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Inspector Calls Key Scene

In: English and Literature

Submitted By rhadfield
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An Inspector Calls - Key Scene/Turning Point/ Theme

A major theme in the play ‘An Inspector Calls’ by J. B. Priestley is that of responsibility. The author’s message in the play is that society is interdependent and that we are each responsible for the welfare of all its members. He develops this theme through the experiences of the family of a wealthy, influential and ambitious industrialist, Arthur Birling.

To understand the significance of the key scene and its relationship to the theme we must first set the scene in context. The stage directions at the beginning of the play describe the Birlings as ‘pleased with themselves’. At first sight they have good reason to be: Arthur Birling is expecting to be knighted in the next honours list and his daughter, Sheila, is engaged to be married to the son of another wealthy and titled industrialist. This appeals not only to Mr Birling’s social class aspirations, but also to his capitalist values of ‘lower costs and higher profits’ through a potential merger. The key scene occurs as Mr Birling is lecturing his son, Eric, and future son-in- law, Gerald on the nature of society:

. . .a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.

His point of view is self- centred and entirely the opposite of the responsibility Priestley wishes his audience to adopt. As Mr Birling utters these words the Inspector of the title calls to show the Birlings that this attitude is both wrong and immoral.

The mysterious Inspector investigates the consciences of each of the Birlings and Gerald to show them how their thoughtless actions affect others. He reveals their apparent involvement in events leading to the suicide of a girl called Eva Smith. The revelations divide the family as the older generation remain entrenched in their selfish ways and the younger ones learn the lesson of responsibility.…...

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