gcse aqa english lit an inspector callsWatch
Arthur Birling says, ‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?’
How does Priestley present ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls?
Throughout ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley makes use of a variety of different techniques to present ideas about responsibility. These include dramatic irony, anaphora, and the timing of the characters entering the play.
The first view that is portrayed to us regarding responsibility is in Arthur Birling’s speech. Birling tells Gerald and Eric that “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself”. Birling is a capitalist, and views himself as a ‘heavy headed businessman’. However, early on in the play, he is established as an arrogant fool when Priestly makes use of dramatic irony. Birling explains how the titanic is “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable”, which makes the audience question just what else the character is also wrong about (i.e his views on responsibility). The use of repetition on the word ‘unsinkable’ makes Birling come across as even more arrogant, which ridicules him and his views further. By degrading Mr Birling, Priestley is inviting us to laugh at him and all of the other middle class capitalists he represents, and enforces the view that although capitalism encourages growth and wealth, it takes no responsibility.
The character of Sybil Birling is prime character for showing the audience of 1945 how prejudice can prevent people from acting responsibly. Mrs Birling, a ‘rather cold looking woman’, turned down Eva Smith when she needed help the most. She speaks of how girls of “that sort” would never refuse money, which shows the audience how she expected Daisy to have low morals, simply because of her class. When asked by the inspector why she refused the money, Mrs Birling replies that she had “some fancy reason”. The word ‘fancy’ is satirical, and shows that she possessed a rather dismissal attitude towards the girl.
Priestley has made use of that change in character of Sheila to put forward some of his own thoughts on responsibility. While she starts off as childish and immature (“Look - Mummy - isn’t it a beauty?”), her character develops into one that finally realises that ‘these girls aren’t cheap labour... they’re people’. This shows Priestley’s hopes for a society in which class divisions do not mean everything, and that people must be defined by their actions and not their class. Sheila believes that the important thing to take from the evening was the lesson learnt (“I remember what he said, how he looked, and how he made me feel”). This belief, however, is not reflected by the older generation, who on realising that the Inspector could have been a fake, decide that “everything’s different now”, and that their actions were perfectly justifiable.
The timing of entrances and exits in the play are crucial. Priestley ensures that the Inspector enters during Birling’sspeech, which cuts the speech short (“...look after himself and his own and -“). The ending of the speech could mirror the end of the division between the classes, and mark the beginning of an era in which we are all responsible for one another.
A particularly effective technique Priestley has used to convey his own ideas about responsibility via the Inspector is anaphora. The Inspector explains that ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other’, and the use of this anaphora with the word ‘we’ reinforces the idea of social responsibility and community. It also helps to build up the effect on the last sentence, which is the ultimate message of the play. In the same speech, Priestley uses hyperbole when referring to the “millions and millions and millions of John Smiths and Eva Smiths”. The repetition of ‘millions’ reinforces the idea of the many people in society reliant and exploited by the upper class.
‘An Inspector Calls’ is evidence of Priestley’s efforts to pass a powerful message to the public of 1945. The use of rhetoric devices in the Inspector’s speech such as anaphora, and the technique of dramatic irony (“nobody wants war!”) to ridicule the right wing views portrayed by Birling are particularly effective devices, and it is these the pass on the pertinent message to the audience: “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsibly for each other”.
any help would be appreciated
To improve I think you need to focus on one quote and technique for each character that you discuss instead of just trying to summarise the whole play in your answer really pick the characters apart more based on your techniques and dive into more detail on how each character represent responsibility through the use of e.g a metaphor.