Could someone please give me some feedback on an essay I wrote on An Inspector calls, and an approximate mark out of 30? I really don't want to trouble my English teacher to have a look.
How does JB Priestley use the character of Gerald Croft to explore ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls?
“An Inspector Calls” is a play written by JB Priestley, released in 1945 shortly after the end of the Second World War. It is set in 1914 at the scene of a family dinner to celebrate the engagement of aristocratic businessman Gerald Croft to Sheila Birling, the eldest daughter of the Birling family. Priestly sets this play at a time of booming business, pre World War One. A time when the capitalist ideology reigned supreme before war lead to people adopting a more socialist view on life.
Arthur Birling, the head of the Birling family, expresses these views in a monologue, which Gerald finds himself very much in agreement with. This establishes Gerald’s political position early on, and later this will be associated with his future actions
The merry celebration is cut short by the abrupt and dramatic entrance of Inspector Goole- alluding to the sharp changes his entrance will bring about. He proceeds to expose the misdeeds of Arthur Birling in relation to his employee, Eva Smith. Mr Birling refuses to acknowledge or to hold himself accountable for the effects that firing the young woman had on her well-being, and Gerald immediately rushes to his defence. This foreshadows the fact that Gerald will also refuse to grasp any concept of responsibility, and signifies it was a common feature of upper-class personalities in 1914 and in JB Priestley’s time of writing.
In contrast, Sheila Birling feels a lot of regret for her actions. She is exposed for getting Eva Smith fired from the new job she finds after leaving the family business. About it she states, “I'll never, never do it again to anybody”. The full, extreme extent of her remorse is shown by the repetition of never-unlike her father, the younger Sheila Birling feels a great amount of regret for her actions and does not try to justify it. Priestley shows the audience that it is OK, it is respectable, to take accountability for your actions. In doing so he encourages a way of life in which everybody takes responsibility for everybody else, a more socialist way of life that society experience during the war and which Priestley wishes to continue past it.
Gerald Croft is soon confronted with his unsavoury actions. He took prostitute Eva Smith under his wing, housed her and had intimate relations with her. He describes how he felt doing so with, “I became at once the most important person in her life”. Gerald took responsibility for Eva (Daisy Renton) in a way through his care for her, but this quote reveals the power dynamic between them that this responsibility caused. The fact that Gerald uses this to try and justify his actions shows that he enjoyed the power that it gave him, and portrays Gerald as arrogant, viewing Eva as below him because she is not upper class as he is. Priestley is educating his audience on the power that responsibility brings and through Gerald warns them not to misuse this.
Another justification that Gerald provides is he did not “ask for anything in return”. this explicitly details Gerald’s worldview- every action is a transaction, and you can never do something for the sake of just doing it. Gerald insinuates he deserves praise for not wanting anything from a girl who has nothing, which leads the audience to resent Gerald and therefore the ideology he stands for. Additionally, although he may have originally intended to do something for nothing, he eventually did end up taking advantage of Daisy sexually. Priestley criticises this capitalist meritocracy idea of payment for every deed and encourages his audience to hold a bit of responsibility for free.
Gerald, like Mr Birling, refuses to take accountability for his actions. His reasoning for this may become clear when Gerald protests to the inspector “we are respectable citizens and not criminals”. In his mind there is a border, a boundary, between the “respectable” upper class and the “criminal” lower class, and the juxtaposition between the two descriptions implies this. He feels he does not have to hold responsibility, as he conforms to his own sheltered morals, finding purity in his wealth. Priestley here criticises the mass delusion that the upper class in 1914 held, dissuading his audience from revisiting these warped points of view.
This lack of repent is continued when he attempts to comfort his fiancé Sheila after all is revealed- “everything's alright now, Sheila”. “Everything” can be construed as a mighty exaggeration, a hyperbole of ignorance, as an innocent young girl died because of his actions. Gerald has avoided responsibility, and his lack of empathy and understanding as to why Sheila may be upset by this enrages the audience, causing them to warm towards the idea of a society where everybody has to take responsibility no matter their social standing.
Gerald is representative of the bridge of the older and younger generations. Although he does not take full responsibility, like younger Eric with “we all helped to kill her”, his unempathetic view is not extended to the likes of Mr and Mrs Birling. Although he neither understands nor cares to understand the consequences of his actions, it is true that they were rooted in a desire to do good and help a girl in need. This connotes Gerald’s potential for change, and the audience long to see that from him. They are disappointed, however, at the end of the play, when Gerald tries to get Sheila to take his engagement ring back from him after finding out the inspector was not real. Still, after all that has transpired, he only wishes to move past this without giving it further thought. The burden is therefore put on the audience, perhaps those members who are on the brink of change, to accept responsibility into their everyday life and ideologies.
In summary, although Gerald has some redeeming qualities he is overall portrayed as arrogant and unempathetic through his refusal to take responsibility for his actions. Priestley utilises this character and the way that he approaches being held accountable to encourage his audience to do better and to understand the power that responsibility can hold.