An Inspector Calls
By j. b. priestley, an inspector calls essay questions.
Trace the different levels of tension throughout the play. How does Priestley create tension?
To answer this question, you might want to consider some factors associated with tension: twists, pace, momentum, and so on. It is important to consider what the audience knows and does not know at any given point, as well as the clues that Priestley drops. Note that some tension can be found within a character and that some can be found between characters. You can consider tension similarly to the way you consider conflict, but do not just name the conflicts; this question asks you to examine the different levels or magnitudes of tension and how Priestley produces tension for the characters and for the audience.
The Inspector is nothing more than a perfectly human hoaxer, and Priestley makes it clear. Do you agree?
This question asks you to focus on the role of the Inspector. You might begin by explaining how you might justify the premise in the question, noting the evidence that suggests he is a human hoaxer, then opening your answer out to take in some other points of view. Consider that Priestley might have left the Inspector's identity ambiguous on purpose.
How are Birling and the Inspector coming from "opposite ideological points of view"?
This question asks you to focus on two characters and how their political and social views differ. Use a lot of quotations from the play to develop an understanding of the different standpoints of each character. Consider what each one seems to believe about the role of an individual in society, and use the theme of responsibility as a major guide. It might also be helpful to consider a few similarities.
Delineate the "chain of events" that allegedly led to Eva Smith's death.
This question simply asks you to explain the chain of events that led to Eva Smith's death, from the point of view of the Inspector. A good answer to this question might go further and look at the idea of the "chain of events" itself, who believes in it, and its relevance as a metaphor.
Write a character analysis of Gerald Croft.
Outline his characteristics based on what he says and what he does, both during the play and before it begins. Try to assess both the good and the bad things about him before drawing a conclusion.
Why is time an important theme in Priestley's play?
Focus not only on time as a concept (consider what Priestley thought and wrote about time) but also on the pecularities of time as it applies to this play in particular. Think about how the Inspector in particular has to do with this theme, and consider how the past actions of individual characters build the scenario of Eva's death, the interrogations and judgments of the present, and the Inspector's warning about the future.
J.L. Styan has written that the play's final twist gives a "spurious emphasis irrelevant to the substance of the play." Might he be wrong?
This question asks you to engage with a critical opinion regarding the final twist of the play. First, outline your view of the final moments of the play, focusing on the strange news and the themes involved. Do these themes intensify or distract from the play thus far and the play as a whole? Does the news put a kind of bracket around the rest of the play that gives the whole episode with the Inspector a new meaning? If so, does this put us in the place of Mr. Birling, such that the theme of responsibility no longer has as much weight if it was all a hoax or a weird supernatural event--or does the prospect of it having been a supernatural event invest the idea of responsibility with even greater import?
Make the case for Edna being the play's most important character.
This question asks you to look at the role of Edna and consider how she, perhaps more than anyone else, might be central to the play and its themes. If Edna represents the living objects of all of the characters' present social responsibilities, she may be even more important than the deceased Eva. If in some sense the rich have a social responsibility toward the poor, then perhaps Edna embodies the central message of the play regarding the need to look out for one another. A good essay also will examine the counter-evidence: perhaps at best she is a symbol of the play's message and in that sense only a minor character. And isn't social responsibility really about each person's responsibility to all others, rather than the one-sided class-based responsibility, drawing on old notions of a social elite, that would narrowly see the class issue as central to the play?
Compare An Inspector Calls to another play by Priestley that you have read.
This play asks you to look at An Inspector Calls against another play by Priestley. Time and the Conways or I Have Been Here Before might be good choices. Consider the similarities and differences in the plays' plots, characters and, of course, dominant or important themes and apparent messages. Also consider the historical context of the plays.
To what extent is Birling essentially a comic character, lacking a serious or ominous side?
This question puts forward quite a provocative view of Birling. Most readers will disagree with the idea that there is no serious dimension to Birling's actions and words or that there is nothing ominous presented about his allegedly selfish views and politics. Yet, keen readers will notice the moments at which an audience might find Priestley's presentation of him and his views comic, especially for the sake of making his views seem ludicrous. Weigh both sides of the issue before drawing a conclusion for your essay.
An Inspector Calls Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for An Inspector Calls is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
what does birling tell gerald that he hopes will impress lady croft? act one
Sheila Birling is engaged to be married to Gerald. Daughter of Arthur Birling and Sybil Birling, and sister of Eric. Priestley describes her as "a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited," which is precisely...
How is class represented in An Inspector Calls?
Taking the play from a socialist perspective inevitably focuses on issues of social class. Class is a large factor, indirectly, in the events of the play and Eva Smith’s death. Mrs. Birling, Priestley notes, is her husband’s social superior, just...
