‘An Inspector Calls’ was written in just one week in 1945. J. B Priestley had a gift of writing quickly and is said never to have corrected his first drafts.
The play is set in the early 20th century at the times of men investing in coal, iron and steel works and were making huge profits, exactly the same time as workers in the factories were being underpaid, for the benefit of the owners. And workers went on strike to demand higher wages. This makes the setting of the play relevant to those times, because the character Eva Smith had been on strike with other colleagues at Mr. Birling’s factory.
J. B Priestley was very interested in politics, but seemed to have trouble settling down with policies of any one political party. He made an unsuccessful attempt to stand for Parliament as an Independent party in 1944.
His sort of socialism in later life was based on compassion- the sort of compassion and caring that the Inspector wants to see in the people he questions in ‘An Inspector Calls’.
The Inspector arrives just after Mr. Birling has been setting out his view of life: that every man must only look out for himself. The Inspectors role is to show that this is not the case.
The stage directions for the Inspector’s entrance are, “the inspector need not be a big man but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. He is a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period. He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking.”
J. B Priestley is very specific on how the Inspector appears to the other characters and audience. He specifies on the qualities the actor must have e. g “but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness”. J. B Priestley is very particular about how the Inspector needs to come across, as if the Inspector’s character would not be nearly as controlling of the situation if he was quiet and an uncomfortable speaker.
The Inspector is very dominant over the other characters, because he chooses who can speak and when, who can see a photograph and who can’t, and who can leave the room and who can’t.
He even seems to control what people say. Sheila, who has commented on his mysterious character, tells Gerald “Somehow he makes you”.
The way he uses the information he has creates an impression of someone who is both an outsider and an all-knowing creature. This makes him appear mysterious and powerful.
Priestley uses the Inspector almost like a catalyst- someone who creates the possibility for others to face up to what they have done.
He is a character who represents Priestley’s strong moral view.
Mr. Birling never lies to the Inspector when being questioned about Eva Smith. He talks openly to the Inspector about his involvement with the girl. At one point he shows his annoyance with the Inspector over the claims that he is partly to blame for the girl’s death, “Look- there’s nothing mysterious- or scandalous- about this business- at least not so far as I’m concerned.”
Mr. Birling is trying to explain to the Inspector that he has said all he knows about his involvement with the girl and that he sacked her for what he felt were good reasons.
The Inspector makes Mr. Birling confess to having an involvement with the girl, but he cannot change Mr. Birling’s mind into thinking that he was partly responsible for her death or that what he did by sacking her from his business was wrong.
The Inspector makes Sheila Birling confess by trying to put her in the position of the girl in her new, respectable job at Milward’s, and how happy she must have been. “She enjoyed being among pretty clothes, I’ve no doubt. And now she felt she was making a fresh start. You can imagine how she felt.” This was said by the Inspector to Sheila.
He is trying to show Sheila how happy Eva was until she came to the shop that day and spoilt her job opportunities and damaged her emotions. He puts Sheila in the position of Eva and makes her understand how she would feel if the same thing had happened to her.
The Inspector makes Sheila confess to being responsible for Eva losing her job. He also makes her realise that what she did was an unnecessary and selfish act that resulted in a girl wrongly being sacked.
Sheila reacts to Eva’s death very emotionally. She is horrified that a person could want to die so much and in the manor it was done. She is truly sorry for her actions and admits that she played a part in the chain of events leading up to the girl’s death, quite the opposite to her father.
Like Mr. Birling, Gerald Croft talks to the Inspector openly about his involvement with the girl, and also doesn’t try to cover up anything that happened between them. The Inspector keeps Gerald talking about the girl by asking him what happened next and this helps to reveal to Sheila all that Gerald had done when he associated with the girl. This makes us more aware of the Inspector’s ability to ask simple very questions and yet to obtain a great deal of information.
The Inspector makes Gerald confess to the affair he had with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton and he tries to show Gerald how he has hurt Sheila by her own reaction, because the Inspector influenced Sheila into staying with them so that she would stay and hear Gerald’s confession.
The Inspector has a little more trouble with Mrs. Birling because as a woman of a great social reputation, she almost refuses to admit to any wrongdoing in the case.
He first of all makes her confess to being prejudiced against the girl’s case early on because she used the name Birling as her own. He also makes her admit to being the most prominent person on the committee, so it was her influence that caused the girl’s case to be refused help.
Mrs. Birling refuses to accept any of the blame put upon her. She feels that she did absolutely nothing wrong in refusing the girl’s case- “…because I’ve done nothing wrong- and you know it.”
Mrs. Birling will not let anybody change her mind and is a very stubborn character.
Mrs. Birling doesn’t show any sympathy towards the death of the young girl and feels she has no part to play in the chain of events leading up her suicide.
Eric confesses to everyone his involvement with the girl very easily, because as he enters the room he meets their stares and says: “You know, don’t you?” so Eric has effectively confessed to his affair with her in one sentence.
The Inspector keeps Eric talking about his story by asking him questions that encourage him what to tell next in the account of his involvement with the girl, such as “Where did you meet her?” and “What happened next?”
The Inspector makes Eric confess to forcing his way into the girl’s home, getting her pregnant by him and stealing money from his father’s business to support her.
Eric feels very sorry about his actions towards the girl. He says he’s likely never to forget what happened and he seems to have changed for the better.
After the family believes the Inspector to be a hoax Mr. Birling, Mrs. Birling and Gerald Croft’s attitudes change dramatically.
The three elder members of the party become quite excited when Gerald returns and tells them that the Inspector was not from the police force. Mrs. Birling says that she felt it all along that he wasn’t a real officer because of his rudeness and manner. She begins to talk triumphantly about how she was the only one not to give into him, like it was something to be proud of.
After Mr. Birling telephones the infirmary to ask for conformation of a young girls’ death, he finds out that no such event has happened and he is greatly relieved, and Mrs. Birling congratulates Gerald on how clever he has been.
This selfish behaviour leads us to thinking that each one of these characters shows no remorse for their actions and makes out that their personalities are very selfish, and cold hearted.
Even though they had previously admitted to being involved with the girl, they treat the discussions they had like they never happened and that all is now back to normal. They feel there is nothing to be distressed about and “all this silly business”, is now over and can be forgotten about.
Eric and Sheila react in quite the opposite way.
Having previously admitting that they had learnt a valuable lesson from their wrongdoings towards the girl, they still feel exactly the same way about how they acted.
Even though they know the Inspector was a hoax, they feel that there is a valuable lesson to be learnt from the whole situation.
Both Eric and Sheila want their parents to freely admit to their mistakes just as they have.
The attitudes of Eric and Sheila stay the same after they found the Inspector to be a hoax, because the Inspector has left a lasting impression on them, unlike their parents who, possibly because of their generation, have strong attitudes of their own, and the Inspector is unable to change them for the better. Maybe this is a message from J. B Priestley trying to show us that if we make a good impression on younger generation’s attitudes, then we can change everyone’s attitudes for the better, because the younger generation is our future.