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How does Priestley explore responsibility in An Inspector Calls?
Write about:
The ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls
How Priestly presents these ideas by the way he writes
In the allegorical drama, Priestley depicts the Birlings as emblems for the rich plutocrats, and whilst Priestley suggests that the older generation will continue to malinger around responsibilities, he vicariously generates a hope for the future, through the actions of Sheila and Eric. The political diatribe does this through: Birling’s exploitation of Eva smith in his corrupt factory; Gerald’s exploitation of Daisy Renton; and the hope for future generations to uptake social responsibility, and therefore create a fair, egalitarian society.
Arguably, in the morality play, Priestley characterisation of Birling, as an avaricious, archetypal businessman, who focuses on shedding responsibility towards Eva’s death, serves to illustrate the laborious, unfair exploitation of women during the Edwardian Era. This is established through Mr Birling’s impersonal furniture, that is described as [heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike]”. Priestley’s employment of plastic theatre establishes the Birlings’ “fairly large suburban house”, as superficial, grandiose and unnecessary. Priestley invites his contemporaries to believe that this wealth, is excessive and could’ve been used to increase the wages of the poor. Alternatively, it could establish the Birlings as deeply caring for class and status, rather than the conditions of the poor. Unfortunately, due to this being so ubiquitous in the Edwardian era, it led to wide-spread poverty among the working classes. Therefore, Priestley admonishes the microcosm of the Birlings and their upper-class traditionalism, in order to allow his audience to contemplate societal reform. Priestley’s message is emphasised in Birling’s speech: he “speaks as a hard-headed businessman”, and justifies Eva’s dismissal, since she had “far too much to say”. Firstly, the fact that Birling is being alluded to Sir Stanley Baldwin, who was a detrimental prime minister in war, explicitly establishes Birling as irresponsible. More explicitly, warfare epitomizes capitalism: men are depicted as expendable commodities, for the profit of the nation in the process. Overall, Priestley wants his audience to make this link and as a result, vote labour in the upcoming election of 1945, so they can prevent future world wars. This irresponsibility is in Birling’s accusation (Eva had “far too much to say”), which illustrates the unfair power balance between Eva and Birling. Through the construct of Eva, she symbolises the factory workers, and the miniscule power they hold in the bureaucracy. In this way, Priestley generates odium in the feminists, and therefore invites them to pursue the suffragette movement. That is to say, Birling’s firing of Eva Smith with obscure allegations, as well as their irresponsibility in warfare, sacrificing soldiers for financial gain, explicitly portrays the upper class as irresponsible, which contributes to Priestley’s overall message of socialism.
Arguably, Priestley’s construction Gerald, as an entrenched misogynist, who philanders around brothels and bars, and then “installs” Eva in his friend’s apartment serves to highlight the problems of deceitful young men of the Edwardian era. Sheila exclaims that Gerald was Daisy’s “wonderful fairy prince”, who had “lived very economically on what [Gerald] had allowed her.” Priestley encapsulates Gerald as an epitome of social superiority, symbolising the aristocrats superiority they had over destitute women. Priestley creates Sheila’s sarcastic tone towards Gerald, hinting at her indignation towards Gerald’s awfulness. This is emphasised by Sheila’s speech including fricatives, to emphasise this sarcastic tone. Priestley wants his audience to side with Sheila and condemn Gerald for his exploitative actions. Alternatively, Priestley creates a façade. More explicitly, the innocent metaphor, accompanied by the undertone of Gerald’s sexual abuse to Daisy, accentuates Gerald’s true nature - Gerald desires fornication, rather than Eva’s welfare. Priestley does this to enrage the audience and dissociate from the power imbalance between classes and genders Gerald upper class male (powerful), vs Eva’s lower-class female (impotent). Furthermore, Gerald had “installed” Daisy into his “friends apartment”, which Priestley illustrates the detrimental normality of this interaction. Also, this objectification of Daisy, links to Simeone de Beauvoir’s theory of the male gaze. Considering that many feminists would be cognizant of this theory, Priestley’s constructs people like Gerald as culpable for the common objectification of women in Edwardian society. Therefore, Priestley evokes more hatred in these feminists, and invites socialism as a solution to it. Later in the play, Gerald claims “how do we know it’s the same girl?” Gerald’s reference to Eva, as a “girl”, depicts her as irresponsible, and perhaps puerile for her death. This would further enrage the audience, and Priestley spurs them to change their ways. However, this quote confirms that Gerald will not conform to socialism, and he hasn’t learnt the inspector’s message. This illustrates him as a static character. Therefore, Priestley reminds his audience that in 1912, it was impossible for change, as many of the middle generations would refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Overall, Priestley constructs Gerald as a misogynistic character, who remains static towards accepting responsibility.