Study Guide for An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls study guide contains a biography of J.B. Priestley, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About An Inspector Calls
- An Inspector Calls Summary
- Character List
Essays for An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley.
- How J.B. Priestley Creates Sympathy for Eva Smith in "An Inspector Calls"
- Sheila's Evolution in An Inspector Calls
- What is the importance of the characters Sheila and Eric?
- Generation vs Generation
- The Interconnected Nature of Society in An Inspector Calls
Lesson Plan for An Inspector Calls
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to An Inspector Calls
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
Wikipedia Entries for An Inspector Calls
- Reception and interpretation
An Inspector Calls
J. b. priestley, everything you need for every book you read..
Resources you can trust
Questions on Act 1 of An Inspector Calls
A comprehensive set of questions on the first 11 pages from the beginning of J.B Priestley's play to consolidate students' understanding of Act 1 of An Inspector Calls.
The questions guide students through the exposition of the play and are sectioned according to each of the main characters: Mr Birling, Eric, Gerald, Sheila and Mrs Birling.
There are questions that help students address issues of context, allowing them to consider the implications of the period, including impending world war, the sinking of the Titanic and the exploitation of cheap labour by wealthy people, such as the Birling family.
An essential piece of guidance for students studying for GCSE English Literature, this helpful resource enables them to interrogate issues that are essential to a thorough An Inspector Call s Act 1 analysis.
Browse additional An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley resources in the An Inspector Calls section.
Example questions from the teaching resource:
- Why does Mr Birling go on about the Port?
- Why does he fail in what he tries to do?
- What does Sheila mean by ‘purple faced old men’?
- Do you know what ‘reproachfully’ means? Use a dictionary to check if you are not sure.
- What does Mrs Birling criticise Arthur for?
- Does this show anything about Mrs Birling's character?
Have you used this resource?
Helen Stacey, Teachit English Editor
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Act-by-Act Questions on An Inspector Calls
Click on the button above to access a booklet of questions on An Inspector Calls . Like the booklet I put it together on Jekyll and Hyde , it’s designed for students to work through whilst they wait in their bubble for lessons to begin. As before, each question requires a basic an answer and an ‘extension’ response.
Hope it’s useful –
Doug [email protected]
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Below you'll find a range of key quotes from the play, including some analysis for them. The key thing here will be getting to know the quotes very well.
To start with, choose two quotes from each character and then use the analysis to create a colourful mind map that will help you remember the analysis., key questions to ask about each quote:, what themes does it relate to, what does it say about the characters' relationships with each other, how does priestley want the audience to feel about the quote, which words would you zoom in on.
Remember that in an exam, you're better off having a few quotes you know really well rather than a load that you've learned by heart but can't analyse.
Also - in an exam you do not need to remember the quote perfectly but you do need to explain what it says about the characters, theme and how the audience would be expected to respond to it., key quotes:, mr birling:, - a heavy looking, rather portentous man… provincial in this speech, mr birling is described as being “heavy looking” as though he has strength and weight behind him, but as he only “looks” that way – is it real provincial means from the country – does he lack sophistication, - unsinkable, absolutely, unsinkable, this piece of dramatic irony exposes birling’s arrogance. the titanic did sink – and so he was wrong. his repetition makes him sound even more confident, - community and all that nonsense … mixed up together like bees in a hive, he ridicules the idea of working together – comparing us to bees in a hive: insects with no ability to think for ourselves, - a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his…., mr birling’s selfishness is so deeply rooted he thinks he “has to” look after himself – as though being selfish was some kind of rule, - i can't accept any responsibility for everything that happens to everyone, now his ability to look after other people is presented as though it’s a kind of disability he “can’t” accept any responsibility for anyone else. also, the “everything that happens to everyone” is a piece of hyperbole that’s designed to make the suggestion that he should care more sound ridiculous, - well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down, “duty” comes up repeatedly during the play – mr birling thinks it’s his duty to keep costs down so that his customers can enjoy his product and he can compete. he has no care for the real cost of this, - we’ve been had that’s all, in the end, he doesn’t care and he hasn’t learnt anything. he sees the whole thing as a game, mrs birling:, - girls of that class, mrs birling clearly draws a distinction between her and eva – she is “that” class., - if you think you can bring any pressure to bear upon my inspector, you’re quite mistaken, mrs birling’s arrogance – the inspector won’t affect her. her tone is almost patronising as well, - you have no power to make me change my mind, the inspector has “no power” over her – no ability to change her – she sees power as being entirely down to privilege and the idea that he might reason with her is not something she could contemplate, - i don’t believe it. i won’t believe it., is this mrs birling’s truth that she “won’t” see the truth – she refuses to, - i did no more than my duty, her duty is to pass judgments on the lower classes. that is what she did and she’s unapologetic about it, - i accept no blame for it at all, again – a refusal to accept any responsibility for what happened, - i was the only one who didn’t give in to him, even in the end she is determined to maintain her sense of superiority, - oh – gerald – you’ve got it – is it the one you wanted me to have … look mummy, isn’t a beauty, sheila can’t make her own decisions – she’s just a child (and a woman) her reference to her mummy also exposes how child-like she is, while the fact that she shows off her ring and not her husband shows that she is shallow and materialistic, - i’ll never, never, do it to anybody again, she shows regret – and repeats a promise to change, - they’re not cheap labour, they’re people, she doesn’t see eva by virtue of how much she costs to employ, she sees her as a person, - you and i aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here., shows that both her and gerald have changed – gerald changes back, she doesn’t, - between us we drove that girl to commit suicide., she accepts and shares responsibility in the way the inspector taught, - the point is – you don’t seem to have learnt anything, she’s now grown up and tells her parents off, - it's you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts., the best line to show sheila’s growth – now her parents are the young ones, - why shouldn’t they try for higher wages we try for the highest possible prices., eric recognises that capitalism should allow for workers to push for better wages as well as mr birling tries to lower them – she sees the workers as being independent people, - i was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty, a euphemism for his rape shows just how little he thought – or thinks – about what he did, - the girl’s dead and we all killed her, he accepts responsibility, - she was young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful., gerald speaks highly of her and is clearly flattered by how much she appreciates him. but he goes on to treat her appallingly anyway, - i’m rather more – upset – by this business than i probably appear to be –, gerald is two-faced – was he really upset by this or has he just realised that he should be upset by this, - it may have all been nonsense, he begins to change back – if he can get out of the problem, then it didn’t really happen, - he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity, and purposefulness, a list of adjectives that really show what the inspector is made of. though, like birling, he only gives an “impression” of it, - it’s better to ask for the earth than take it, is this a veiled threat of revolution from the inspector the russian workers rose up in 1917 and took russia back., - a chain of events., we are all connected in the inspector’s view – links in a chain., click on the extension quotes and scroll to the bottom for a detailed analysis of his closing speech., extension quotes, the lighting should be pink and intimate until the inspector arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder., this stage direction portrays the capitalist and nonchalant atmosphere in a pink and soft light that the play opens with, suggesting that it is ‘rosy’ - like the birlings are looking at the world through rose tinted spectacles, unlike reality. it suggests that the events inside the household are somehow unrealistic, or sheltered, as most of the characters are protected by their wealth. when the inspector arrives, however, he brings a brighter and harder light, which shines lights on everything, dispelling this rosy atmosphere, replacing it with reality. the inspector is in this sense like a literal torch, shining a light on falsehood, so the inspector is the moral correctness in this story., ‘arthur birling is a heavy looking , rather portentous man’, the fact that mr birling’s stage directions “ heavy looking ,” suggests that he has a certain gravitas, or a weight of character – though it’s worth noting that he is only heavy “looking” so this may be deceitful. also, it shows that he is well fed and therefore well off. someone who is “ portentous ” is overly solemn, as if trying to impress, which suggests he takes himself a little too seriously., “ the titanic –unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable ” –mr birling (act 1), this portrays the didactic nature of mr birling, and goes to highlight the edwardian hubris (pride/confidence) of the time. it’s unrealistically positive, and also shows that mr birling thinks that he knows it all (by the repetition). this is more dramatic irony, and it also highlights his arrogance., “ there’s a fair chance that i might find my way into the next honours list. just a knighthood, of course .” – mr birling (act 1), “ i care. i was almost certain for a knighthood in the next honours list” – mr birling (act 3), birling’s dream is social climbing, and may also imply that the reason that mr birling has married a relatively poor aristocrat (mrs birling) was as a trade deal – he gets to climb the social ladder (be part of the aristocracy to some extent), and she gets the money, and by that we can infer the shallow nature of the family. sheila’s marriage is arguably a part of the same plan. but mr birling’s truly blind and ruthless nature isn’t really exposed until later in the play when he claims to care about what happened to eva, but only on the grounds that it might block this ambition. he is truly, deeply selfish., “ don’t get into a police court or start a scandal, eh ” – mr birling (act 1), foreshadowing of the entire accusation involving eva smith. priestley loved being a part of an in-joke with the audience, and - we must assume - that a line like this will be interpreted by most viewers as a big neon sign saying: scandal to come watch this space this kind of action in a play is referred to as an example of chekov’s gun - which is a law of narrative that states that if a gun appears