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An Inspector Calls, Character Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1434 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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1912 was the beginning of the end for many people; unbeknown to the general public the First World War would dominate the lives of all. The Titanic would set sail, but soon come to an icy end, the Wall Street Crash would soon devastate the economy and the world would be turned upon its head. All characters in “An Inspector Calls remains ignorant and ill-informed to the near future. Written in 1945 but set in 1912 the audience are enticed by the dramatic irony of the play, as these events have all happened beforehand. The audience therefore know more about the play than the characters themselves, and they too watch as the inspector manages to dictate and ruin a blissfully happy family to the point of breaking.

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The inspector is not only a self proclaimed narrator, but he is also a vital character and had there not been the revelation that he was not a real police inspector than this would not have been apparent and would not be such a big part in the play. As the play developed and it becomes clear that the inspector was an impostor of sorts, the audience then asks further questions and it is clear that the Inspector is in the play for many reasons.

The play is set in the house of the Birlings. A wealthy family who use their house as a status symbol and always have been classed as ‘upper class’. The house has been very well dressed up, you can tell from the high quality furniture and decoration that is used in the play to reflect this. They have few tasteless pictures which will probably been chosen because of the price tag and not because they were genuinely liked. The house is described as being “substantial and comfortable and old-fashioned” but not cosy and homelike. The words are carefully chosen to suggest a sort of tension that is held in by the family, it suggests that the family is not at ease with each other and this in turn suggests family problems. When the characters speak it is in a fairly relaxed tone, despite Mrs. Birling trying to enforce a formal atmosphere by correcting all the minor errors in the table manners. The opening scene contains champagne that is later revealed to be a celebration that Sheila, Mrs. Birling’s daughter, is engaged to a guest in the room – Gerald. The first sign that there are problems between Mrs. Birling and Mr. Birling is hinted when she says to Sheila “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 suggests cracks in their relationship, and that it isn’t very close.

Further signs that there might be cracks in the Birling family is when Sheila says to Gerald “all last summer… you never came near me” indicating at an affair he might have had. There is also a sign of Eric, Sheila’s brother, having a drinking problem, because even at dinner Sheila notices that he is ‘squiffy’ to whom her mother replies “What an expression Sheila! Really the things you girls pick up these days!” which shows that her mother treats her as a little girl, even though she is engaged to Gerald. This also shows the difference in ages; Sheila being younger and not acting like they way her mother thinks she should act. It also suggests that she doesn’t want her children to grow up and leave her, because she would live alone with Mr. Birling, a way of life she does not want to come across.

The inspector arrives at the Birlings to ask them questions about the death of a girl Eva Smith, who died swallowing disinfectant Normally you would expect and inspector to be surprised at what that suspects are telling him, however Inspector Google already seems to know what they are saying. When Sheila and Eric find out that their parents and Gerald contributed to the death of the girl they are shocked; “Well I think it’s a damn shame”. The inspector does not react to this, he just stays calm, as if he knows what is about to happen. Sheila notices this and says “We hardly ever told him anything he didn’t know”. The characters can’t hide the truth from the inspector as he apparently knows it all already’ therefore he is like a conscience. A real inspector would be looking for evidence, but as Inspector Goole is not a real inspector, and as the crime in not punishable by law and so the only way he can “punish” them to make them feel guilty.

The Birling parents will not accept any blame and try to defend what they have done by saying “The girl has been causing trouble in the works” and “it wasn’t I who had turned her out of employment – which probably began it all”. They do not set a good example for their children who are quick to show remorse and accept responsibility for what they have done; Sheila admits she had no excuse for what she did, and she was just “in a bad temper”. This is used to show the idea that the younger generation are more supportive of socialism and the idea of helping others and not just thinking of oneself.

Just before the Inspector leaves he turns the blame onto the whole of society by mentioning that the problem was not just with Eva Smith and one family, but it was the “millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us. intertwined with our lives”. This was said near the end of the play to leave a lasting impression after the audience had left the theatre.

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The inspector is described as speaking “carefully, weightily”. This is one aspect of his mystery, meaning he knows exactly what he is going to say, and what effect it will have. For example he often shows Arthur Birling no respect, like when he says “Don’t stammer and yammer at me again, man”. Even though Arthur was “an alderman for years – and a Lord Mayor two years ago” the Inspector is a neutral character who treats everyone the same. Ironically Mr. Birling, who regards himself as important and highly respected often accepts the disrespect he is given. Upon questioning Birling is surprised which gives the impression that he often thinks of himself as correct but it may also have been what the inspector was questioning. By pretending to agree with what Mr. Birling’s attitudes to class, Inspector Goole manages to encourage Arthur to talk to him because he sees him as a friend rather than a detective. This implies both that Birling is naïve to trust someone that he has only just met and that the Inspector is very good at manipulating people and their views in order to get what he wants.

After the Inspector leaves, speculation begins to occur whether or not Inspector Goole is in fact a real inspector. Each of the Birlings claim that his questioning and his attitudes were “inappropriate”. However it is only towards the end of the play that Priestly reveals that Inspector Goole was no a real Police Inspector, yet he does not give any clues as to what the Inspector could have been and yet again this heightens the mystery behind him. Even though the inspector is found out to be a fraud, the characters still feel the guilt and shame of the death of Eva Smith. I feel that Priestly wrote this play in order to make the audience think and question their actions and what consequences they have.

As an audience and having watched the events unfold, we expect the characters to admit and realise what their actions have lead to but surprisingly this is not what happens. After the revelation that the inspector is not real, the Birling parents and Gerald remain oblivious if not arrogantly blind as to what has happened. Sheila states that Mr. Birling “doesn’t seem to have learnt anything”. Yet once the Birlings know that their won’t be a punishment to Eva’s death they ignore all the problems that have been brought up, they ignore that fact that Eric has a drinking problem and the important matter that he stole money from the business. It is because of their social status and their narcisstic views of themselves that they let the problems slide as if nothing has happened. Mr. Birling says “difference between a lot of stuff like this coming out in private and a downright public scandal”.which proves that he is just thinking about himself and not what the inspector is there to teach.


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