He is solid and there is a kind of presence about him but Priestley gives him the name Goole, which is similar to the word ghoul meaning ghostly. Because of Mr. Birling’s importance he knows most of the police in Brumley. “You’re new, aren’t you? I’m still on the bench-so I know the Brumley police officers.” but as he doesn’t seem to know this inspector it tells us he is either new or not who he says he is.
The inspector does change the family. First of all he orchestrates a conversation between Sheila and Gerald leaving Gerald to confess about his relationship with Eva Smith whom he had known as Daisy Renton. Sheila breaks off her engagement to Gerald, which means the life she had mapped out for herself has now changed “I think you’d better take this with you (She hands him the ring)”. This conversation between her and Gerald is where we first see Sheila’s observation of the inspector; this is where we become aware that she knows the inspector already knows everything. This is when she starts to take the role of sidekick in a play, which has elements of the “whodunit” genre. “He knows (She looks at him almost in triumph)”. A lot of police Inspectors sidekicks do show their triumph if they come up with an answer to a mystery.
When Sheila makes her confession she breaks down the fourth wall between the stage and the audience for the first time. In the Royal National Theatre production Sheila was making eye contact with some of the audience and this was unnerving as though the audience were the jury. Sheila takes the inspector’s side on a number of occasions. She knows what he is trying to do and that he will succeed in doing it. She also knows that he is trying to teach them all a lesson and the fact that he may not even be an inspector is completely irrelevant. Sheila tells her mother not to build class walls because he will only knock the walls down. She warns people not to conceal anything from the inspector because he knows the truth and her mother and Gerald would only be digging larger holes. “Mother-I begged you and begged you to stop -”
Towards the end we realize that the inspector is not what he appears to be. It is almost as though he has come from the future. We can see this through dramatic irony for example Mr. Birling talks about the unsinkable Titanic and not knowing about the world wars that were to follow shortly after this event “Titanic – and unsinkable”, “Silly little war scares” but the inspector tells the audience that men “will be taught in blood and fire and anguish.” This tells us that he knows what lies ahead for example the two world wars and Gerald and Eric are likely to be conscripted this is also Priestley using dramatic irony.
The inspector seems to represent a warning to the Birlings and Gerald to change their ways and to think about other people. He seems to be the preacher and the moral of the play. A lot of the time he conveys his own views about women and the classes. He seems to be the perfect caring person. The writer J.B. Priestley didn’t like people similar to the character Arthur Birling. Birling is a capitalist and he proves this by saying “that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own”.
Priestley doesn’t like the ignorance of the Birling family of the poverty around them. In a way Priestley on more than one occasion portrayed a little of himself in the Inspector. The last speech that the inspector made near the end of the play was very deep and meaningful. The fact that it was quite biblical tells us that there is a moral and it also gives him more authority as he gets the audiences attention. This moral is that everyone is equal and therefore should be treated equally and should be looked after equally.
“But just remember this. One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left 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. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
This the second time that the fourth wall between the stage and audience is broken in the Royal National Theatre production. This speech is powerful because it uses the power of three-“millions and millions and millions” and “Fire and blood and anguish”. Also the inspector identifies with the audience by using the word “we”. “Members of one body” is quoted from the New Testament in the Bible (Romans 12:1-5)
“Fire and blood and anguish” is quoted from the Old Testament. This speech makes the Inspector sound like a New Testament angel of conscience and then an Old Testament prophet. He gives the Birlings an opportunity to repeat and change their ways. At the Royal National Theatre production it was clear that the inspector’s speech was aimed at the audience because the house lights came on so it included us and he was talking directly to us. The Eva Smiths in the modern day world are the poverty stricken, the unlucky people and the people who have never had the chance to become successful, the people who have always been knocked back and not listened to. This is the reason the audience is made to feel guilty in a production when this fourth wall comes down.
At the end of it all Sheila and Eric are the only ones who seem to have learnt something. Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald the older ones who should know better dismiss it and want to get back to their normal lives as soon as possible, “You’ll have a good laugh over it yet”. This could have been intentional because Sheila and Eric have longer to live and therefore have longer to change things. This is why the inspector is at the centre of the play because he has changed everything and taught a lot and most things that the family will go on to do will remind them of him because he affected and changed them so much. Maybe Sheila and Eric have learnt but what have the people in the present day learnt? The dramatic irony in the play, which is the fact that Eric and Gerald may have had to be conscripted to go to war in the near future, shows us that we cannot predict the future and that if we don’t learn then we will keep being punished in “fire and blood and anguish”.