in the opening, it is sure to be used by the end. in this case, the fact that mr birling has made it clear that all is well as long as he avoids a scandal, is a sure sign that a scandal is coming, “ but the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up, together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense .” – mr birling (act 1), he’s calling socialists cranks - a kind of patronising term for mad people - and denounces the very ideas of socialism, by saying that the entire system is weak, annoying and subhuman (insect like, like bees.) capitalists also attack socialism as they say it degrades human individuality, suggesting that socialists require us all to live like one enormous machine with no individual rights. mr birling’s comparison to bees supports this - he’s saying that if we were to live collectively, as the inspector wants, we’d be no better than a hive of insects., “ but take my word for it, you youngsters – and i’ve learnt in the good hard school of experience – that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and – “ – mr birling (act 1), this again shows how he thinks he knows it all, as he thinks of himself as an elder teaching the younger generation which will succeed his, evident by his use of the term ‘youngsters’, and portrays his arrogance and capitalist views, and he’s cut off right after by the sharp ring of the doorbell. this is inspector goole, who, like the doorbell, cuts off the assertions of birling like a sharp ring, implying that it may somehow cause pain – to the edwardian hubris, and is used by priestly to show that mr birling is disreputable, as it abruptly cuts him off., “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and…” we hear the sharp ring of a front doorbell, mr birling perfectly summarises his capitalist sentiment when he tells gerald and eric that “a man has to mind his own business .” here, he is instilling in gerald a set of masculine values that are, basically, just about being selfish. by adding the phrase “his own” he attempts to make it seem less selfish by bringing a family into it, but, fundamentally: he’s telling his son and soon to be son-in-law to look after themselves. it is at this point when the stage directions announce the arrival of the inspector with a “ sharp ring of a front doorbell” – the sharpness bringing about the man who will now correct mr birling’s attitudes. it’s also worth noting that the inspector is described as imposing and powerful and that these are things that masculinity would have traditionally valued so it’s fair to say that the inspector, despite his care and compassion, is no less ‘traditionally masculine’ than mr birling, (impatiently) “yes, yes. horrid business.” – mr birling (act 1), the repetition of yes in the opening here betrays how annoying he finds this whole thing - he doesn’t care about lower class people at all, and shows no empathy; in fact, he’s clearly annoyed by the whole thing. also, the way he refers to it as “business” reveals something about how he views everything, even the tragic death of a young girl: to him it is all business.., i can't accept any responsibility for everything that happens to everyone, at one point, mr birling claims that he “ can't ” accept any responsibility for what happens to other people. here the modal verb “can’t” suggests that doesn’t feel that he doesn’t want to do this, but that he simply isn’t capable of doing it. the use of the adjective “any” reinforces this, as it isn’t just this particular responsibility it is any responsibility at all. it’s interesting to propose that this is as a result of mr birling’s provincial roots – he worked his way out of possible poverty and has earned what he now has. it is understandable that many people who have worked hard from lowly beginnings end up with a more selfish and unsympathetic approach to life later on., “well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down” – mr birling (act 1), he makes it seem as if he has a moral obligation to be rich, and stay upper class, as if capitalism, or his purist view on it, is what keeps society together. this is a common view of capitalists, and right wing people in general: that they have a responsibility to work for their own ends; that it is their duty to compete for the best, as it is through competition that society advances. socialists think progress is achieved through cooperation, capitalists believe that progress is achieved through competition., “look, inspector – i’d give thousands – yes, thousands-” – mr birling (act 3), still as capitalist as he was before, as he thinks money can cover for a dead girl. he, like scrooge, only sees things in terms of their material worth. also, depending on how this line is delivered it could be seen as a bribe to the inspector, “everything’s all right now, sheila” – gerald (act 3), he’s reverted back to his former patronising tone with sheila – so long as he wasn’t to blame for any suicides, he’s happy. gerald goes on to find out that inspector goole isn’t even part of the police force, and that eva smith/daisy renton doesn’t exist and seems more at ease than before, and doesn’t seem ‘shaken’ at all by the events that had taken place, and he seems to form an ‘alliance’ with the older birlings, by confirming the inspector wasn’t real, and shows that he was unable to change. over the course of the play, he changed to a more moral and humanistic person, but changed back to his former self, at the very chance of possibly being let off this crime. though it shows he expresses regret if it did happen, it shows that he doesn’t care if he wasn’t involved. in a nutshell: he thinks he got away with it, so he’s happy now., mrs birling, “ arthur, you shouldn’t be saying such things ” –mrs birling (act 1), mrs birling is a woman of higher class who has married mr birling, for his wealth. we have to assume that although she is aristocracy she is no longer wealthy - she represents the large number of aristocrats who, by edwardian england, had lost their wealth. he was