of war and ere not eager to experience them again, so they may think that if they followed JB Priestley’s message, they would prevent yet another world war. The play was set in 1912, and being set at this time, there was not only the opportunity for predictions, but also for a more drastic look at the relationship between the rich and the poor. The class gap of 1912 was much larger than that of 1946, and so was more noticeable to the audiences.
With the upper class, we have mentalities like that of Sybil Birling, who would seem to think that all members of the lower classes are beneath her and her family. She say to Birling «Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things,» when he compliments the cook (the cook being a member of the lower classes). This shows that she believes that the lower classes are there to serve, not to be thanked or complimented. This is a strange viewpoint for a «prominent member of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation».
With the lower classes however, we have Eva Smith, a young woman who is shown as the innocent victim of the thoughtless actions of the Birlings. This contrast is one of many in the play, set up to show one side to be better than the other. The Inspector against Birling, Eva Smith against Sybil Birling, Sheila and Eric at the end of the play against Arthur and Sybil, they all show examples of what Priestley viewed as the Right way against the Wrong way. The way the latter parties in each contrast I have mentioned act in a way such as to cause the audience to see them as in the wrong, making the other party correct.
The other parties have views similar to Priestley, so Priestley was trying to get his message of community and socialism across to the audience through the actions of the characters. Another of Priestley’s essages seems to be that there is hope for the future. On seeing how they have affected Eva Smith, both Sheila and Eric act remorsefully. The character of Sheila is fairly caring at the beginning of the play, but as events unravel, and Sheila realises her guilt, her character develops from a fairly naIve young girlish character to a more mature, understanding character.
This change is so dramatic that to compare the Sheila who at the end of the play has taken to heart the Inspectors lessons («I remember what he said, how he looked, and what he made me feel. Fire and blood and anguish. ), with the Sheila who had a young girl fired from her job because of her own personal paranoia and who acted so differently earlier, you would think they were different people. This is similar to a comparison made between the drunken, playful Eric of Act 1 with the sober serious Eric at the end of Act 3 who has learned that his own mother played a major role in driving the woman bearing his child to suicide.
The results of the Inspectors visit as regards the younger generation are total metamorphoses of character. The older generation however don’t see that they have done anything wrong. Mr and Mrs Birling are all too happy to dismiss the evenings events as false once the chance appears that the Inspector may not have been a police Inspector. Their characters stay the same virtually from beginning to end, with only the short amount of time between Eric’s part in the saga becoming known and the Inspector showing any waver in their determination that they were right.
The senior Birlings are the examples of the people who will be taught through «Fire and blood and anguish». This is very different to the younger generation. «You seem to have made a great impression on this hild Inspector» comments Birling, and is answered with the statement «We often do on the young ones. They’re more impressionable. » This implies that Priestley is trying to say that there is potential for change in the «young ones» which is not as evident in the older generation. Priestley’s aims are made clear by the Inspector largely.
As his interactions with the characters go, Inspector Goole is mysterious. He has a way of making the characters confess to him, and to themselves, their role in Eva Smiths demise. He links the separate accounts together to form an approximate biography of Eva Smith from when she eft the employment of Mr Birling up until she commits suicide. Inspector Goole has another use though – he acts as a social conscience of sorts. He acts as the voice of Priestley in the play, or the voice of Priestley’s socialist views. «We don’t live alone.
We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. » He points out that «we have to share something. If nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt,» and that «Public men Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges» to which Birling replies “you weren’t asked here to talk to me about my responsibilities. Contrary to what Arthur Birling believes, it is a very likely that the Inspector was sent to the Birlings to teach them about responsibility. The character of Inspector Goole is mysterious.
This air of mystery is intentional. He is mysterious because of his character. The name Inspector Goole is an obvious pun (Inspector A spectre, Goole A ghoul). We as an audience never find out who this Inspector is. There are many possibilities – he could be the ghost of Eva Smith avenging her death; he could be some form of cosmic balance, keeping people considerate; he could be amass hallucination brought on by too much hampagne of something in the food. He could be anybody or anything.
Priestley left the character as a mystery so as to have a larger impact on the audience, making them think more about the play, and helping them think more about the messages the play brings. Through the Inspector, the audiences are educated in their social understandings and behaviour, seeing the examples of the Birlings and hearing Inspector Goole’s prediction. The ending, as I have already pointed out, symbolises the fact that if you do not learn your lesson the first time, you will be taught it again and again.
It symbolises that you an’t run from your conscience, as the Birlings will find out. Priestley uses the dramatic twist of the Inspector returning at the end of the play to emphasis this point, and makes it more effective by placing it just as the characters are beginning to relax. It serves to ‘prick’ the consciences of both the characters and the audience. At the end of reading the play, I was left feeling as if I would like to think I had learned from the example of the Birlings and the message it contained. As it is a play though, I would have liked to see it acted out.
The ending is well crafted, leaving an pen ending to add to the dramatic effect, but looking at it differently, there is not really another way to have ended the play after that plot twist other than an open ending where it was without ruining the play itself. I think the majority of people who have seen this play would have liked to think of themselves as an Eric or a Sheila. The aims of Priestley when he wrote this play, I believe, was to make us think, to make us question our own characters and beliefs. He wasted to show us that we can change, and we can decide which views we side with.
He wanted us to ask ourselves if we wanted to e a Sheila or a Sybil, an Eric or an Arthur. Or, were we in-between like Gerald. Priestley wanted the audience to learn from the mistakes of the Birlings. I think that Priestley wanted to make a difference; not a world changing difference, but a small difference in the way people think. Then, if you think of every person who coming out of the play gave some money to a beggar in the street, you would see that Priestley did make a difference. It would have changed peoples views on society, however small those changes would be, and so Priestley achieved his aims in writing the play.