Hello everyone! It would mean so much if another person were to critique an essay about 'An Inspector Calls' which I've written.
Explore the ways in which Priestley presents social class in An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls was written in 1945 and was used to reflect upon the Edwardian era of 1901 to 1912. J.B Priestley used the play as a method to popularize and express his ideas on politics - particularly his views on socialism versus free-market capitalism.
At a time when British society was strongly capitalist and was firmly divided along class lines, those with the most money had the most power. This economic and political system enabled private owners to exploit their workers, leading to Priestley becoming concerned with the political situation and social inequality in Britain. Therefore in 1942, became the co-founder of the socialist Commonwealth Party - believing that the rich should be compelled to share their wealth and that the gap between them and the poor should be closed. For example, Inspector Goole was arguably an alter ego through which Priestley could express his views.
The play itself is set in 1912 but was written in 1945 as the Second World War was just ending. This is significant as the Edwardian era was ended by two world-shattering events: the sinking of the Titanic (a symbol of wealth and luxury of the time) and the outbreak of World War One. By writing about an era that was very different to the one he was in, Priestley deliberately made the rigid class and gender boundaries seem unchangeable in 1912. The crime thriller was a device to explore the exploitation and oppression that existed in the country that could continue to exist by 1945. However, by this time most of the class and gender divisions had breached and there was a greater desire for social change. Priestley wanted to make the most of these changes, therefore, throughout the play, he encourages people to seize the opportunity the end of the war had given them to build a more caring society.
In this essay, I will expand on how Priestley uses the Birling family household as a microcosm for society, with different attitudes towards social class being shown through different characters.
Priestley uses the play to strongly demonstrate his views on socialism. By voicing his own opinions through Inspector Goole, and the capitalist society through the Birling family, he is able to attack the social inequality in 1912. He introduces the rigid class system and society’s conservative political views at the beginning of Act one.
The playwright suggests when Birling says, “A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own,” that in addition to the conservative beliefs they possessed, the upper class represented the bourgeoisie. The capitalist class that controlled the wealth and means of production - one that was more concerned with material gain and conventional attitudes. It conveyed each person would work for themselves, and therefore their money and status was dictated by the amount of hard work they put in.
Mr. Birling uses the word ‘business’ often, emphasizing that men in addition to looking after themselves, look after the company and the money it makes - showing that Priestley wanted to portray men of Mr. Birling’s class as selfish and pecunious.
The fact that he repeats the word ‘man’ throughout the act exposes his ignorance as it shows his assumption that only men succeed - women have no chance of ever making their own success.
This, we can infer, could be the reason why Priestley used the stage direction: “ - and - /We hear the sharp ring of a front doorbell,” while Mr. Birling was delivering his grand statement at the start of the play. It is as if the Inspector was foreshadowing what he was yet to talk about later, systematically interjecting and turning Mr. Birling’s views against him from the start. It shows that Priestley purposefully took the opportunity to express how concerned he was with the wealth and gender divide through the interruption of Mr. Birling’s controversial statement. He wanted to convey that the socialist ideal would inevitably disrupt capitalism. In his final speech, the Inspector mentions, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other,” warning that it is only through socialism (“one body”) that mankind can hope to prevent such tragedies like Eva Smith’s in the future. It is by making the Inspector say this, that Priestly shows how sensible the socialist ideal is. He makes people realize that they need to ensure security and equality and that it will not happen under conservative power.
An Inspector Calls shows the relationship between the working class and the rich through the idea that people end up differently in society by having different beliefs; this would be very much influenced by their social class.
J .B Priestley emphasizes that capitalism is more prevalent among upper class - as, at the start of the play, the entire Birling family is portrayed as such. Nevertheless, the dispute between socialists and capitalists can be raised with the quote, “She was a very pretty girl too - with big dark eyes and that didn't make it any better.” When drawn into the discussion, Sheila admits that Eva was ‘very pretty’ showing that despite being described the same way herself at the start of the play, she is insecure. Admitting she contrived to have her fired, motivated solely by her jealousy and spite towards a pretty working-class woman is symbolic to show that capitalists think of themselves as in the centre, with everyone else revolving around them - they make decisions without thinking of the consequences for the people that they affect. Mentioning how Eva had ‘big dark eyes’ could pose that Eva was mysterious and dark, almost as a threat to the upper class - ironic as this should not have been the case in 1912 where upper class had a high degree of power in society, leaving the working class with none.
While Sheila, representing a capitalist society, cared only for herself and the way she was presented, Eva very much had her partially socialist views turned against her for the worst. Mr. Birling mentions, “She’d had a lot to say - far too much - so she had to go,” meaning that Eva having strong moral views and principles secured her future as penniless and unemployed. Leading a strike for better pay, and showing leadership qualities meant that she would end up in a drastically different situation to Sheila. This case was presented by Priestley to show that that the different beliefs you had, the drastically different ways you would be treated by those around you. Sheila would never be inherently better than Eva, therefore it shows that upper classes were insecure about the potential rise in power of the working classes.
