An inspector calls by JB Priestley is a powerful morality play in which has a clear turning point. This is when we discover that a character Gerald Croft, had an affair. Set in Edwardian England, the text describes a rich upper-class family who are celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to Gerald. The inspector arrives at their home and questions them about their involvement in a young woman suicide. We find out that each of them has some responsibility for Eva's death. The revelation about Gerald's affair is vital to Sheila's character development and conflict that emerges within the family values. Throughout the play Priestley is effective in exploring differences in social class and equality.
Another example of how Priestley explores the importance of the turning point is through the Inspector's moving monologue in the final act of the play
One Eva Smith has gone -but there are millions and millions and millions …. still left ... We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.
As the Inspector prepares to leave Mr Birling offers him a bribe of ‘thousands’ not to disclose what the family have done again symbolising the value of money over people. The Inspector’s speech uses a number of rhetorical techniques to address the audience directly. He warns us of the dangers of ignoring our responsibility. Repetition of, ‘millions,’ makes us consider the millions who have suffered due to capitalism.
Eva Smith is an everywoman character who symbolises all the working classes who have been exploited and parallel sentence structure here builds to a moving climax as Priestley drives home his point about shared responsibility for our society.
This idea is reiterated by his emotive Biblical reference that if we do not listen, we will, ‘be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.’ This is a reference to hell and to the terrible suffering of the World Wars that Priestley himself experienced.
Priestley develops the turning point between Mr Birling and inspector when audience see Mr Birling directly challenge authority of the law
Mr Birling: (rather impatiently) ...why should you come here, Inspector …. “I can’t accept any responsibility...
Mr Birling tries to use his social status to intimidate the by referring to his friendship with senior policemen. He feels his family should be above question due to their wealth. However, the inspector reacts with short blunt comments and stage directions tell us he is ‘cutting through’ this hypocrisy.
The theme of social responsibility is evident in the conflict between the Inspector and Mr Birling. Arthur insists he has nothing to do with other people’s misfortune and sees no wrong in dismissing a good worker for wanting more money. He sees people as commodities to make him more profit.
His attitude is contrasted with his children’s shame and outrage, introducing the conflict between the older generation and the more progressive views that emerged after the pre-war period.
Turning point, inspector causes cleverly suggested through stage directions which state
The lighting should be pink and intimate until the INSPECTOR arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder.) …. he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.
Impact of the inspector is foreshadowed in the stage directions at start of Act 1.‘pink and intimate’ light may be interpreted as referring to the privileged, exclusive world the Birlings inhabit. Lighting= how inspector exposes reality of their behaviours+impact they have on the world out with their home. Description of inspector= he does not defer to Birlings’ status or allow himself to be intimidated His lines use a notable number of short and minor sentences= reflect his direct style of questioning and refusal to be misdirected by the family’s deception.
The author develops the turning point of Sheila's response to her parents after inspector leaves
SHEILA (tensely) I want to get out of this. It frightens me the way you talk. …
The Birlings turn on each other again showing the reluctance of the upper classes to grasp how their actions affect others. While Sheila fixes on the moral significance of their actions, regardless of whether there is legal consequences, Mr and Mrs Birling focus the attack on the family’s status.
When it turns out that no suicide took place Eva Smith ceases to be a real person, but she becomes even more of a symbol of all poor women and people affected by the blind power of the rich.
Once more, in contrast to their parents and Gerald, Sheila and Eric firmly believe that the investigation and the truths it revealed remain significant. Sheila's refusal to renew her engagement to Gerald is a metaphor for her refusal to go back to the unthinking life she had before. However, the Birlings laugh off the night and call their children ‘hysterical.’ They take the position that their immoral ways can be ignored. Sheila's emotive word choice of ‘frightened’ is apt given Priestley’s belief this view led to the horrific world events the audience know will follow in time. She understands that while their behaviour appears to have caused no harm, "it might have done.”
Priestley directs the audience to consider that the attitudes of the ruling elite will eventually result in great suffering, not just for those harmed directly but even for those- like the Birlings- who exploit others for their own gain. The closing stage directions see Mr Birling ‘panic stricken' . Priestley is clear that we must force society to change in order to create a fairer world for us all.
In conclusion, it is clear that the playwright uses the turning point of the Inspector’s arrival to add to our understanding not only of the main themes of Social Responsibility and Guilt and Remorse, but also to cleverly highlight the divisions within the Birling family.