Mr Birling is boasting about his views on advancements in technology and industrial relations, exuding confidence and arrogance whilst doing so. Ironically, he is Unaware that the First World War will soon break out and in spite of his confident prophecies “we are in time for a steadily increasing prosperity”, an economic collapse will plummet the planet into depression. It is not long before Mr Birling has the chance to have a “man to man” chat with Gerald, Mr Birling makes grand speeches giving his views on technology and development of industry, emphasising his opinion that a man should only care about himself and his family and no-one else, ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own’. It is at this moment when Birling is at him most conceited that the inspector “coincidentally” calls.
The lighting on stage changes from “pink and intimate” to a “rose-tinted glow” which reflects the mood in the room. Despite not being a large man the inspector is described to create “an impression of massiveness”. The character has his own lighting cue and so therefore must be critical and important to the plot, what’s more, it shows how much his presence has impacted on the mood of the set as the light triggers uncertainty that ripples through the Birling household “what’s the matter with you?”
The inspector arrives just after Birling makes his hearty speech which adds dramatic irony to the play as everything that he just proclaimed is soon questioned and disproved by the inspector. After Birling’s demeanour has been cracked, his previous assurances emphasize how complacent the men of his generation are. Questioning in this manner can also allow the audience see what the effect of guilt is upon the characters.
After the inspector has introduced himself and stated the reason for his presence he begins the narrative of Eva Smith and engages in dialogue with the Birling’s. The inspector asks questions to which he already knows the answers but carries on enquiring anyway. This tells me that he does not question for the purpose of gaining information, but to force the Birling’s and Gerald to put their hands up and reconcile to the sin that they have committed.
The inspector has a photograph of a woman and from it Mr Birling admits that he once employed her in his factory but had sacked her over an industrial dispute over wages, “we were paying the usual rates and if they didn’t like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else.” Priestly builds up tension by only allowing one person to see the photograph at any one time which makes it more personal. This has the audience asking, why is he questioning in this manner? Is there an ulterior motive that he is concealing? What is that picture truly of? The audience feel more involved and enjoy guessing the answers to what is yet ambiguous. The inspector interrogates in this way until he reaches Gerald, in which case he drops the name “Daisy Renton” into the conversation whom Gerald immediately recognizes, this answers questions from the beginning of the play regarding his “absence last summer” as he admits she was a woman Gerald was secretly dating.
Another mention of class difference is made when he states that the two could not be together as it would not be “socially acceptable”. The inspector unravels the story bit by bit but making sure that everybody speaks their mind before he shows them how they were involved and what they did wrong. Using this particular method of questioning incorporates dramatic irony as the audience have deduced each character is culpable, but allowing the inspector to disprove the characters adds to his omniscience thus increasing his powerful presence.
The themes of the play can be disputed but I feel that it was a didactic play as it was devised as a method to convey a message of equality amongst all the classes. As well being didactic it has elements of morality as each member seems to be guilty for committing one of the seven deadly sins which links to it being a “who-dunnit” mystery too because each character is liable for Eva’s death in one way or another. Relating back to the idea of each character committing one of the deadly sins, Birling fired the girl for striking for higher pay (greed), Sheila had her fired from her next job (envy), Eric and Gerald exploited her situation out of affection for her (lust), and the final blow came when Mrs Birling refused to help her (pride). All of the characters did something wrong which led to her untimely demise. Committing deadly sins could also relate back to the name Eve as both ideas are based upon the bible.
The characters realize what they have done and begin to understand the penalty of their actions. Regret, remorse and guilt are the potent emotions integrated into the play to help the characters recognize their faults “no, you wont forget” .It is also to help them to overcome their arrogance and try to create a better future for themselves and others. The characters understand what it was that they did wrong “she wasn’t just cheap labour-she was a person”, and begin to reform their personas. The people who feel the most regret are Sheila and Eric “I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it”. If there was one thing the inspector managed to achieve it was to bring bickering siblings together.
Before the inspector departs he leaves with the family a didactic speech that haunts the mind long after it is over. “One Eva Smith has gone but millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths remain with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do.” The Inspector is talking about a collective duty to protect and help others, everyone is society is intertwined, in the same way that the characters are linked to Eva Smith.
Everyone is a part of “one body”, and we should remember our responsibility to others. The views he is advocating are similar to those of Priestley who was a socialist. He leaves us with a warning of what would happen if we did not change our ways, “fire and blood and anguish. This speech was probably aimed at society as well as the Birling’s to warn them of the “fire blood and anguish” that would come with the dawning of war.
Once the inspector departs the family talks about the inspector and his peculiar method of questioning “but was really a police inspector”. After the intense enquiry there is a moment of contemplation regarding whether or not the inspector was who he claimed to be. The Birling’s suspicions are confirmed when Gerald returns with news that the inspector may not have been who he claimed to be and that in fact he was a fraud. Soon the family loosen up and the older characters forget their guilt, they return to believing that their actions were justifiable whereas the younger two, Sheila and Eric still feel terrible and try to convince their parents to feel the same way too “but it doesn’t make any real difference, y’know”. The two older characters will not admit that they were in the wrong but Eric is fully aware of his actions “the fact remains that I did what I did”. This could be Priestly saying that hope for the future lies with the young.
Being as arrogant and as pompous as the man at the beginning of the play, Birling decides to prove that he is right by calling the infirmary and enquiring about Eva Smith, they confirm that there was no girl who committed suicide. Despite this new revelation Sheila points out that nothing has changed when she says “so I suppose we are all nice people now” in a sarcastic fashion.
After the inspector was revealed to be a fraud the audience begins to speculate as to who or what he may have truly been.
Priestly was known to be interested in theories concerning time and space, especially Ouspensky’s theory that everybody lives out a life that they repeat for eternity, and Dunne’s of precognition and the human experience of time. My personal belief is that the inspector was the voice of conscience “he was certainly our police inspector”. Priestly insinuates that the inspector may have been more than human by using the second name of Goole, this could imply that he is ethereal or simply a hallucination of spiritual proportions.
The story reaches its climax when Birling receives a call that a girl died of disinfectant and that an inspector was heading their way to question them. The story ends there and it is left at a cliff-hanger which is dramatic as he leaves the audience wanting more. It has also instilled the fear that the previous two hours may be repeated, this could be an example of a theory that Priestley was interested in where life is a constant cycle.
Priestly used the inspector to convey his own socialist views and at the same time try to help people over-come self interest and begin to be more considerate to those around them. He wanted people to understand what the effects of social Darwinism was doing to society and did his best to try and stop it. It is didactic, in that man must take full responsibility for his actions as well as their consequences. He guides his future as he lives in his present.