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How does Priestley explore responsibility?
Throughout An Inspector Calls, Priestley explores the theme of responsibility by primarily contrasting the characters of the Inspector and Birling as well as ideologies such as capitalism and how they played a part in Eva's suicide.
Through the voice of the Inspector, Priestley emphasises the importance of collective responsibility. Prior to his departure, the Inspector says 'We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other'. The anaphora of the plural, personal pronoun 'we' emphasises the unity of everybody within a society. His use of simple sentences to state this point also provide a matter of fact tone puts him in an authoritative position which makes the audience agree with everything he says. Moreover, soon afterwards he states that 'those who fail to recognise[the importance of collective responsibility] will learn in fire, blood and anguish'. Priestley may have used the tricolon to emphasis on how those ignorant to collective responsibility will be punished. Moreover, the hell imagery compares failure to recognise this to a sin and give emphasis to the importance of collective repsonsibility. Alternatively, one could interpret the 'fire, blood and anguish' as referring to the upcoming World Wars which the audience are aware of as the play was written in 1946 but the characters do not. Here, the Inspector may be opposing Birling's dismissal of the future World Wars as 'drunk talk' as well as Priestley blaming the war on political leaders who did not realise that everybody within a community are interlinked and instead of trying to kill each other should care for each other.
Moreover, the plot of An Inspector Calls is based around the 'chain of events' triggered by each family member and Gerald which led to Eva's suicide. Priestley may have presented Eva as constantly affected by the actions of one family to show how interlinked each person is in a society even if they do not realise. The most significant instance of this is when Mrs Birling refuses help for Eva Smith and her grandchild due to her own prejudices on lower class women. Moreover, the metaphor 'chain of events' to describe the actions of the family also produces a visual image for the audience of how closely interlinked each member is within a society and how this makes us responsible.
The Inspector's foil: Birling, a representative of capitalism, is also used by Priestley to explore the theme. Just before the Inspector arrives, Mr Birling described community 'as 'nonsense' and as awkward. He feels that a 'man has to mind his own business' to become successful. Whilst he is saying this, there is a 'sharp ringing' of the doorbell. The dramatic device of the doorbell interrupting Birling shows the audience that capitalism has to be stopped just like the Inspector's ringing of the doorbell stopped Mr Birling as he spoke about capitalism. Throughout the play, the Inspector looks at the Birling and blames him for starting the events leading to Eva's death. The repetition of this has an effect of presenting Birling as primarily holding the blame for triggering the chain and instead of Eric being blames the most, it should be Mr Birling. Moreover, when the Inspector interrogates Mr Birling, he says 'I don't see' often. Prietsley's choice of the ver 'se'e instead of 'understand' draws attention to the theme of sight and the blindness and ignorance of the Birling. Priestley may have chosen 'rose tinted 'lighting' for the dining room to present the Birling's as being blind to the darkness or negatives within society and being blind to fact that they are responsible for everybody within society. Through the theme of sight, Priestley emphasises the importance of being able to understand why everybody in society is responsible for each other.
Birling also expresses the capitalist ideology of 'lower wages and higher prices' which is what the worker's went on strike against and resulted in Eva getting fired. This shows that he is a parsimonious capitalist willing to to gain power and money in any way even if it is at someone else's loss. Mr Birling sacking Eva is what led to the following events which ultimately led to her death. Priestley presents Mr Birling as a capitalist to show how irresponsible and harmful capitalism is to society. Moreover, at the conclusion of the play, where Sheila and Eric blame themselves shown by Sheila saying 'I really am responsible' and getting angry at Mr Birling for refusing higher pay for his worker, shows the younger generation adopting a more socialist principle. Priestley shows how it is the younger generations' duty to ensure that socialism becomes the leading ideology and that everyone recognises collective responsibility to prevent deaths like Eva's.
Throughout the play, although the audience are never sure whether Eva Smith is whom all the family members met, she is the victim of the actions of the Birling and Gerald Croft. Prioestley carries the them of the seven dedaly sins throhgout the play. Gerald is lustful for Eva and Sheila is jealous for her. The seven dedaly sins is what led them to act in a way that had such a negtaive impact on Eva. Their sinsmade them act irresponsibily and what led to her death. Priestley may be expresisng how our tiny motions can have such an impact on soeone else and expresses theseven deadly sins because they cause us to act irresponsibiliy.
Priestley uses primarily use the presentation of the characters to explore the theme of responsibility. He does this effectively by contrasting the Inspector and Mr Birling. I disagree that Eric deserves most of the blame for Eva's death because although he impregnated her, the actions from the other family members preceding it such as Mr Birling firing her and Sheila asking Milwards to sack her is what put her in such a desperate position to earn money and have food and shelter.
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