Arguably, Priestley’s creation of an socialist aspiration for the current younger generation, to acknowledge their irresponsibility, through the construct of Sheila. In the play’s exposition, Sheila is established as materialistic and immature. This is exemplified in “is it the one [ring] [Gerald] wanted me to have?”. This rhetorical question establishes Sheila as materialistic and focused on luxury items. Priestley contrasts this to the lower classes “penny-picking”, illustrating the superfluous wealth of the Birlings. Sheila being blinded by her family and materialism, is emphasised by her name Sheila means blinded in Gaelic, and her name is a near homophone to shielded. Priestley doesn’t blame Sheila for her callowness, but her parents, who shield her from the harsh reality of Eva smith. This is further emphasised in act 2 when she says if Eva was a “plain little creature”, and not “very pretty” she wouldn’t have got Eva fired. Metaphorically speaking, this dehumanisation of Eva smith, accentuates Sheila as a typical aristocrat, who condemns the lower classes. It also emphasises the male gaze theory, illustrating how beauty stemmed from the nefarious males of Edwardian society (Gerald). Priestley utilises Eva being fired consequently for societal standards for women. Alternatively, Sheila is presented in the morality play, as a symbol of envy. Her envy arguably originates from her desire to meet male expectations. This emphasises the awfulness of societal expectations of women. Therefore, this drums home Priestley’s perspective of societal standards, and therefore he invites the audience to discard them as well. Also in act 2, Sheila exclaims that “these girls aren’t cheap labour they’re people”, Priestley constructs Sheila as starting to conform to the inspector’s message in the play. Unfortunately, the pronoun of “girl”, still establishes Sheila’s classist attitude towards the proletariat, she still sees them as puerile, like her family members. This microcosm reflects wider society, and Priestley wants his younger audience to realise they have a propensity to change, like Sheila. Also, the structural point of Sheila as a proxy for inspector, further promoting his views, boosts the robustness of Priestley’s socialist views. This encourages the audience to abide to the inspector, like Sheila does. In act 3, Priestley makes Sheila mention the final Inspector’s words of “fire and blood and anguish”, which could indicate Sheila has fully conformed to these socialist views. This emphasises her role as a proxy for the inspector. However, considering the play’s denouement ends with a second telephone call, still illustrates the Birlings and Sheila in need for another teaching. Implicitly, it also suggests war: Eva’s deaths are emblems for the world wars. This is emphasised by the Inspector’s final words of “fire and blood and anguish”, which arguably alludes to war. Priestley perhaps indicates the second world war was necessary for society to reform, and for the younger generation to finally take action, in creating a utopian society. More explicitly, Priestley questions if Sheila and the younger generation would uptake socialism (be a responsible adult) and create an egalitarian society.
To conclude, Priestley constructs the characters, to offer a didactic message to the audience they should vote for a socialist government, and the feminists should continue to strive for power. At the end of the play, he wants his audience to disparage class, wealth and status as ways of feeling superior to those in penury, and instead take responsibility. As a result, they would produce a utopian society for future generations, so that “fire and blood and anguish”, won’t continue.

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