How does Priestley use the character of the Inspector to suggest ways that society coWatch this thread
In “An inspector calls” Priestley uses the Inspector as a proxy to put across his socialist views. In 1945 Priestley was a strong supporter of socialism and was 1 of the 12 million others who voted labour, causing a landslide in popularity. Socialism is the political ideology that calls for public rather than private ownership of the means of production and property.
Priestley structures the Inspector’s arrival to interrupt Mr Birlings’ capitalist speech after he states: “a man has to mind his own business”, there is a “sharp ring of a doorbell.” The Inspector was almost summoned to oppose Mr Birlings capitalist views. Priestley is deliberately using language from the labour party manifesto so his audience can relate. This helps the audience see the Inspector to have more “massiveness” and power Mr Birling, - who is the archetype of a capitalist business. The noun “massiveness” evokes inexorable feelings in the reader as if the Inspectors purpose can’t be. The Inspector rejects this credo as he says: “Public men have responsibilities as well as privileges.” Therefore, by Priestley criticising Mr Birling’s lack of responsibility he is undermining capitalism in order to turn his audience to socialism. In addition, in the 2015 BBC adaptation, we can also see how Birling’s self-importance is distinguished by the Inspectors arrival.
Throughout the play, Priestley explores the immorality of the upper classes and how their exploitive tendencies harm the “body” of society. When the inspector questions Eric, he argues against his father capitalist sentiments “why shouldn’t they try for higher wages” yet he justifies his egregious acts towards Eva due to “being in the state when a chap turns easily nasty.” He uses euphemisms to escape his own social responsibility whilst condemning others, he, therefore, represents the hypocrisy in the upper-classes. Mr Birling and Gerald both take on the same capitalist convictions, both do not accept any social responsibility by the end of the Inspectors visit. Moreover, they both agreed on the sacking Eva Smith for wanting higher wages, “I know we’d have done the same thing.” The Inspector expounds how capitalism breeds selfish and callous citizens through society as a whole.
The Inspector also emphasises the prejudice that was prevalent in the upper classes by questioning Mrs Birling “You admit to being prejudice” to which she replies “Yes.” From her accentuated exclamation, it alludes to how she feels no guilt or regret for her treatment of Eva. In 1912 the upper classes wanted to uphold the status quo at the time and discriminated against those lower in the societal order. Priestley only offers hope for the future through Sheila who is part of the younger generation, she seems to embrace the Inspectors message using the pronoun “I” to reaffirm her regret and guilt after she overtly accepts blame: “I know I’m to blame.” Priestley wanted more people to also accept responsibility for their actions, in order to become better people, to rebuild society on the premise of equality not monetisation.
Priestley was a key figure in the introduction of the welfare state and believed in social responsibility. This was the notion that those who could afford to disburse their money to those in need should. Moreover, Sheila reiterates the Inspectors message of “fire and blood and anguish,” acting as the subordinate Inspector. Therefore, Priestley illustrates how the problems in society were spread across the generations and huge change in attitudes would be needed for society to improve.
in order to criticise the older generations ability to disregard the didactic teachings of the Inspector.
Moreover, Priestley employs the inspector to emphasise the contrast between the younger and older generations, through how they respond to the Inspector. The younger generation are able to change, as seen through Sheila and Eric. Eric’s future is ambivalent, but he does demonstrate the capacity to change: “I’m never likely to forget.” The introspective view gives the audience hope for the future to a degree, as we are uncertain if Eric will be permanently changed. Sheila response is far more patent as she imparts a rhetorical question, “I suppose we're all nice people now” which has an overarching tone of sarcasm,
Through the younger generation, Priestley’s ideal society could be forged, as they accept responsibility and show a willingness to change. However, the Inspectors impact on the older generations is limited, their capitalist views are the same ones that chain down any hope for a major change in society. Both Mrs Birling and Mrs Birling, believe the whole account a farce and believe after the visit their lives will return to normal. The audience can see this through Mrs Birlings reply to the Inspectors questions about the suicide of Eva: “I accept no guilt.” Through this phrase, e encapsulates the capitalist sentiment at the time, which was for preventing collective responsibility.
The Inspector’s visit illuminates how the older generation are inveterate in their ways “community and all that nonsense” – they are without the ability to change leaving society in a state of disparity, where the exploitation of proletariats is a common appurtenance of life. The older generations are entrenched in their immoral ways and this is exemplified through the cyclical structure of attitudes, where the older generations begin their moral journey -with the Inspector- holding the same demur to collective responsibility and guilt from the start:” I don’t suppose for a moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class” as they do by the end of his visit: “There’ll be a public scandal.” The Inspector highlights how unwavering the older generations, and how clouded their minds are to the moral lessons, they do not learn anything from the Inspector and show no remorse for the Eva’s suicide.
Their moral compass has become so enshrouded by their outward need for social superiority, that they are no longer concerned about humanity. The audience derives a feeling of indignation from their lack, or inclination to change, as without the change that the Inspector so desperately calls for, society will never be equal. Some groups will always be more equal than others.
Priestley, through the inspector also criticises patriarchal society in 1912. This is shown through the treatment of Sheila when Mr Birling tells her to “leave.” This is because at this time men did not believe women could handle discussions of importance or topics of death. However, the Inspector asks her to “stay.” In addition, there was a lack of opportunities for women, and many were just “cheap labour” to capitalist businessmen such as Mr Birling. Priestley utilizes the Inspector to highlight all the sphere of intersectionality that existed, and should therefore be ameliorated.
Priestley’s socialist ideas about collective responsibility are embodied by the character Inspector Goole. He criticises the Birling’s lack of regard for others lower than themselves: “If you don’t come down hard on these people they’d soon be asking for the earth.” The inspector replies: “It is better to ask for the earth than take it.” The metaphors draws parallels to the labour agitation at the time. He also elucidates how all lives are “intertwined” and so we have a social responsibility to look after the “millions and millions and millions of Eva Smith.” The hyperbole used through the phrase ‘millions and millions’ emphasises the scale of those affected by the individual’s actions. The audience are told to put aside their individual interests for the collective interest of society. Priestley is also informing his audience that if we do not take on our social responsibility millions will suffer as a result of negligence.
However, where Priestley’s views seem to be most potent is in the Inspectors closing speech. Once the Inspectors interrogation over the family’s actions and morals is over, he offers an ominous warning through a triadic phrase – “they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” Priestley uses the Inspector to warn us of what can happen if inequalities in society aren't addressed. The biblical connotations to hell suggest there could be worldwide conflicts or even violent revolutions, such as the one in Russia in 1917.
Therefore, Priestley wanted to offer his poignant views in the hopes that social “solidarity” would be reached and there would be a society where people were not judged on their level of wealth but instead by their merits. However, the Inspector’s version of socialism is particularly utopian, and the audience left questioning if this is ever really possible; therefore, its effect is lost on the reader as, just an over-dramatized play about socialist propaganda.