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The Birling family

An Inspector Calls is a timeless classic; an idealistic plays which represents the conscience of the nation at the time that the play was written. J. B. Priestly wrote the play in 1945, but it was set in 1912, on the night that the Titanic sank. This is important as the Titanic signifies the dreams of the nation and the ironic sinking of the unsinkable ship was like the destruction of any hopes and dreams there may have been for the future and the sinking of society.

This consequently led to the First World War. The play is based on a Satire, otherwise known as the mocking of society.

Priestly used the Birling family as a target to show how their naive and selfish views are such a mockery, that you can’t live a life caring about no one but yourself, and that his socialist way of living was much better and of less harm to innocent bystanders. This is also because it seems on the surface to be a normal detective story, but there are no convictions made, therefore the moral of the play being more important than the clichi?? of a detective story.

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The opinions aired in the play were also completely the opposite of what the people of 1945 wanted, and it just took the play to make them realise that.

In 1912 people were very much ‘every man for himself’ and did not believe in coalition between class. However, by 1945 the notion was to look after one another in the name of equality and the opinions had altered chiefly because of the Second World War.

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Nearly everyone had helped the fight to win the war, no matter what class they belonged to, and Priestly believed that this therefore abolished the former capitalist views and gave both classes, upper and lower, something universal that brought each class together.

After seeing the play, which is about the social barriers between classes, it was Priestly’s hope that the audience would be liberated by the fact that they are in no way like the characters in the play, and it would influence the audience as to the importance of equality. As I said, the moral is the most momentous part of the play, and to have morality, and also responsibility a person should not indulge in the seven deadly sins, which are: sloth, pride, gluttony, lust, anger, envy and covetousness.

Nevertheless, every single member of the Birling family, without exception, divulged in at least one of them, with the deadly sin that the characters divulged in being their ‘fatal flaw’, which, although it didn’t get them killed, it contributed to the death of an innocent person. Arthur and Sybil Birling both indulge in pride and covetousness, evident by their reluctance to admit fault and their unwillingness to part with their money. Eric and Gerald are both victims of lust at the sight of a beautiful woman, and it is their lust for Eva that makes them ignorant to the consequences of their actions.

And then there is Sheila, whose deadly sin is envy, and she is envious of the fact that Eva Smith is pretty in a dress that originally looked so terrible on Sheila herself. However, when Inspector Goole arrives there are definite cracks in their personalities when he questions them, which soon leads to their downfall. The Inspector is therefore a catalyst, because he speeds up the time taken for the characters to make their confessions by immediately identifying their fatal flaw and targeting it to provoke a reaction.

The arrival if the Inspector was ironic, as Arthur Birling had just been saying how everyone should look after themselves and not get involved in helping other people. Mr Birling’s opinion is therefore the complete opposite of what J. B. Priestly was trying to promote through the character the Inspector. The Inspector reveals the ridiculous opinions of the Birling family in several ways. He very rarely asked questions, he just made suggestions and then played off the reactions his suggestions had provoked from the Birling’s. It could also be seen that the Inspector is actually ‘fishing’ for information.

This could be seen as a metaphor, because there is actually a seaport town called Goole, which is situated at the mouth of the River Humber. Apart from this, the Inspector’s name is also a homophone for ghoul, an un-dead soul. A fascinating prospect would obviously be to find out who’s spirit it is, and as in his final piece, he refers to the name John Smith, which could be who he was; a victim of capitalism from the past. However, it could just be a name used to represent the males affected by the cruel inhibitions of capitalism.

My personal opinion is that the spirit represents the birth of socialism, after he had criticised the Birling’s foolish and discriminating actions; the morals that the Inspector spoke of were a milestone for society, bound to change the ways that both the rich and poor lived. It is also obvious that the Inspector is not at all like normal police Inspectors, who are deeply committed to arresting those who have done wrong. Inspector Goole was not bothered by the arrest of any of the Birling’s; he just wanted to teach them a lesson in the morals of society.

‘I tell you that the time will come when, if men don’t learn their lessons they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. ‘ The stage directions of the play are very important factors in the way that the Inspector is portrayed. The stage directions make him sound like a very solid organisation (abrupt) but is difficult to see how this can be so when he can disappear so easily. Priestly uses the Inspector to promote his personal opinions and feeling on the issue of class/wealth discrimination; the Inspector therefore being little more than a messenger in disguise for the controversial socialist views.

‘One Eva Smith has gone, but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us… we don’t live alone. We are members of one body; we are responsible for one another! ‘ Mr Birling is the father of the Birling family, and he is really the first person to come into contact with Eva Smith. Being the owner of a large firm, it was the place of work for a great many people, including Eva Smith. The first incident that involved both Mr Birling and Eva Smith was when she asked for higher wages, from twenty two and six to twenty five shillings a week.

Mr Birling was opposed to this as it would have meant adding twelve percent to his labour costs, which although he could have easily afforded, he chose not to do. Instead he had Eva Smith fired, along with a few other girls who had joined in on the campaign for decent wages. Mr Birling represents capitalism, and in a speech shortly before the arrival of the Inspector, he actually described socialist writers as ‘cranks’ that think ‘everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we are all mixed up together like bees in a hive.

‘ However, Mr Birling’s personal opinion is that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own. ‘ Mr Birling also thinks he knows best for his family… for instance, when he talks of the Titanic he doesn’t seem to understand that there is no such thing as an unsinkable ship. ‘The Titanic – she sails next week – forty-six thousand, eight hundred tons… New York in five days – and every luxury – and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. ‘ And later Mr Birling mentions ‘a few German Officers talking nonsense and a few scaremongers here making a fuss about nothing.

‘ Undoubtedly he is talking about the war, that he seems so sure will never happen. This is therefore dramatic irony, as the Titanic did sink and the war did happen. This is particularly important because Mr Birling is a metaphor for capitalism and the speech is wrong, just like capitalism is. When the Inspector arrives Birling tries to intimidate him by bragging about his achievements. ‘I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the bench.

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The Birling family. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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