Friday, February 17, 2012

Examine and Comment on the Dramatic Effect of the Role of the Inspector in ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B. Priestley

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Examine and Comment on the Dramatic Effect of the Role of the Inspector in ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B. Priestley


An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley, was written post-world war II, but is set in the time period of the early 110s. This is a time of great innovation and great threat, as the Titanic was about to make its maiden voyage and trouble in the Balkans about to spill out into the rest of continental Europe. Britain at the time was one of a post-industrial revolution. The top % of the country, the upper class, possessed 8% of the wealth. I am going to describe the ways the inspector manages to tactfully show the Birlings that they are responsible for the death of Eva Smith, at points, gaining their respect, and on the other hand, sometimes gaining their resentment of the fact that he ever arrived on their doorstep.


Firstly you can see that the Inspector is a passionate socialist by the way the his line of enquiry alters, it turns to a more personal line- as though he believes entirely in what he is saying.


You helped but you didnt start it (rather savagely) to Birling.


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The Inspectors role in the play is not simply to confront each character with the truth, but to force each character to admit the truth they already know. He works logically through the characters present one at a time, partly because he recognizes that ‘otherwise, theres a muddle,’ and partly because, given the chance, the characters are all quick to defend each other, or to call upon outside help, in order to avoid accepting the truth of what the inspector suggests.


The Inspector arrives just after Birling has been setting out his views of life that every man must only look out for himself. The Inspectors role is to show that this is not the case. Throughout the play he demonstrates how people are responsible for the way in which they affect the lives of others; his views are summed up in his visionary and dramatic final speech.


“We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other”


The Birling elders respect the Inspector, this is strange for the 110s as the Inspector is from a lower class, however, here he is controlling Birling, but as they respect him they, are intrigued with him. The following phrases peculiar, suspicious, rude and assertive illustrate their view towards him. Even so they let the Inspector tramples all over them like wet grass-weak and feeble. Even the arrogant Birling recognises this after the interrogation. He even acknowledges that the Inspector has Socialist Tendencies prejudice...socialist.... you let him bluff.


Even in the stage directions at the beginning of the play the immenseness of the Inspector is evoked in the audiences mind.


‘Pink until the inspector arrives ...brighter and harder’


The Inspectors solidity is ever present.


(Dryly) I dont play golf and Stop!


The inspector is arctic and pointed; cold and sharp the two words often used in conjunction with reality- in this case Priestleys Socialist reality.


The Inspectors German like efficiency of controlling the conversation throughout the play, words and phrases such as stop, I dont want, sharply and harshly help to show this.


The Inspectors role in the play is a moral one. As the tension increases, as does the passion, he is anything but plain and stereotypical in his investigation. The dialogue between the two Inspectors visits confronts this.


He was rather queer


The Inspector is the catalyst for the events of the play, without him, none of the characters secrets would have ever come into the open, each for a variety of reasons. For Birling could not see that he did anything unforgivable or wrong in sacking a troublemaker; Sheila thought her rather spiteful jealousy of a pretty shop assistant didn’t mean anything.


“Yes, but it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time”


Gerald felt the need to conceal his involvement with the girl from a jealous fianc�e; Mrs Birling is too cold to have known what the girl was feeling.’ The effect seems lost on her. Eric had resorted to theft, which he too needed to conceal. Without the Inspectors purposefulness, each character could not or would not have acknowledged their behaviour.


The Inspectors name, Goole, also has tremendous significance. Ghoul is another form of the word, it has exactly the same sound but its meaning has a great bearing on the play. A Ghoul is seen as an evil spirit. To Birling and his upper class peers, this is an accurate interpretation of the Inspector. In the play, the Inspector caused outrage. The idea of the Inspector being something extraordinary seemed to be briefly confronted by Sheila but dismissed just as rapidly.


“Its queer very queer”


The Inspector is like a spirit an Omniscient. He represents the future, he is the Birlings chance of repent but only Eric and Sheila realise this.


The inspector has a moral dimension, which makes him different from an ordinary policeman he is more concerned with right and wrong than with what is legal. The Inspector sternly tells Birling, for example, that ‘its better to ask for the earth, as a worker might do, than to take it.’ Birling makes it blatantly obvious that he does do this.


“If youre easy with me, Im easy with you”


This shows that he has compassion for those who are willing to accept their responsibility, but nothing so simple as forgiveness. After all, the girls still dead though.


Each character is punished in an appropriate way. Birling fears for his familys reputation at the inquest, Sheila feels shame for her selfishness, Gerald has his affair revealed in front of Sheila, Mrs Birling has her illusions about the respectability of her family shattered by Eric, and Eric is revealed before his indulgent parents as a spoilt and inadequate young man. But notice how in each case the punishment is a consequence of their own behaviour. The Inspector himself does not bring punishment from outside. Perhaps this is why they are given a second chance at the end of the play. This shows that the inspector feels their experience should have been a warning to them, and that next time, it is the future predicted by the Inspectors final speech, that lies in store for them and for us.


All in all the Inspectors role is to see through each character. He forces each character to admit what they already secretly know. The Inspector is Priestleys vehicle for his views on social responsibility. He is the catalyst for the plays events. He controls the plays events. He has a moral dimension. He brings about each characters punishment through their own actions. He is each characters last chance, which the characters sadly chose not to use!





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