An Inspector Calls - Please mark this Essay!! (AQA)Watch
In “An Inspector Calls”, J.B. Priestley presents the “chain of events” that led to the death of “Eva Smith”, who is representative of all working class girls in Edwardian Britain. Amongst the older generation there is “Mr Birling”, who is described as “provincial in his speech” in the stage directions, and is clearly the social inferior of his wife, “Mrs Birling”. The death of Eva Smith is due to the selfish actions of the “nice, well-behaved” Birling family in this morality play, with Mr Birling at the start of the “chain”. Therefore, it could be argued that Mr Birling is the worst character in the play.
At the start of the play, Mr Birling attempts to turn his daughter’s engagement celebration into a business merger. This is portrayed by “you’ve brought us together”, which conveys that Birling moves very swiftly from celebrating the engagement of his daughter, “Sheila”, to talking about business, reflecting that he has a one track mind. The reader gets an insight to the way Birling treats his workers, when he says “for lower costs and higher prices”, illustrating the selfish nature of Mr Birling – he is extremely selfish and motivated by business in order to attain a higher status, demonstrating no feelings to how the “lower costs” will affect his workers like Eva Smith. This ideology is perpetuated throughout the play, like when Mr Birling talks about his “hard-headed” business nature straight after congratulating Sheila on her engagement, which reflects his strong-willed nature and that he believes he will be successful, even if it is at the expense of anyone else. This portrays that he is arrogant and is under the perception that he is better than everyone else at the start of the play, which is why the lighting changes from “pink and intimate” to “brighter and harder” when the “Inspector” enters. This suggests that the Inspector is shining a spotlight on Mr Birling’s capitalist views, forming a contrast so Priestley can demonstrate his socialist views to the audience and that a “hard-headed” business nature is the wrong attitude to have.
Mr Birling believes that he is always right and has a captive audience that want to listen to him, conveyed by “just listen to this”, reflecting the notion that he believes that his view is the only right one. “I’m telling you this” reinforces this ideology and demonstrates how foolish Birling sounds – he sounds more and more foolish every time he says this. Priestley does this with great effect through the use of dramatic irony, like when Birling says that the Titanic is “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable”. The audience can infer that Priestley deliberately repeats the term “unsinkable” to convey Birling’s foolish nature, as they know that it will sink a few years later. This is reinforced by the fact Birling states that the chance of war occurring is “fiddlesticks”, as Priestley deliberately sets the play in 1912 as an Edwardian audience would already know that not only one, but two, world wars occur, which makes the audience lose trust in Birling. The fact that “the sharp ring of a door bell” occurs to interrupt Mr Birling’s “good advice” portrays how the Birlings need to be shaken out of their smugness and put back into their place by the Inspector. It could be interpreted to conclude that it is as if the Inspector is saying that Mr Birling’s “advice” is wrong. However, an alternative interpretation could be that the Inspector can’t listen to Mr Birling’s capitalist views any longer, so he has the power to interrupt Birling’s complacent views and tell him that he is wrong.
The audience feel further hatred towards Mr Birling when his role in the “chain of events” is revealed. We learn that Mr Birling “sacked” Eva Smith for asking for a pay rise and that she had “far too much” to say. This gives an insight to Mr Birling’s nature to the audience – that he likes to exploit his workers as “cheap labour” and “for lower costs and higher prices”, further reinforcing the capitalist views Birling possesses. This portrays how selfish Mr Birling is because through Mr Birling “sacking” this girl, she would have had nowhere else to go, as the welfare state wasn’t created in 1912. Despite the Inspector exposing Mr Birling and the rest of his family for who they really are, breaking down their façade of respectability, Birling continues to respond to the Inspector “harshly” and act “impatiently”. The audience can infer that Mr Birling does not recognise the power of this eponymous character since he “does not like” the Inspector’s tone and attempts to impress him through the fact that he plays “golf” with the “chief constable”. This demonstrates how highly Mr Birling regards social class and hierarchy, something Priestley attempts to show is wrong through the use of Inspector as a dramatic device to present his socialist views.
Although Birling refers to socialism as “nonsense”, it could be interpreted to conclude that Birling and his capitalist views are “nonsense” through his inability to change. Even though the audience would expect Mr Birling to feel more sorrow for Eva Smith since he’s “provincial in his speech” and has worked his way up society, the exact opposite occurs. Despite admitting that he’d “give thousands – yes, thousands”, Mr Birling doesn’t understand that “we are all responsible for each other” – collective responsibility, and reverts to type when the Inspector leaves and Gerald reveals that “that man wasn’t a police officer”. Due to the fact Mr Birling is part of the older, less responsible generation, Mr Birling quickly changes as he is celebrating “jovially” along with Mrs Birling and Gerald as if Eva Smith never existed. This is in complete contrast to when he was looking “gloomily” after the Inspector left. Therefore, this suggests that Mr Birling and the older generation are unable to learn and change – he will never change from his capitalist views and continue being stubborn and complacent. It could be concluded that Mr Birling’s and the rest of the older generation’s inability to change and learn a lesson despite being “inspected” by the Inspector coveys that they are part of an endless cycle that they are inescapable from, which is why the “telephone rings sharply” at the end of the play.
In conclusion, Priestley presents Mr Birling as a character who is unable to change in this play, only motivated by his potential “knighthood” and to avoid a “public scandal”. As the Inspector says that “there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths”, this portrays how the selfish actions of capitalists like Mr Birling can lead to the death of the working class, like Eva Smith. Therefore, it can be interpreted to conclude that Birling’s selfish actions are part of an inescapable cycle, which is why he will need to be continually taught the fact that “we are members of one body”, but in “fire and blood and anguish”. Birling celebrating “triumphantly” is in complete contrast to his “panic stricken fashion” when the “telephone rings sharply” at the end of the play, and therefore, due to the selfish actions and responses of Mr Birling, an Edwardian audience would know that the younger generation will have to pay the price for this and be killed in two world wars.