How does Priestley make a drama out of the theme of social responsibility Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:27:49
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J. B. Priestley wrote the play “An Inspector Calls”, in 1945. The play was set in Brumley, a fictitious town in the midlands. “An Inspector Calls” is about how a ‘nouveou riche’ family is responsible for the suicide death of a young woman named Eva Smith. This play by J. B. Priestley was written to say to everyone that we all have social responsibility, we all are responsible for one another, and that we are all “intertwined” with everyone else’s life. That’s the message this play is trying to convey. The play was set in 1910-1912; this was the period when life was segregated into classes.
It was set in the Edwardian era, where women had no rights, and were not allowed to vote. It was extremely difficult for women to acquire jobs, mostly because men had first priority. Eva Smith was lucky to receive a job at “Milwards”, but most women worked in factories for little pay. There was a gap between the upper class and the lower class. The middle class was not much different to the upper class. In 1945 Labour came to power. They introduced the NHS, which would provide free health treatment for everyone.
The Welfare State was also brought about thanks to the first Labour party; this would provide a net to catch people like Eva Smith, to help them get back up. Cases like Eva should not happen today thanks to benefits. The Welfare State is like friendly fishermen. They would catch the fish that need help, help them and lead them back into the river, so they can swim to the sea. The play consists of all classes. Gerald Croft is from the upper class who is well spoken in the play. The Birlings are the middle class because they are nouveau riche. You can tell this by the way Mr.
Birling especially speaks. It is obvious, because he speaks informal sometimes. Finally, Eva Smith is the lower class as she has had the hardest life, in terms of least money, jobs and not being able to have much pleasure. The main message of the Inspector is that “we don’t live alone” and if that lesson isn’t learnt then we will be taught in “fire and blood and anguish”. Whatever we do has a chain of events afterwards; “We are responsible for each other”. What we do around others affects them. You can’t shut the world out of your lives, and look after only yourselves and your families.
This message is also applied into today’s world. The president of the United States has been taught in “fire and blood and anguish” when the Twin Towers was destroyed. America tried to block the rest of the world from themselves but didn’t succeed. They didn’t help the countries that needed them, or helping to find environmentally friendly materials. Their punishment, for their selfishness, was the destruction of their Twin Towers and their Pentagon. Unlike the Inspector, Mr. Birling sees the world differently. We have gathered Mr.
Birling comes from a poor background, at least not an upper class one. Coming from a poor family, you would expect him to understand that people need to help one another, like the Inspector does. Unfortunately, Mr. Birling sees the world in a rather different perspective, more like, the other way round. He thinks in order to proceed in life, “a man has to make his own way”, meaning if don’t help anyone else, or talk to anyone else, then you won’t get in trouble. He also is very complacent due to the fact that he is “hard-headed business man”.
He tried to assume the future with what little information he had possessed. For example, he talks about transport, which then brings him on to the titanic. ” The Titanic… … absolutely unsinkable. ” This is a good case of dramatic irony, because the characters in the play talk about something in the future, which we know about. Of course, we know that the titanic sank on its maiden voyage. Another example is when Mr. Birling talks about the World War and how it’s never going to happen. “A few German officers have too much to drink and begin talking nonsense”. People think, “War’s inevitable”.
Mr. Birling thinks “fiddlesticks” of those ideas. Therefore, because of these wrong accusations the audience get the impression that Mr. Birling is untrustworthy, ignorant and complacent. Just before the Inspector comes, Mr. Birling was talking about how a man “has to look after himself” in order to be at the top. Mr. Birling thinks that’s how people make it to the top. He only thinks to look after yourself and your family only. “Everybody has to look after everyone else” which Mr. Birling thinks is untrue, and is trying to provide this false prophecy of his to Gerald and Eric.
This is a significant time when the Inspector arrives because this is the lesson the Inspector is going to prove wrong, and hopefully, create a permanent lesson in them. When we see the inspector for the first time, Mr. Birling treats him as anyone would casually and friendly. At first he thinks the Inspector is there because of a police warrant. However, after he finds what he is really there for – about a young woman who had just died – he reacts in a cold-hearted way, he spoke his next words “rather impatiently”, more or less a so-what reaction. Which is unlike Eric whose response was “my God! Which is enough evidence to say that Eric is concerned.
Mr. Birling plays an important part in changing this helpless woman’s life. He also started the ‘domino effect’ in pushing Eva into her death. He is a factory owner, and being an owner, he believes in high profits and lower costs, and also the minimum wage. Women in 1910-12 were as I’ve said before, had no priority over men. Therefore the ‘dirty work’ was left for them in places like factories. As there was nowhere else to work people like Eva had no choice but to work for little pay, or be forced onto the streets.