complementing the chef, and she is reprimanding him because he complimented a person of a lower class. this highlights how she is ‘stuck-up’ and sees herself as the better of mr birling., mrs birling: when you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. you’ll have to get used to that, just as i had. - mrs birling (act 1), mrs birling reminds sheila of her place. as a quote this emphasises just how engrained the patriarchy was (the patriarchy is the social system that kept men in power) because in it we can see mrs birling almost teaching her daughter that she will have to accept being ignored in favour of business. however, at the end of the quote mrs birling does express some dissatisfaction, admitting that she had to "get used" to it, something which at least makes it clear that she didn't like the situation. the quote also, however, reminds us how hard men like birling had to work in order to build and maintain their businesses, suggesting that the system didn't entirely help them either., “ absurd business ” – mrs birling (act 2), she calls the entire case concerning eva smith ‘absurd’, which is euphemism, which she is using to downplay the scenario, and therefore any responsibility that any of them bare in it, and highlights her aristocratic uncaring nature concerning the lower classes – she doesn’t care at all, she thinks it’s stupid. also, like mr birling, she refers to the death of eva as a business - suggesting that she sees a connection between financial reward and human life., “ girls of that class -“ – mrs birling (act 2), again, a demonstration of mrs birling’s snobbery, in which she first said ‘we can’t understand why the girl committed suicide’, and with the pronoun “that,” it is suggested that she thinks of them as completely separate from her, and the ‘that’ makes it seem as if she is denouncing them, as if they are vulgar or “other.”, “ you know of course that my husband was lord mayor only two years ago, and that he’s still a magistrate -“ – mrs birling (act 2), mrs birling is trying to reinstate the fact that her husband bares great power, and tries to use this to stop him from ‘offending’ them, and make him go – she’s trying to use wealth and influence to undermine the law, which further highlights how she sees herself as above the common person, just due to the wealth and influence, despite supposedly being the same sort of citizen as them, of a country., “ women of the town” – mrs birling (act 2), again, mrs birling is using euphemisms to talk of people of a lower class than herself, as she is referring to prostitutes, and again separating them from herself. this extreme self-centeredness and disdain for the lower classes is what priestly is arguing against, by using such a snobby character to present those views, we dislike the character, and we get that we should also dislike those views. this is especially telling in mrs birling as she runs the charitable institute. we have to ask why a woman who holds the views she does would run an institute for desperate women, if not solely to wallow in the power it gives her., (shocked) “eric you stole money” – mrs birling (act 3), more shocked at eric stealing money than at the entire case concerning eva smith, including the actions they’d done, again highlights how she doesn’t care at all for eva smith, as anything that happened to her doesn’t concern her that much. this also shows the lack of change that mrs birling has undergone, contrasting the younger generation, and paralleling mr birling. it also highlights just how little she understands of her son, (half serious, half playful) “yes – except for last summer, when you never came near me” –sheila (act 1), suggesting that she doesn’t fully trust him, despite the fact that they’re going to be married soon, but again shows how she is childish, and relatively light-hearted, as she is still ‘half playful’ even in something which could be seen as quite serious., “ you’re squiffy ” –sheila, to eric (act 1), colloquial language, she is saying that eric is drunk, and highlights their casual brother / sister relationship, a childish one at that, despite them both being over 18 years old. also shows that eric drinks too much, so is quite immature and doesn’t really know self-restraint., oh – gerald – you’ve got it – is it the one you wanted me to have, when sheila is given the ring, she asks gerald if it’s the one “you wanted me to have.” here, she completely removes the idea that she might have feelings about which ring she gets. this reflects both her position as a woman in a patriarchal society, and how, as a young girl, she still needs to have decisions made for her. it’s as if she wants to please other people so much that her own opinions don’t matter – this will change once her conscience is awakened by the arrival of the inspector., “ oh – it’s wonderful look – mummy – isn’t it a beauty ” –sheila (act 1), showing the childish nature of sheila, despite being in her early twenties, highlighted by here use of the word ‘mummy’. her childish nature is also shown through the use of dashes which emphasise her excitement. also, she seems more excited by the ring than by her husband., “what was she like quite young” …. “pretty” – sheila (act 1), sheila asks these questions and the inspector replies that eva smith was twenty-four and was pretty, but the fact that she asked these questions shows that she has an affinity towards eva smith, just because of her being of a similar age, and being pretty, despite her being of a totally different class and upbringing compared to sheila. but with the foresight, and knowing sheila’s potential involvement with eva, we can conclude that she thinks that she knows this eva smith, at this point, and feels guilt over the fact that she is dead, but the guilt is not solid at this point., it’s worth noting that eva is called “pretty” 12 times in the play - that’s four times in each act, which is very often, considering all the other talents she possessed., “these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.” – sheila (act 1), priestly using sheila as his mouthpiece, in place of the inspector, and also highlighting the division between the generations further, and the moral aptitude of sheila. this shows that sheila is learning. she won’t see sheila in terms that are limited to her material worth to the company, but she sees them as people., [laughs rather hysterically] why - you fool - he knows . of course he knows. and i hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet. you'll see. you'll see. she looks at him almost in triumph ., sheila, shortly before the end of act one, crucially understands the importance of the inspector and the fact that he has more information than he is revealing. she is the first person in the play to really begin to understand the inspector which, in turn, leads her to see her relationship with gerald in a more realistic, more cynical way., mother, i think that was cruel and vile, at the beginning of play sheila is obsessed with making other people happy, but towards the end she begins speaking her own mind. after hearing about how her mother refused help to eva, she says: “mother, i think that was cruel and vile.” the use of the personal pronoun verb phrase “i think” reflects how she is now able to express her own mind – she it taking responsibility for her own thoughts and expressing them. also, the adjectives “cruel and vile” are both quite cutting, reflecting just how far she has come – at the beginning of the play she was being told off by her mother, towards the end she is accusing her of cruelty., (she hands him the ring.) –sheila (act 2), this shows great change in character, as at the start she was very materialistic, and naïve about what she had done, and now she willingly relinquishes a ring she had been given. she now juxtaposes with the character she was at the beginning., “i rather respect you more than i’ve ever done before.” – sheila (act 2), demonstrative of the great change in character than sheila has undergone, and she’s even ditched her role as a child, as she’s matured to the point that she can forgive gerald, despite his affair with daisy renton, due to him not being uncaring towards her in her desperation., “you and i aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here.” –sheila (act 2), again showing how she has matured enough to recognise that she has matured, and that both of the characters present have undergone great change (sheila and gerald), due to their confessions of involvement with eva smith, and this also shows how sheila has become rather perceptive over this play., “let’s hope not. though i’m beginning to wonder.” – sheila (act 2), in response to her father saying that the inspector hasn’t come here to talk about his responsibilities, she’s perceived that the inspector may well be a moral inspector alongside a literal inspector., “if all that’s come out tonight is true, then it doesn’t much matter who it was who made us confess.” – sheila (act 3), she feels a lot of guilt over the actions, despite the fact that the accusations may have been false, as, if she’d gotten someone fired, she feels guilt for them. she parallels eric, and contrasts with gerald, and the older birlings., on responsibility…, sheila is one of the only people in the play to really accept responsibility for the death of eva smith. at one point, she observes that “between us we drove that girl to commit suicide.” here, she acknowledges the collective responsibility of the group; she’s not feeling sorry for herself or blaming herself, and nor is she refusing blame – like her parents – but she is recognising what the inspector claims: “that we are responsible for each other.” in this quote, she is not just taking responsibility for eva, but for the rest of her family. also, the use of the verb “drove” makes it clear that they were actively involved in killing eva and not just passive observers., “why shouldn’t they try for higher wages we try for the highest possible prices.” – eric (act 1), eric presents his father with quite a challenging view: while mr birling believes that he has the right to fight for lower wages from his staff, he resents it when they struggle back. this reflects the way that the owners of business resent the behaviour of unions: managers are happy to drive down salaries, but resent it when the workers push back for more., “whoever that chap was, the fact remains that i did what i did. and mother did what she did. and the rest of you did what you did to her. it’s still the same rotten story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or to somebody else.” – eric (act 3), eric is paralleling sheila’s stance that they’ve all done something bad, and that they should take responsibility for it – something which gerald, and the older birlings are adamantly refusing to do., (with an effort) “inspector, i think miss birling ought to be excused…. she’s had a long and exciting day.” – gerald (act 2), this makes sheila look childish, in the sense that gerald is taking charge, despite clearly feeling uncomfortable talking in this atmosphere, as he speaks ‘with an effort’. this solidifies gerald’s position as among the birling’s, as he treats sheila as a child; that she needs to be ‘managed’ somehow. it’s telling that he did this “with an effort” which could almost suggest that he didn’t like to do it, though it might also simply be because he knows he’s about to be exposed, eva was " young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful. ", gerald describes eva in a manner that would leave some members of the audience a little uncomfortable. the first half of this quote is supposed to show eva in a positive light (though her tragedy was still tragic even if she was old, ugly and a bit sour) but the second half of it is quite shocking. of course she was grateful gerald... she was starving and you fed her, used her, and then dropped her when you were done., i’m rather more – upset – by this business than i probably appear to be –, gerald is two-faced – was he really