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Characters in An Inspector Calls Essay


In 1946, Priestley put pen to page and began to write a very important and meaningful play, An Inspector Calls. He set it in 1912 to give himself a very clever advantage over his very nave characters, and a strong persuasive hold on his future audience too. His characters were completely oblivious to the two devastating world wars ahead, where as the audience were not, which cleverly creates strong dramatic irony that brings the play to life. He embedded himself into the play by becoming the character of spooky inspector Goole, giving him the ability to warn the audience through the play, at the same time as cautioning the characters. Priestley was desperate for the audience take the precious opportunity they had and stop the wars, and look back at the catastrophe they had caused not to long ago.

In 1912 there were very strong boundaries between the upper and lower classes; however in 1946 they had fallen significantly due to the two world wars. Furthermore, the roles of women had also changed drastically, for when the play was set, all a lady could do was get married if they were rich, or become cheap labour if they were poor. By the time the play was written all this had progressed, and females were valued a great deal more, and gained the privilege of being able to vote and were no longer low down in society.

Im talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business, and I say there isnt a chance of war. This is evidence of the dramatic irony the play contains, but also proof of how self-absorbed, pretentious and pompous Arthur Birling is. He puts himself first at all times, and is solely driven by money and status. According to him, being a hard-headed, practical man of business means that he knows best, and as far as hes concerned, if he says there will be no war, there will be no war. He is made his way up in the world and is very proud of it, though it is very likely he would not have gotten there without marrying Sybil, who is his social superior.

Sybil Birling is very similar to Arthur, and she holds the same strong old-fashioned views, possibly even more so. She agrees with everything that Arthur says, for being a lady of this era she must, as women were considered unequal to men and their personal opinions were not valued at all. She is a very cold and condescending woman, and this is apparent through out the play. Not once does she admit she is partially to blame for Evas death. She tries very hard to keep her children under control but fails most of the time.

The younger generation, the children, are a lot more sensitive about the situation. By the end of the play have grown up quite a bit, and are less nave about the world and society.

Sheila Birling is, "a very pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited". At the beginning of the play she comes across very selfish and silly, but softens and matures in the duration of night. She suddenly switches from being a well mannered little girl to a rebellious lady with a mind of her own, who no longer fears contradicting her parents opinions. She sympathizes for Eva the most and seems to be the only member of the Birling family to feel guilt when she finds out she has a part in it her tragic death. She is not as immature as she may seem, and is very suspicious about the summer Gerald came no where near her. However she is contrasting the expectations of women of her time, as they were expected to sit there and look pretty without giving an opinion.

In a similar way, Eric also rebels against his genders status quo. He starts off as a rather uneasy, nothing sort of character sitting quietly in the corner occasionally giving a drunken nonsensical input. He develops during the play, standing up for himself and for Eva too. He genuinely cared about her, and took great responsibility and was much more worried about her health then the money he stole for her welfare. His priorities did not lie with money and status at all, which shows he is completely different from his father. He, very much like Sheila, grows up during the play, transforming from a boy to a man, and is aware about his social responsibility. As the younger generation, he is slowly rising above the set stereotypes, showing that there is another way of treating people of a lower class, a better future and equality. He is a communist like Priestly, who is obviously using Sheila and Eric as examples of how life could be if they broke the social boundaries down. Eric may have acted quite foolishly when Eva was alive, but once she is dead he seems determined to change.

So, now analysing the reactions of the Birling family, it is apparent that both generations have very different and contradicting opinions, and they reflect clearly of the rapidly changing society of the time. Responsibility is a very big deal in the play, and whether the Birlings rise to theirs or not.

Mr Birling seems to hardly react at all, feeling no sympathy, sadness or guilt. Instead he is mostly overcome by anger when he is the first of the inspectors victims of questioning. When he is shown the photo of Eva he realises that he knows her, she was an employee of his, though he does not see what it had to do with it. Obviously it has nothing whatever to do with the wretched girls suicide. The inspector points out that this could have started a chain reaction leading towards her death. Put it like that, theres something in what you say. Arthur says, which may seem he is admitting he might have something to do with it all until he continues and says, Still, I cant accept any responsibility. He immediately refuses he is partially to blame for Evas death and says he cannot be held responsible for any of the events that had occurred.