In Priestley's play, one receives hints that point towards the significant differences between the generations. Based on the Birling family, it is easily identifiable that some of the contrasts between the young and old are their attitudes towards responsibility, their perspective towards change - this can be exemplified when the Inspector reveals what has happened to Eva Smith, to each family member.
The Inspector’s comment, ‘They’re more impressionable,’ is Priestley suggesting that the young are more open-minded than the older generation about the kind of society they want to live in - one in which people care and feel responsible for those around them and the wider community. Sheila Birling is his exemplified character to speak for the minorities in society. She began to notice this stark contrast between generations during the time she was questioned - leading her to challenge her mother, Mrs. Birling saying, “You began to learn something. And now you’ve stopped […] it frightens me the way you talk, and I can’t listen to any more of it.” This quote conveys the differences in attitudes towards responsibility. Sheila has changed from a naïve girl to an assertive woman who becomes open to the fact that she was also partially to blame for Eva’s death. She displays a free-thinking spiritedness that is characteristic of the suffragette movement of that period - and at one time or another, becoming a strong advocate of the truth. It is the repentance for her crimes that show she is nearer to the Inspector in terms of her social conscience. Eric, too, believes that it is far more important to acknowledge his wrongdoing than save his face from the public. He tells the Inspector, “The fact remains that I did what I did,” showing that as part of the younger generation he is more accepting of socialist ideologies, expressing sympathy for the strikers and showing remorse.
In contrast, Priestley presents the older generation as bold, stylish yet pretentious about their class. Both Mr. and Mrs. Birling have no true emotions for anyone else - yet are very image-conscious. They may be considered as ignorant of Eva’s situation as they feel it is necessary to keep up the image of upper class society and appearance of respectability.
Their injured pride and offended sensibilities are what provoke them to consistently push the blame upon someone else.
By wanting to protect his reputation and safeguarding Birling and Co, Mr. Birling refuses to agree with the younger generation’s viewpoint when they condemn him for firing Eva Smith. In response to this he says, “Rubbish! If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the earth.” Mr. Birling feels that it his responsibility to come down ‘sharply’ on ‘these people’ and tries to justify his reasoning for why profits are above people. He uses ‘asking for the earth’ as a hyperbole to suggest the workers are asking for too much, making their demands seem unreasonable - supporting his point. Therefore, by doing so he prevents any possibility of the family being publicly disgraced which could result in a degradation of their lavish lifestyle and social status. It is this quote that Priestley uses to make the audience realize that the working class should be cared for rather than punished. The Inspector acts as a moral mouthpiece to make the audience aware of personal responsibility. Priestley wanted to show that arrogance and prejudice existing in the older generations is what is stopping the community from being socially conscious of their actions as they are much too influenced by status. Audiences would be encouraged to think that the younger generation's ideals should not remain uncovered but there to stand against the traditional values that their parents once lived by. Showing that a lack of moral upbringing will lead to a indoctrinated society.
Priestley presents social class in An Inspector Calls through the use of his characters, their views, and opinions - mirroring their superficial beliefs for this system. Measured by material wealth, class blinded those chose to think they had no responsibility. The view of free-market capitalism dismissed that of an important moral message - we should think of others and work together to ensure a fairer, more equal society. By using characters such as the Birlings and Eva Smith, Priestley implied that socialist and capitalist ideologies had a vast impact on the play as often, the class you were in reflected the beliefs and consequences of your life. He used the play as a door to open the minds of his 1945 audience to the faults he saw in society; the lack of responsibility people felt towards each other. And so, when presenting new views to people, Priestley wanted to make the audience aware that younger generations, despite being dismissed, would acknowledge their wrongdoing and take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. He used the character's social class to mirror their moral attitudes, yet showed that only some people would ever be socially conscious and take responsibility.
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- Thread Starter
- 26-10-2017 08:52
- 30-10-2017 01:18
You have a very good political overview of the play and a clear awareness of it as a construct, created by Priestley to present his views. I would like to see a closer focus on the text, and the question. For example, exam feedback from AQA each year states that you don't need biographical information. Yes, be aware that Priestley was a socialist, but view the text as if you were an audience member rather than someone who has studied the history of the play.
The first section clearly focuses on the question and has a good understanding of the concept of class.The second half looks at differences between the generations, which is not really relevant. It might be correct, but if doesn't answer the question it will score very few marks. For a question about class I would look at the difference in power. Because she is working class Eva Smith is helpless, and each time she is treated badly there is nothing she can do about it. Priestley shows that the upper middle class Birlings (and Gerald) have complete power over Eva, and each of them abuses it.
In short, you would get a good grade because you have an understanding of the concepts behind the play, and have given some effective quotations and analysis, but not a very top grade because you don't always focus on the question.