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Responsibility to Others in An Inspector Calls Essay


In order to establish how J.B. Priestley communicates his message within An Inspector Calls we must first establish what is the central message within the play. The central theme that Priestley is trying to communicate is very similar to that which Dickens communicates in A Christmas Carol in which a series of ghosts appear to show Scrooge the error of his ways. Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that he has been cast into purgatory for eternity because he has concentrated too much on business and profit. When Scrooge says But you were always a good man of business, Jacob. Marley states what is the central them of both A Christmas Carol and An Inspector Calls:

Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy,

forbearance and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were

but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.

(A Christmas Carol: Chapter 3; Charles Dickens)

In a similar way, Inspector Goole (Ghoul) also appears like a ghost in the night to try to convey this message to the Birling family. In the Inspector's key speech in the play, before he departs for the last time in to the night, Priestley's main concern within the play is spoken directly:

Inspector: We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible

for each other.

(An Inspector Calls: Act 3; J.B. Priestley)

This theme is developed in a number of ways which are explored in the remainder of this essay.

As with A Christmas Carol the whole purpose of the play is to promote the theme that we are responsible for each other. The plot of the play is structured to show how each member of the Birling family mix with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton in a selfish way until this leads to her death. The family has not grasped the truth that we are responsible for each other and the Inspector wants to reveal this truth to them. The Inspector unravels their lives and makes them aware the awful truth of their behavior. Firstly, Mr Birling sacks Eva Smith for being one of the trouble-makers in his factory who wanted a higher wage. Mr. Birling actually turns his back on the central message of the play:

Mr.Birling: Still, I can't accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for

everything that happened to everybody we'd had anything to do with, it would be

very awkward, wouldn't it?

Inspector: Very awkward.

(An Inspector Calls: Act 1; J.B. Priestley)

Eva/Daisy luckily finds a new job later that year in the clothes shop Milwards. The Inspector then retells her experience at Milwards where a chance encounter with Sheila Birling once again results in her receiving the sack. Because Sheila had been in a bad temper at the shop and happened to catch the pretty Eva smiling at her, she told the manager that she would close the Birling account with the shop if the girl was not removed. Sheila, unlike her father, understands the implications of what she had done in a moment of temper:

Sheila: But she was very pretty and looked as if she could take care of herself. I

couldn't be sorry for her . . . . it didn't seem to be anything very terrible at the time.

Don't you understand? And if I could help her now, I would -

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