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Familial Responsibility in An Inspector Calls Essay


LAn Inspector Calls

‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play by J.B Priestley. It was written in 1945. At this time, believing in a community was seen as the way forward and Priestley agreed with this. He shows his view through the character of the Inspector. My essay is going to look at the characters of Sheila Birling and Arthur Birling and how their views on responsibility for people outside the family are different.

‘An Inspector Calls’ is set in 1912. The Birling family is celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft when Inspector Goole arrives. Inspector Goole informs them of Eva Smith’s suicide. He then goes on to question them and it is found that they are all partially responsible for her death.

First, I am going to look at how Arthur Birling feels about responsibility for people in his community. Before the Inspector arrives, he says:

“a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.”

This shows Arthur feels he cannot take responsibility for anyone but himself or his family. He does not believe in a community, only that each individual should be responsible for their actions. Arthur Birling is quite a proud man and thought it might ruin his reputation if he took responsibility for others.

While he is being questioned by the Inspector, Arthur Birling stays true to his views and tells Inspector Goole that he should not be held responsible for Eva’s suicide:

“There’s nothing mysterious-or-scandalous-about this business…It’s a perfectly straightforward case and as it happened more than 18 months ago…it has nothing whatever to do with the wretched girl’s suicide.”

Arthur Birling shows that he feels as it was so long ago, it was not his fault. He does not think that he might have even just played a small part in the cause of her death.

When Arthur finds out that the Inspector is not just blaming him, his tone of voice seems to chance and his views start to widen a little. He doesn’t like to be the only one blamed as he shows here:

“(with marked change of tone)… I thought that – for some reason best known to yourself - you were making the most of this tiny bit of information I could give you. I’m sorry. This makes a difference.”

He shows that he does not mind if he doesn’t have to take full responsibility and says that it changes everything. Arthur does not like to take all the responsibility. Also, he is afraid for his family here and their reputation.

After everyone has been questioned, Arthur says this:

“It doesn’t matter much now, of course, but was he really a police inspector?”

“Well, if he wasn’t, it matters a devil of a lot.”

He says this after the Inspector has left and shows that even if the Inspector was a fake and tricking him then it did not happen and everything could go back to normal. This showed that if the Inspector was not real, he felt he did not have to take any responsibility for Eva’s death and Arthur felt relieved.

Arthur also says that if it was more than one girl, it makes a difference as well because he may have only sacked one of them.

On the other hand, Sheila Birling has different views on responsibility.

At first she does not understand how she and her family could possibly be involved with Eva’s suicide. She says:

“What do you mean by saying that? You talk as if we were responsible.”

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