First World War

J.B Priestley manipulates his audiences in ‘An Inspector Calls’ by showing two ways of life in a community. Thus the rich way of life and the drab and sordid life that the poor are forced to live as the result of the actions of the rich people. He presents a powerful expression of social message of the rich way of life of the ‘Birling family’ in contrast to the poor way of life of the girl ‘Eva Smith’. The play was set in 1912, (two years before the start of the First World War) and presented to a later audience after the Second World War in 1945. J.B Priestley however thought that social awareness of the world for caring for one another was not practiced enough. Priestley therefore feared that if the world did not change, the cycle of events of hate, intimidation and social injustice will continue to repeat just as before as such theories have been vividly described in both Ouspensky and Dunne’s theories based on the nature of time.

Socialism is a political and economic theory advocating that land, transport, natural resources and the chief industries should be owned and managed by the state. Socialism was part of the solution but not a complete solution. For example, the Labour Party which has a socialist manifesto seems to stress idea of interdependent community but fails to adhere to their manifestos But the way that older characters remain unmoved, immovable and uncaring for anyone else but themselves is one of the horrors of the play.

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J.B Priestley wrote the play to express a social message of irresponsibility of the affluent people towards the poor and disadvantaged in society. Fascinated about the theories of the nature of time, Priestley set his play in 1912 and wrote it for an audience just coming out of the horrors of the Second World War. Proving a point outlined in Ouspensky’s theory on time, Priestley asserts if the world continues to ignore the plight of the poor, the cycle of identical lives would repeat itself if nothing of significance changes in the way people live. Priestley used the two world wars to write his play as proof or affirmation of the theory of the nature of time and the importance of compassion and socialism

The Birling family has mixed feelings about the death of Eva Smith. Mr and Mrs Birling are uncaring and unsympathetic when they heard about her death. Even Mrs Birling comments to inspector Goole “I am very sorry but I think she had only herself to blame,” (Page 43) However, Eric and Sheila are more sympathetic, remorseful and apologetic on hearing of Eva’s death though both are unaware of the girl they know by different names and treated very badly, which contributed to her death.

Thus, Mr Birling sacked her for being the ring leader of a strike action for a raise from twenty-two and six pence to twenty-five shillings per week in his factory -Birling and Company. On the other hand, Sheila got angry at her for supposedly laughing at her with the assistant at Milward’s and immediately asked the manager to sack her. Eric impregnated her and tried to help her with stolen money which she rejected. In conclusion, Mr and Mrs Birling remained unmoved and uncaring to protect their reputation in the Brumley society, while Sheila and Eric readily accept and demonstrate feelings of compassion and remorse when they hear of the death of Eva Smith.

However, the audience are not amused. They are disgusted that the rich in society are always doing evil and try to protect themselves by creating awareness that they are affluent people who can always bail themselves out in times of trouble. This is reflected when Mr Birling says, “… I was an alderman for years-and Lord Mayor two years ago-and I’m still on the bench-so I know the Brumley police officers pretty well-and I thought I’d never seen you before.” Here, Mr Birling tries to intimidate the inspector and scare him off the case. When the family learns that the inspector was fake, Mr Birling reacts with excitement and says.

“By jingo! A fake!” This is because his family reputation will not be harmed so he reacts with excitement. Eric however reacts differently against his fathers comments. Nevertheless a confirmation from the chief constable gives them a sigh of relief. At this point, the audience are disgusted and dislike the negative response coming from the older generation of the Birling Family (Mr and Mrs Birling) because when they realise that the inspector is fake and a fraud, Mr Birling comments joyfully saying, “Already we have discovered one important fact – that the fellow was a fraud and we’ve been hoaxed.”

J.B Priestley manipulates his audience through the structure of the play by convincing the Birling family and their guest he is a real inspector so they must co-operate and at the same time convey a moral and social message to all the characters involved in the Play and to the audience. At the end of each act, which is divided in three parts, the inspector puts an arbitrary question which must be answered by the family to ensure that the audience is left on a tenterhook at the end of the conclusion of each act. For example, at the end of Act one, the inspector asks “well?” This led Sheila to reiterate, “You see? What did I tell you?” This is where Priestley uses a smooth transition from one Act to the other. At the end of Act two, the Inspector asks, “If he is, then we know what to do don’t we?”

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