upset by this or has he just realised that he should be upset by this , it may have all been nonsense, he begins to change back to his former self – if he can get out of the problem, then it didn’t really happen, he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity, and purposefulness… …has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking., despite the inspector being a social inferior, he seems to create an “impression of massiveness,” which hasn’t been created by any other character thus far, and gives him an air of authority. this, combined with his ‘disconcerting’ habit, makes him seems unnatural, almost, for that era, especially. also, his name ‘goole’, which sounds like ‘ghoul’, makes him seem supernatural, like some sort of spectre, right from his introduction., “quite so.” – inspector goole (act 1), in response to mr birling saying talking about how he has connections with the police, which could be considered him threatening goole, because of his attitude, in which he doesn’t recognize him as a social superior, to which the inspector sharply contrasts his rambling on with 2 cold and objective words. this highlights the inspector as a character who says things based on objective fact, and doesn’t care about purposeless matters (as he seems to have an impression of purposefulness), unlike mr birling. they contrast, as mr birling serves to disprove capitalist concepts, by saying them, and the inspector serves to prove socialistic concepts, due to his objective and moral views throughout the rest of the play. for similar reasons he simply says “why” to birling later on, questioning him., “we often do on the young ones. they’re more impressionable.” – inspector goole (act 2), mr birling observes that sheila is changing her view to match the inspector’s, and the inspector suggests this is because she is young. he suggests that the younger generations are able to change more, as opposed to the older generations, in response to mrs birling saying that he seems to have made a great impression on sheila. this also relates to the fact that younger people are often more likely to vote for left wing parties, and (traditionally) people tend to become more right wing as they get older., ... what happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide. a chain of events., in this fascinating excerpt, the inspector outlines the nature of the moral crime the birlings and gerald have committed against eva. each of them is responsible in part for her death, and together they are entirely responsible. this construction is itself a metaphor for priestley's insistence that we are all bound up together and responsible communally for everyone's survival. note, too, that the repetition in the inspector's lines reflect the "chain" he is talking about. the use of “determined” suggests that the inspector feels that there was a certain inevitability about what happened to her, as though eva herself didn’t contribute., she kept a rough sort of diary. and she said there that she had to go away and be quiet and remember "just to make it last longer." she felt there'd never be anything as good again for her - so she had to make it last longer., this is an unusually personal moment from the inspector, who gives us one of the first insights into eva smith's feelings and personality. he claims, of course, that he has found a diary in eva smith's room, though many interpretations have argued that the inspector in fact has a more personal connection to eva smith: perhaps he even is her ghost, or a ghoulish embodiment of her dead child priestley never tells us, but there is certainly opportunity for the actor in this part to suggest a more personal connection. note, too, the interest in time on eva's part, keeping a diary and making a point of remembering the past nostalgically., (massively) “public men, mr birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” – inspector goole (act 2), inspector goole is saying that ‘public men’, such as mr birling, who has societal responsibilities, have great responsibilities, due to their great power. this attitude could also be applied to celebrities today – they earn a lot of money and have a place in the public eye, but doesn’t that mean they also have a responsibility to behave in a socially responsible way, “don’t stammer and yammer at me again .” – inspector goole (act 2), this is demonstrative of the fact that the inspector is unconventional for the edwardian era, as he doesn’t care about class differences. he's using direct, imperative language to mr birling, but also colloquialisms like "yammer" which emphasise how much the inspector insists on remaining his own man., “there’ll be plenty of time, when i’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.” – inspector goole (act 3), this is key, as it shows that the inspector has realised and has highlighted that the mechanics of the family has fundamentally changed. mr and mrs birling seem to have formed an alliance of sorts, intent on ignoring their responsibility concerning eva smith, whereas eric and sheila seem to have formed one to accept what they’ve done, and to change in line with it., “you see, we have to share something. if there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt” – inspector goole (act 2), the inspector is highlighting how the birlings share nothing, but if they should share something, it should be their guilt over their actions, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to cope with it. he’s saying that the responsibility is not hers alone., inspector’s closing speech:, “but just remember this. one eva smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of eva smiths and john smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. we don't live alone. we are members of one body. we are responsible for each other. and i tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they well be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. good night.”, the inspector’s final speech opens with a long, complex sentence