A play of social morals

Incidents when Sheila clearly contradicts her parents lead Mrs Birling to remark to the Inspector that “You seem to be making a great impression on the child”. The Inspector’s response: ” we often make an impression on the young ones” is proved to be very true. The younger characters, Sheila, Eric and to an extent Gerald, are able to see the Inspector’s message clearly. However, the older characters are too entrenched in their beliefs and still stubbornly cling to what they believe in.

After the inspectors departure Sheila, supported by Eric tries to make her parents understand the moral of the affair, as they show no sign of having learnt their lesson from the night’s events, she despairingly says: “you don’t seem to have learnt anything”. There is definitely a marked difference between the attitudes and values of the older characters in the play and the younger ones. Privately it is apparent, that Gerald feels the same as Eric and Sheila, but he cannot afford to agree with them if he wishes to get back in favour with their parents, as this is the only way that he can hope to re-start the engagement with Sheila.

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It is very apparent that this play is not only a play of social criticism but also a play of social morals. The Inspector in particular is a very moral figure when it comes to community and helping others. He has many speeches in which he talks of change and a bright future: ” One Eva Smith has gone- but there are 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.” In this speech, the Inspector underlines collective responsibility, the exact opposite of Birling’s views.

Eva is one of the most important characters in the play, yet the audience never actually see her. Priestly has intended for Eva to represent all other people who were in similar situation at the time. The name Smith is very cleverly used, as it is a very common name and can therefore represent society very effectively. Another of the Inspector’s poignant speeches is when he says: ” And I tell you tat the time will soon come when, if men will no learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”

This is probably the most famous line of the play, J.B Priestly I probably partly thinking about the world war they had just lived through- the result of governments blindly pursuing national interest at all costs. But surely also of the Russian revolution in which poor workers and peasants took over the state and exacted a bloody revenge against the aristocrats who had treated them so badly. Priestly conveyed his message efficiently, showing us how the situation can be changed, and who to depend on to change it. J.B Priestly’s play presents a fascinating study of guilt and innocence of prejudice and hypocrisy, through a very controversial social criticism.

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