‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play written in 1945 but set in 1912, which was before World War One, the Great Depression and World War Two. J. B. Priestley, an idealistic socialist, wrote the play trying to warn his audience of the problems of society as it was. The play set in Brumley, England was written at a time when communities were trying to rebuild themselves after World War Two and society was still divided into clear-cut classes. The story focuses on the Birlings celebrating an engagement when an Inspector calls.
The Birlings are able to have these values because they have money, own a business and are prominent members of the higher class of society. This family like others at the time were capitalists, they believed that a person was worth the money they owned, they only earned money for themselves and their families. Priestley did not agree with this way of living, he felt that the community should be reformed to live by socialist views, which were that people should all be equal and work towards the good of the community.
Priestley used the play as an effort to reform the community he was living in. He used all of his characters to convince us of the need to change, but he implemented different dramatic techniques to manipulate our feelings and eventually our views. The social context of the play was complex, involving many factors. In each particular point Priestley tries to convince the audience, that the bad outcomes are due to the capitalist community, whilst a socialist society would have avoided these problems altogether.
The capitalist families, such as the Birlings and Gerald Croft (Sheila Croft’s fianci?? e) seem to be ignorant of the lower classes; to set this scene, Priestley uses a stage direction of ‘The lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives and then it should be brighter and harder’ (p1) to show this ignorance that the inspector lifts through his questioning. The pink lighting is almost like the Birling congregation is wearing rose-tinted glasses, which only emphasises Priestley’s dislike of capitalist practices.
In a capitalist society the rich would associate with the rich and only the rich, whilst Priestley was trying to promote the idea of trying to abolish these divides and make everyone equal. Priestley the socialist tried to convince the audience of his ideas. Although he never said the word ‘socialism’, he discreetly points out the flaws he saw in the current way of living, the ‘capitalist’ way of living.
The Inspector was in the play to convey Priestley’s point of view and to draw out each of the characters involvement in the death of Eva Smith, who seems to be an average person such as John Smith or Joe Bloggs, as the inspector informs the family near the end of the play, “One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us,” (p56) This proves to me that Eva was a character Priestley used to touch the hearts of the audience (with the help of the inspector) due to her pitiful life and unfortunate meetings with this capitalist family.