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The Role and Function of the Inspector in J.B Priestly's "An Inspector Calls"

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In this essay I am going to be exploring the role and function of the inspector in “An Inspector Calls“. I am going to break down his role in the play, explore his effects on the other characters and analyse his stage presence and also show his intention in coming to the Birling household. I am also going to express whether I think, in the play, the inspector is supposed to be a real person or something other. When exploring the effects that the inspector has on the other characters I will describe the characters personalities and characteristics before the inspector arrives, and then after, once the moral has been introduced, to then find out whether they have engaged in becoming a better person or not. The social and historical perspective of the play is very important as it was written in 1945 and set in 1912. There are lots of events that happened between those times that the audience would have known at the time. Most of these are mentioned by the deluded Mr Birling, who says facts that the audience know not to be true, but he says them in such a confident, superior manner that it makes the audience dislike him. He says things such as “just because the Kaiser makes a speech or two, or a few German officers have too much to drink and begin talking nonsense. The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war, except some half-civilised folk in the Balkans. And why? There’s too much at stake these days. Everything to lose, and nothing to gain by war”. Even when Eric, who is a lot more sensible than his father and sees things the way they are, and not like he wants them to be, interrupts and says “ Yes, I know- but still-” Mr Birling just says “ just let me finish, Eric. You’ve got a lot to learn yet. And I’m talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business.” This of course is relevant because the war did, in fact, happen and all the audience would have known that. The Inspectors stage presence is a very important aspect of the character because the lighting effects states “the lighting should be pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives, then it should be brighter and harder,” This reflects well on the inspector’s character and how he affects people. It also reflects on the way that in the beginning the family are acting and are not revealing their true personalities which makes it fake and more comfortable to act as if they get along, rather than being honest. However, as soon as the inspector makes himself known the group of people start revealing their true personalities and characteristics to each other and the audience, which reflects well on the sudden brighter light, we can suddenly see them for what or who they are. This comes with the inspector because it is the Inspector that reveals this to us. The descriptions of the Inspector in the stage directions is also a very big part of the inspector’s stage presence. It shows how the actor would play certain parts and how the character looks. The opening description of the Inspector in the stage directions is “the inspector need not be a big man but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. He is a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period. He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking,” This gives the impression that he is intimidating, especially to Mr Birling, who likes to be the boss and in control of everything, this situation seems to make him angry and anxious because he is not used to having someone step up and challenge him, and definitely look as if they could win. Also the way that on a few occasions the use of the phrase “cutting through massively” is put to work after the inspector’s name, indicating that he cuts over people speaking as it feels as though Mr Birling has a no-nonsense type of attitude around him and does not wish to play games. An example of the inspector’s no-nonsense way of talking is when Mr Birling says “we shall be along in a minute now. Just finishing,” talking to Sheila, who had burst in on the inspection, to which Inspector Goole responds bluntly “I’m afraid not.” The Inspector affects each of the individual characters differently and makes the audience respect some of the characters more and makes the audience, strongly dislike some of the characters. The inspector reveal things to the rest of the family that would otherwise be buried and forgotten with self-pity and self-hatred. Mr Birling, in the beginning of the play is very arrogant and superficial. He is described as a "heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speech." He behaves as if he believes he is better than everybody else and more important than he actually is. The inspector’s role in the play is to correct this. In the beginning, the dislike of this character starts because of the fact that he is arrogant and believes he is a lot more important than he actually is. This is evident when he says “ I was an alderman for years- and lord mayor two years ago- and I am still on the bench.” He is trying to impress the Inspector with his local standing and his influential friends. The dislike for Mr Birling increases as the play goes on, especially when he says “and then she got herself into trouble there, I suppose?”. He says this, in act 1, even after he is told that he started the chain of events that led to her committing suicide. This shows the audience that Mr Birling has not became a better person and so therefore the audience dislike Mr Birling. Mr Birling is proud that he is likely to be knighted, as that would move him even higher in social circles. He is optimistic for the future and confident that there will not be a war. As the audience knows there will be a war, we begin to doubt Mr Birling's judgement. We may suppose that if he is wrong about the war, he may be wrong about other issues too. To highlight this, Priestley uses the technique of dramatic irony seen when Birling says “The German’s don’t want war” This is used to detail that he is naïve and that he is wrong about the war. As the Inspector's investigations continue, his selfishness gets the better of him. He is worried about how the press will view the story in Act II, and accuses Sheila of disloyalty at the start of Act III. He wants to hide the fact that Eric stole money: "I've got to cover this up as soon as I can." At the end of the play he knows he has probably lost his high status if the inspection gets out but this is all he seems to care about. When he says “you’ll apologise at once” he does not seem to have learnt his lesson and is adamant that he played no part in Eva Smith’s death. Sheila’s character is portrayed as quite immature and young and close to her parents in the first act. This is shown by her regular use of words such as “mummy” and “daddy”, this is a suggestion of their social status, it was seen as rather highly ranked to call your parent “mummy” and “daddy”. This adds to the initial air of a close, perfect family, which seems to be being acted to impress Gerald, which hides the fact that the family isn’t as strong and stable as it first looks. This impression of Sheila, however, is proved false as the inspector comes into the picture. As soon as she realises why the inspector is there she switches off her ‘innocent good girl’ act and you see her more clearly. We can see she is serious and is panicking when she laughs hysterically and says to Gerald “why- you fool- he knows”. This shows as well when she alone starts to pick up on the Inspector’s insight of the incidents that happened. Also it shows she is mature and very sorry about the incident that caused her involvement and, in turn, helped Eva Smith on her way to her death. This makes us respect her in spite of the fact that the reason it is partly her fault a girl is dead is because she got a bit jealous. The inspector affects this character by actually bringing out her true character and also the inspector affects this character by making her nervous and suspicious as she is one of the first to actually bring up the questioning of if the inspector was a real inspector or a fake, judging on his behaviour. In the very beginning Gerald’s character is seen as anxious to fit in with the family he is marrying into. He shows this by politely complimenting and agreeing with most of the comments made by Mr Birling as he is the head of the house and family, such as when he says “absolutely first-class” referring to the meal and the family’s choice of cook. This adds to the sense of a close relationship of himself and Sheila, therefore, the family. However, this initial impression crumbles when it is revealed he had an affair with Daisy Renton. This is when both Gerald and Sheila reveal that they have issues and are not the perfect couple, as they would like to be seen. Although Gerald has lied and cheated the audience end up feeling sorry for him. The main reason the audience, feel sorry for him is because he feels very sorry and ashamed about what he did, and also because he seemed to actually care for Daisy Renton, and did not just use her. We can tell he is very sorry for hurting everyone, especially Sheila, by when he says “I see. Well, I was expecting this,” following Sheila giving back the engagement ring. This shows that he really loves Sheila and wants to marry her but feels ashamed and as through he doesn’t deserve her. The inspector brings out Gerald’s true character also, and in turn, makes him a better person, the inspector manages to break through the built up wall of slight arrogance and fake confidence he was trying to act as if he, which reveals he is quite a soft character. Mrs Birling, in the beginning, seems quite quiet and likes to keep herself to herself, and seems to act as if she wants to be a model ‘perfect housewife’ character. We can tell this from when she says “when you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. You’ll have to get used to that, just as I had”. this shows she admires her husband but –she sort of resents his ‘importance’ and business for keeping her husband away from her. However, in the end, when her character really comes out and her true colours show due to the limelight and bad attention, she is seen as a spiteful character. This is seen when the inspector turns on her and starts to question her involvement and she ends up saying “in spite of what’s happened to the girl since, I consider I did my duty.” This is when her true character shines through the act of the ‘perfect housewife’ and the result of being married to Mr Birling, who is arrogant and does not care about anyone but himself. Also the fact that he sees himself as more important that he actually is, these facts seem to have affected Mrs Birling’s insight on everything, and, as she is seen as his social superior and appearances are everything. This also makes the audience dislike her. At first, in act 1, Eric is painted as quite an unimportant character and the audience doesn't really see much of him except the odd outburst or comment. One of the first things we hear about Eric is when Sheila describes him as “squiffy“. However when the name Eva Smith is mentioned he gets a bit jumpy and distant. At the time we assume that that is because he is, as Sheila says, “squiffy”, but then the audience starts to suspect that it is because of an involvement with the suicide of Eva Smith. This becomes a suspicion when he suddenly bursts out, “Look here, I’ve had enough of this,”, then after that he uncomfortably and uneasily says “I think I had better turn in”. The audience is still not sure at this point if this is because he is worried and nervous about being questioned next or he is actually tired and had too much to drink. However, after the revelations in act 3, the fact that he drinks and got Eva Smith pregnant, we start to feel sympathetic towards him as he was only trying to help and feels very sorry for what he did and he tried his best to mend the mistake he made. But unfortunately the outcome of the mistake was the worst possible. The inspector helps bring out the mature and responsible side of him that he had been drowning with alcohol, this shows that he actually is a lot more mature than even his parents, this is shown when he says, laughing “Oh- for Gods sake! What does it matter now whether they give you a knighthood or not?”. It is as if he is telling off a naughty infant, showing that he is more mature than his father, and this is how the inspector affects Eric.
When thinking about the inspector’s role in the play, we can see that the inspector’s intentions in coming to the Birling household was to deliver the moral of the play, which then changes the characters and their personalities, so his intentions were to change the characters and make them better people, also to convey a moral message to the audience. The whole family seemed quite arrogant in the beginning, Goole’s role in the play being to correct this, he immediately uses emotional blackmail to get started, as soon as he comes into the scene, in act 1 and uses lots of strong, emotional ways of saying these facts such as when he says “she wasn’t very pretty when I saw her today, but had been pretty- very pretty” in answer to Sheila’s question of “what was she like? Quite young? Pretty?” This then makes them all feel a lot worse and a lot guiltier. By the end of the play you are wondering if the inspector is supposed to represent a real person or a supernatural being sent to warn them of what is to come and to teach them a lesson, we are even wondering if it could be our conscience. This presents itself as an idea when the final phone call happens and Mr.Birling says “that was the police. A girl has just died- on her way to the infirmary- after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police officer is on his way here- to ask some – questions-” This is too much of a coincidence and raises questions in our mind such as “was he actually real?”. These questions you have are left unanswered but gives a strong feeling of suspense and mystery, making it a cliff-hanger and adding to the excitement and it leaves us thinking about the Inspector’s final words as he shows disregard for the Birling status. In conclusion, the inspector played a big part in peoples lives and that the play has many messages to it. For example, one message of the play could be "don't judge the book by its cover" as every one in the play thought the inspector was real and they released information but the fact is he was a fake and they didn't find out until Gerald came back and told them. Another message could be "careless actions can affect peoples lives" as Sheila got Eva fired from her job because she was in a bad mood this impacted Eva's life and was the beginning of her life falling apart. Priestley was a socialist and thought that every one should be equal so he could have made the play to symbolise what happens when people are not equal and that peoples lives get ruined when they are not as well-off as others.

