an inspector calls, theme of responsibilityWatch this thread
Priestley explores the theme of responsibility in the play through the actions of his characters. He uses them to show the idea of collective, societal responsibility and to also show the contrast in acceptance of responsibility between the younger and older generations.
Mr Birling is an example to the audience of a character who is unwilling to accept any collective or social responsibility. He says in Act One that he has a responsibility to 'his own' and nobody else. The pronoun 'his' implies ownership and suggests his materialistic personality. He also says that he believes socialists are 'cranks' and he criticizes them as he claims he wants nothing more than 'lower costs and higher prices'. This demonstrates to the audience his capitalist views and suggests that he believes his responsibility is to his business and making profit hence his dismissive attitude towards the lower class. This dismissive attitude is further shown through his treatment of Eva Smith, as he views her as 'cheap labour' rather than an actual human. This lack of empathy and regard for human life makes him disliked by the audience who, at the time, would have just experience living through WW2 and it is this dislike which also aids Priestley in effectively displaying the importance of responsibility as a character who opposes his own views is set up to be disliked by the audience, so they want to disregard Mr Birling's ideologies and find him idiotic. Mr Birling is also quoted saying that a responsibility 'for everything that happened to everybody' would be 'very awkward'. The adjective awkward implies his discomfort at the concept of collective responsibility. Furthermore, Priestley also demonstrates Mrs Birling as a character who shares similar values with Mr Birling and also dislikes shared responsibility. Once hearing the backstory of Eva Smith, she chooses to immediately place all the blame on the man who impregnated her ('It's the fathers responsibility') , rather than choosing to acknowledge her own wrongdoings. This is dramatic irony as, unbeknownst to her, Eric is the father of the chid. Priestley uses this to be able to criticize and expose the flaws of her beliefs and morals.
On the other hand, Priestley uses Sheila as a character to express his views of the younger generation and uses her to demonstrate their ability to change/adapt their opinions. Sheila is initially presented to us as a childish and compliant character who continuously uses childish phrases such as 'Oh look, Mummy' even though she is in her early 20's, however as the play goes on we begin to see her developing. At one point in the play she directly juxtaposes her father by suggesting that the lower classes aren't 'cheap labour, they're people' and this is important as this is the beginning of the forming of her own beliefs & opinions and she begins to adopt her own sense of responsibility. By showing she has learnt and improved morally as a character, Priestley hopes the audience can understand this positive character arc and reflect on themselves, adapting their own sense of social responsibility to improve society as he believes it should be.
Another fundamental character regarding the theme of responsibility is the inspector, who Priestley uses as a vessel to voice his own opinions directly to the audience. In the Inspector's final speech he makes several points to criticize capitalist views through quotes such as 'we are all members of one body' and 'we are responsible for one another'. Repeated use of the pronoun 'we' further shows Priestley's message of collective responsibility and that we as a society need to improve towards adopting this societal responsibility. Priestley wants the audience to take something away from the Inspector's final speech, whether it be a change in their original views or inspiration to further better themselves.
I think there are a few more themes or ideas that you could bring in to really strengthen the essay.
For Mr Birling you are correct in your analysis, however, I would add another layer. At the start of the play, Mr Birling suggests that the titanic is unsinkable, as the play is set after the sinking of the titanic we know that he is wrong. Because in this example he is presented as being ignorant, and he later gives views that people just have a responsibility to themselves (meaning he does not believe in a collective responsibility of society) then we can say that Priestley is conveying people who don't believe in collective responsibility as being ignorant.
Similarly, I would go further with the analysis of Sheila. She is shown to be sensitive and empathetic to the struggles of other people. At the same time she clearly believes in collective responsibility by the end of the play. So you can suggest that Priestley is implying that people who believe in collective responsibility are more empathetic and caring.
Also give a bit more of a summary in the conclusion, as well provide a little more social and historical context in the introduction.
One thing you could do a little bit better is making clearer lines of analysis. To give an example,
" In the Inspector's final speech he makes several points to criticize capitalist views through quotes such as 'we are all members of one body' and 'we are responsible for one another'." There are elements of this that are true.
You are correct that the inspector is used to voice the author's own views, and that the author does not like capitalism. However, these quotes are not direct criticisms of capitalist viewpoints. It is probably the most common mistake I see in essays, students suggesting clear links between pro-socialist and anti-capitalist viewpoints. I would not mention capitalism when you use these quotes, just say they convey the author's view of collective responsibility.
thanks so much! i like the points that those who don’t believe in collective responsibility are implied as ignorant and those who do as caring, will definitely add it to my essay!