He did not react with sympathy or guilt because he believed that even though he may have been a slight bit to blame for it, it was not his business. Mr Birling is a Capitalist and his main priority is himself, his family is a mere after thought. A man has to make his own way has to look after himself - and is family too, of course He believes community is nothing but nonsense. This is why he feels that he does not have to worry about Eva now she is dead. He does not think he needs to deal or care about anybody but his family. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody wed had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldnt it? Mr Birling comes across as quite a lazy man who cant be bothered to look out for more than a few people.

Though at the end of the play after the inspectors last little speech, Arthur says Look inspector Id give thousands. He is admitting he would rather things werent this way, it could even be portrayed as remorse or guilt for his familys part in Evas death. However its more than likely it shows how Arthur is still thinking of money, and how he thinks it solves everything, even a death hes to some extent to blame for.

Sybil Birling reacts very much like Arthur, showing no guilt or regret. She is very much about duty, and thought it was her responsibility to turn Eva away when she did. She ignores and denies everything that does not agree with her beliefs, including Erics drinking. She felt that she had done nothing wrong, and she didnt seem to care that her family had dropped themselves in it all; she was determined not to go down with them. Unlike the other three, I did nothing Im ashamed of I consider I did my duty. This shows she has the same values as Arthur, look after yourself before anybody else.

Mrs Birling thought her and her family were not to blame for any of it, and believed it was all Evas own fault. ..I think she only had herself to blame. She expects everyone to be responsible for their own actions, but then is not responsible for hers. Firstly she says only Eva is to blame, but when the news of a baby comes into the picture, she blames it on the father. ..Look for the father of the child. Its his responsibility. This of course was before she found her own son was the father of Evas child. This is also showing that she does not care who gets blamed for it all, as long as it is not her, and would probably continue to blame different people if she had the chance.

She did not consider herself involved with the unfortunate suicide and felt it was her duty to turn Eva down when she came for help and was not at all sympathetic, just like her husband. She does not see how any of it is her business and it is quite obvious that she thinks she is above everybody else, and this is shown in the way she talks. When she talks about Eva, she does not use her name but instead says Girls of that class. She is very impersonal about it all, as if she could not be bothered to remember a girl as unimportant as Eva. She is the same way with her own children, and though Eric and Sheila are far from being youngsters, she often refers to each of them as child.

The younger generation were noticeably more concerned about Evas suicide and were disgusted about their parents lack of it.

Eric is arguably the most involved in it all, and possibly has the most dramatic reaction with very extreme emotions, which is understandable; he has lost a lover and a child after all. He has a very uneasy character, at some points he is very quiet for a long period of time, and others he is rather loud, and has a lot to say for him. The first time he is mentioned in the play, is when he suddenly guffaws. This essentially summarizes his character; his acts are somewhat sudden and often unexplained.

He is overcome with guilt and frustration, and is the only Birling that tried to support Eva when she was still alive. He is introducing the communist way of life, defying his fathers capitalistic point of view. These are Priestleys own views, which he has cleverly incorporated into the play, once more trying to deliver the audience an important message on society. He is now not only using the inspector to get his point across, but also the impact the inspector had on Eric and Sheila too. He wanted the audience to feel the same impact and inspire them to change so they would not make the same mistake of war again.

Erics communism actually started developing a while before Sheilas did, when he was trying to look after Eva. He is mortified and appalled by his fathers Capitalist way of life, and wishes to have no part in it.

Sheila is shocked by the death itself and was incredibly ashamed of herself and her family when they found they were all caught up in it. She does not try and pass the blame onto Eva like her mother, and took full responsibility for her actions and understood that some of it was her own fault. It was my own fault.

She too evolves into a communist and learns the most out of all of the characters. She hangs onto the inspectors words and understands him fully. 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 dont live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. She grows as a character and becomes a model of what Priestley believes to be right. Where as her parents talk about being responsible for only themselves, she talks about being responsible for everybody she is involved with, living and becoming one.

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