The question that I attempted, coming from a 2019 paper, is as follows:
How does Priestley present selfishness and its effects in An Inspector Calls?
Write about: examples of selfish behaviour in the play and how Priestley presents selfishness and its effects.
AO4 [4 marks]
Here's my response:
In the didactic play 'An Inspector Calls', the quintessential values of capitalism through inheritance and hierarchy displays to the audience how society must change from a selfish, innate nature to socialist reform.
Many capitalistic qualities are associated with the characters 'Mr Birling' and 'Gerald Croft' that Priestley utilises as a construct. The characters display greedy, materialistic alliances to aid the bourgeoise social class. Mr Birling and Croft subjugates the prolateriat's wealth by having "cheaper costs" and "higher prices", discerning any compassion for the working class. It forces people like Eva Smith to "count pennies". This clearly shows a cartel methodology because the working class have no other option but to conform to low wages in this industry.
Moreover, Priestley constructs Mr Birling's first name as an analogy, 'Arthur'. This name is reciprocal to 'King Arthur' who heavily imposed Marxist ideologies. In this scenario, King Arthur sat at a round table with several people, all equidistant from each other. Therefore, when King Arthur stripped everyone's wealth, they were all identical to one body. This is ironical because Priestley has juxtaposed Mr Birling at the '[dining table]', shown in the stage directions, with King Arthur. Additionally, Mr Birling was at the head with his family at varying distances from each other, all possessing different materials. Consequently, this represents the hierarchy of 1912. The audience would have learnt to oppose this, and therefore would have elected a Labour government in 1945.
Following the speech "A man has to look after his own and-", Mr Birling gets interrupted by '[a sharp ring of a doorbell]'. The stage direction implies that Mr Birling has summoned God to cleanse his sinful speech. Priestley has constructed the Inspector as a proxy for Christian values. Alternatively, the '[ring of a doorbell]' could represent the working class' dissatisfaction of their treatment, and have waged a rebellion or protest. Much of the audience are middle and upper class. Therefore, Priestley has synthesised Christianity as an allegory to cease the immoral treatment of workers.
Similarly, the Inspector has concluded a teaching to the Birlings: "If men do not learn, they will be taught in fire, blood, and anguish". This speech has specifically been directed to "men" because of the patriarchal society imposed in 1912. Furthermore, Priestley has set this play before World War One to show the didactic element. If men have learnt their lesson, they would not have started WW1 and WW2. Therefore, business owners have utilised the wars in conquest for more power because it will further their financial interest for resources and territory.
Lastly, selfishness is conveyed through misogynistic behaviour. When Eric had a relationship with Daisy, he confessed to being "in the state when a chap turns nasty". "the state" connotates that this is an archetypal act. However, the audience would be disgusted of this treatment towards women. He treated Daisy as property, giving 'fifty pounds' to lure her back to the relationship. Usually, this money was used for drinking, implying that his demeanour was perpetuated by being drunk. Overall, Priestley has presented many behaviours relating to selfishness.