that reminds us of all the “eva smiths and john smiths” there are in the world, and which emphasises the extent to which the themes of the play are not specifically about this situation. also, the warning travels across time – from 1912 to 1945 – and it is increasingly true again today after a decade of austerity has left the use of food banks and zero-hours-contracts rising. the use of emotive language “hopes and fears … suffering … chance of happiness” all twig at the audience’s heart strings while the use of polysyndeton – the repetition of “and” in the phrase “think and say and do” – allows the actor to emphasise the key point: that our thoughts and actions and words all help to create the world we share., priestley follows this with three simple sentences, which summarise his lesson. the use of the simple imperatives breaks up his main point and makes his lesson clear and concise – “we do not live alone… we are members of one body” – so that with the right delivery it seems too obvious to argue with. it also allows an actor to break between each point which would allow them to add gravitas to the performance – perhaps even looking out across the auditorium to remind the audience of their involvement in this sham., the inspector goes on to make a prediction about what will happen if “men will not learn that lesson.” (here, we have to assume that he is referring to “mankind” and not just “men,” though it’s worth noting the irony of the fact that the character in the play who learns the lesson most successfully is actually a woman.) but, he claims that if the lesson is not learnt then we will learn it in “fire and blood and anguish.” this is a reference to the decades of war that would be fought in the years between when the play was set and when the first performance occurred. in this respect, priestley is using quite a cheeky strategy: he’s making the inspector prophetic – almost divine – in 1912, but only because priestley knew what went on to happen. it’s also interesting, however, that priestley is suggesting that disaster is inevitable if humans don’t change the way we behave. in this respect he is similar to karl marx, the founder of communism and a key socialist thinker, who argued that it the poor would inevitably rise up against the rich if equality wasn’t pursued. both thinkers, marx and priestley, claim that change must happen or disaster will inevitably strike. for the audience the dramatic irony of the inspector’s prophecy would have been very powerful, while his use second use of polysyndeton makes the list seem longer and emphasises the extra item: “anguish.”, after this, almost as a joke, the inspector leaves with a courteous “good night,” which could be seen as the edwardian equivalent of a mic drop., eva smith is a name which represents two types of people. firstly the common people of lower class, as many of the people of the lower classes had the surname ‘smith’, at the time, and also women, as eva sounds like eve – supposedly the first female human there was, according to the bible, so she encompasses the idea of lower class women, and to a lesser extent, women and lower class people separately., daisy renton , another name for eva smith, brings to mind the fact that she was a prostitute, due to the word renton, which suggests rent-out or lend out for money – her body. one could also say that the fact that she didn’t want to be a prostitute was reflected by her forename, daisy, which is a common flower, and has also typically connoted purity. interestingly, it was also the norse god freya’s sacred flower, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, and clearly the aspect of love is reflected in daisy’s character, towards gerald. the flower itself, in the context of freya, goes to represent childbirth, motherhood and new beginnings, and is symbolic in that sense of how she found a new beginning with gerald., criticisms of eva, some critics have suggested that eva smith is not a very well realised character. although she seems to be someone who is independent and capable of looking after herself (were it not for the birlings) she is actually completely dependent on them. this can be seen as a criticism of priestley’s view of the working classes, as a group of people who are dependent on the upper classes to survive when in fact they have the ability to make their own decisions., was eva the same person, one of the key elements of the play is the question of whether eva smith was the same person, or whether she was different people. this is based on the fact that the inspector didn’t let other characters see the photograph he was sharing around. having said this, gerald tells his story of having met daisy and is quite clear that she talked about having worked at one of the works and had lost her job after a strike, and that she mentioned a shop but didn’t go into details. as a result, although gerald didn’t actually see the picture, it would seem reasonable to assume that the character gerald met was actually eva smith. after that we can’t be as sure again, but that only leaves mrs birling and eric who were almost certainly dealing with the same person..
An Inspector Calls
Exeter - MA Creative Writing
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Notes || Exam Prep | Character Profiles | Themes | Additional Reading & Videos
This topic is included in Paper 1 . You can find notes and guides for it below.
- Overview and Key Scenes
- Glossary of Definitions
- Definitions Flashcards
- Guide to Paper 1
- How to plan and write a top mark essay
- Question Bank - Characters
- Question Bank - Relationships
- Question Bank - Themes
Additional Reading & Videos:
- An Inspector Calls (2017 film version)
- An Inspector Calls (1982 film version)
- An Introduction to An Inspector Calls
- Eric Birling
- Gerald Croft
- Mrs Birling
- Sheila Birling
- The Inspector
- Capitalism vs Socialism
- Generations Young vs Old
- Social Class
- Social Responsibility
- Wealth and Materialism
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