People like Mr. Birling probably suited the job, as he didn’t have any sympathy for any women in that terrible state. The reason for Mr. Birling sacking Eva from her job was not because she didn’t do her work, it was because he wouldn’t allow a raise from “twenty-two and six” a week – which was the minimum wage allowed – to twenty five shillings a week. Which is the equivalent of just over a pound in Sterling, which is not a lot. Also, for asking for the raise he sacked Eva Smith. “Except the four or five ring-leaders… told them to clear out… Eva Smith, was one of them. ”
This really was a big blow for Eva; no money coming in meant a hard few months to come. Afterwards, the mood changes for Mr. Birling, and he tries to equal his bad deed by offering money, “thousands”, which he says “unhappily”, and as the Inspector reminds him, “You’re offering money at the wrong time. ” Which Mr. Birling’s mood has gone from joyful – because of the celebration – to “unhappily” before the Inspector leaves. Whenever the Inspector twists the words of Mr. Birling to make everyone feel guilty, Mr. Birling threateningly reminds the Inspector of his high social connections.
That he is a respectable, well-known pillar of the town. Also he was an Alderman, a Magistrate and Lord Mayor. Mr. Birling makes a statement about the lower class. “If you don’t come down sharply… … they’d soon be asking for the Earth. ” However, the Inspector coolly responds by twisting his words to make Mr. Birling feel ashamed of what he said. “It’s better to ask for the Earth than to take it”, to which Mr. Birling tries to defend himself by reminding him of his powerful status. “Perhaps I ought to warn you”, that Mr. Birling knows Colonel Roberts. When Mr. And Mrs.
Birling realises the inspector is a fake, they feel “rather excited” and “jovially” and they seem to forget what selfish crime they committed. Sheila tries to point this out by saying how her parents are trying to hide the truth. “It’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts. ” This is where for the first time, we see Sheila start to see a ‘vice versa’ happen. Sheila has become more mature, and her parents have become “childish” as she calls them. Unfortunately, Mr. Birling takes no notice and says, “I won’t have that sort of talk”, and resumes his fake, pleasurable mood.
After Mr. Birling finds out that the Inspector was a fake, he sees himself and his family as ‘angels’ again, as he thought at the beginning, even though the crime had still been committed. “I suppose we’re all nice people now”, Sheila tries to indicate to her father that everything’s not all right by including bitter sarcasm. It would seem that even if they didn’t find out about the Inspector being a fake, the parents would still only be worried about their reputation, rather than the death of an innocent woman. As Mr. Birling shouts “angrily” to Eric, “There’ll be a public scandal”.
Where as Sheila and Eric seem not to care whether the Inspector was a fake. “It doesn’t make a difference”. Overall Mr. And Mrs. Birling didn’t learn the message. The same applies to President Bush. After all the attacks on the USA, he still tries to block the world from his country, so his lesson of social responsibility is still to be learnt. Unlike the Inspector, Sheila’s reactions were the opposite of Mr. Birling after the Inspector left. When Sheila first enters the play, whilst the Inspector is there, she seems to be a loudmouth say-what-when-you-want person.
For example, Mrs. Birling was talking to her husband about not talking about business on an occasion like this and Sheila say her opinion, “neither do I. All wrong. ” As well as being a loudmouth, she also likes to be kept up-to-date. Whatever she misses, she listens to the next thing she hears and asks about it. When she misses what happened about Eva, she does her routine to know what’s happening. “What’s that about the streets? ” Is the first thing she hears, which she then obviously gets informed, then is up-to-date, and she’s got her way. Moreover, she is spoilt.
She led a life of leisure. She is from a rich family, she always wants to be in the limelight, always saying her opinion, whether it upsets others or not. Also, she’s a superficial young woman, always wanting items in fashion, especially clothes, which is the reason why she ended up in this ‘murder mystery’. Rich, spoilt, powerful women such as Sheila often shopped at expensive stores such as the one named in the play, Milwards. Poor, unknown, lower class women such as Eva could not have worked there without a miracle, and as Eva needed one because she didn’t have a job, she got one.
Every winter, a lot of people caught the flu, because there was a shortage of heating, or it wasn’t very satisfactory in many homes. So many people were ill and luckily for Eva, a lot were in Milwards. So they had a shortage of staff, which fortunately, Eva managed to pursue in acquiring a job and received it. Sheila is paranoid as well (she doesn’t have many good qualities so far), she was trying on a dress at Milwards, and she thought Eva – who now worked there – was smiling at her, to say, “‘doesn’t she look awful'”.
Also, when Eva held up the dress as though she was wearing it, Sheila thought “she was the right type for it. ” So, in spite and jealousy, she complained to the manager to say that she was “impertinent”. She used the power of her, and her wealthy, well-known father to put this innocent woman out of her job, in a fit of jealously. However, Sheila accepts the hellish sin she carried out, and changes from the spoilt lady, to a lady with sympathy. She really is incredibly sorry for her actions and she knows at the end of the day, it is her fault Eva lost her job. I know I’m to blame – and I’m desperately sorry”, she stays with attitude for the rest of the play and also, she has this clear attitude of the truth for the rest of the play, a no-more-hiding-the-facts attitude.