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Inspector Calls

...How does the character of Mr Birling reflect British society in 1912? The character of Mr. Birling is very important in 'An inspector calls' because he reflects how many upper class people (especially men) treated others in different classes. His character is vital to get across Priestley's socialist ideologies. Mr Birling also reflects the older generation, Capitalism and furthermore mirrors the division in society. Firstly, Mr. Birling exclaims how he is not "a purple-faced old man.", this suggests that most men of authority were greedy, only cared for themselves and had a lot of money to waste on things like excessive food. Secondly, we can see that Sheila and Gerald's engagement "means a tremendous lot to [Birling].", this is very similar to the society at that time as many people used others for their own personal gain. The engagement will help the Birling's business by raising their social class. Next, during this time period sexism towards woman was just every day life. Mr. Birling asks "Are you listening Sheila?", this reflects sexism within society as most men felt women weren't as intelligent as them so had to be spoken to in a simpler manner. Birling thinks it's "a very good time," for the engagement. This is an excellent example of dramatic irony as in 2 years time World War one was to begin. In 1912 people with authority were blind to the devastation that was to come, as was Mr. Birling. The character of Mr. Birling is an excellent......

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Inspector Calls

...‘An Inspector Calls’ was written in 1945 but was set in1912 by J.B Priestly. Priestley proposes equality. The Inspector speaks about them all being the same. ‘We are members of one body’. Priestley’s use of the word ‘body’ shows that we are all connected and linked. Everyone needs to work together.The Inspector wants to teach the Birling’s how to be more responsible and that money and class is not going to make you a better person and should change their attitudes towards the working class after he had spoken to them to change. In 1945 he wanted people to be equal and not be separated by rigid class or gender and boundaries for people to earn a more valued place in society. Priestley deliberately set his play in 1912 because the date represented an era when all was very different from the time he was writing. In 1912, rigid class and gender boundaries seemed to ensure that nothing would change. Yet by 1945, most of those class and gender divisions had been breached Priestley wanted to make the most of these changes. Through his play, he encourages people to seize the opportunity the end of the war had given them to build a better, more caring society where everyone felt responsible for each other. ‘An Inspector Calls’ is a morality play in which the playwright puts in his belief that people should treat one another equally and that there will be consequences to your actions. He also wants to teach the audience a lesson. Priestley uses dramatic devices throughout...

Words: 788 - Pages: 4