This is shown towards the end, after the characters find out about the Inspector is a fake. She and Eric won’t accept that nothing has happened which is wrong, whereas the rest are “triumphantly” and “smiling”. Sheila, instead of being childish, accepts responsibility and takes charge when her parents and Gerald ‘sweeping the dirt under the carpet’. Don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now”, she says to her father.
It’s as though Sheila and her parent’s roles have been reversed. Sheila and Eric are the only people who have learnt the Inspectors message; she is probably going to change for the rest of her life because of this incident. As the war was going to happen soon after the set time in the play, she would have become a nurse to help the wounded. Sheila was the only person who really connected with the Inspector; he seemed to understand her feelings.
After Gerald couldn’t figure out what Sheila was feeling, the Inspector took charge and told Gerald what she felt. I don’t understand about you”, Sheila was amazed and that’s when her and the Inspector connected. They shared this connection throughout. Sheila was the first to realise that the Inspector was indirectly saying that Eric was the father, but making Mrs. Birling’s double standards show. She tried to warn her mother about it, “with sudden alarm” she said, “Mother – stop – stop! ” “An Inspector Calls” has a few bad points about it through no fault of its own, and a few good points which has made this an extremely intensifying play.
Priestley twists the characters word to either reveal the truth about their personalities or to reveal the truth about the situation. When Mrs. Birling was answering the questions from the Inspector, the Inspector was twisting the questions around to prove what Mrs. Birling really thinks of the father of Eva Smith’s child. For example, the Inspector responds when Mrs. Birling insults the father of the child. “So he’s the chief culprit? ” the Inspector says, and to which Mrs. Birling, “certainly”. The Inspector has twisted the questions to prove the cruelty of Mrs.
Birling. Also, the end of Act 2 creates a lot of tension, only because of a simple entrance – when the parents realise that Eric is the father. Eric enters at the end of the act and looks “extremely pale” and everyone I giving him “inquiring stares”. This effortless entrance creates an excellent cliffhanger to lure the reader to read more. Priestley, instead of using special effects like modern day plays, uses simple but effective techniques such as dramatic irony. It’s been used throughout the play but is used best in one incident to Mrs. Birling.
Mrs. Birling is a spiteful, narrow-minded, heartless woman. Using the Inspectors knowledge from Eva’s diary, the Inspector uses dramatic irony on Mrs. Birling to convey her true image and feelings. We end up finding out that Eric is the father when Sheila hysterically cries out, “But don’t you see”? As she has realised the truth, Mrs. Birling ignores Sheila’s attempts to save her and continues about how she blames “the young man” who is a “drunken young idler”. After Mrs. Birling realises the truth, she is shocked and never thought the father was Eric, “I never dreamt”, she has double standards.
When she realised, she changed her attitude completely towards the father. It changed from the drunk-fool, to the “your not the type” attitude. The play has such a satisfying ending due to the change of moods so suddenly. The mood changes from the happy, celebrating mood at the beginning, to the sad mood whilst the Inspector was there, back to happy, because of Gerald, who helps realise that the Inspector is a fake. Mr. Birling excitedly says, “By Jingo! A fake! ” Which carries on while everyone is feeling “triumphant” and saying things “eagerly”. However, everyone and Mr. Birling’s mood is unexpectedly changed by a single phone call from the hospital.
When the hospital informed them of the real death of Eva, everyone looks “dumbfounded” and look “guilty”. As well as the mood changing, the roles of the parents and children change as well. The lesson of social responsibility was not learnt by the older generation i. e. Mr. And Mrs. Birling and Gerald. Whereas it was learnt by Eric and Sheila. This is odd, because the older generation is meant to be more mature and understanding than the younger generation, but in this case, it’s the other way round.
J. B. Priestley is radical by undermining the two most important characters, the Inspector and Eva. This is a risky technique to use, because it could ruin the whole play. He has done so much to build up the Inspector up, but decides to destroy him by a phone call. Fortunately, this works out for an advantage for J. B. Priestley, as this changes the mood for Mr. And Mrs. Birling and Gerald, which is a contrast from the sad, miserable mood everyone was in before the Inspector left.
Also, Eva Smith’s character was being built up throughout the play, as we found out more about her, but at the end was removed from the play by another single phone call, this time to the hospital, to find out if Eva has really died. However, this works again well with the tension. Then we get another phone a call, from the hospital to say a girl really has died, and an “Inspector will be on his way”. This repeated cycle of the Inspector coming at the end also adds to the cliffhanger effect. Overall it was a risky technique, but worked well to improve the tension. The play is like a murder mystery, because of the Inspector being present.
In this case, it is not a murder, but a suicide. Consequently, it is the inspection of their actions to drive Eva to her death, rather than them actually killing her. J. B. Priestley’s “An Inspector Calls” is a successful play, teaching people about social responsibility and how you can’t get away from it. J. B. Priestley tried to make the play’s theme of social responsibility and did exceedingly well. However, only the majority of the people learn that lesson. Some people even in today’s world still haven’t learnt that lesson. Hopefully, another play will help to teach them.

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