Priestly’s main aim in An Inspector Calls is to draw attention to the roles and consequences of capitalism in society and he achieves this successfully. As he managed to shock audiences of the earlier decades and through the play capitalist attitudes are portrayed as immoral and hypocritical to a modern audience we can see that the play has been successful to a certain extent. J. B. Priestly was born in 1894 and lived through the war. This is important as he witnessed changes in peoples’ attitudes before and after the year.
In order to answer the question, the text must be explored, as must the historical context. It is found that the members of the older generation remain set in their ways and are stubborn. Although the younger generation has been brought up by the older generation, they are generally open to change, but some cannot change because they have been strongly affected by the existing society and are now set in their ways, for example Gerald Croft.
Some may see why people are changing but may be afraid to change as their families and friends may turn away and then they would be alone.
Businesses and reputations would also be at stake. By conveying this through a family, it becomes easier for the audience to absorb small details that together convey Priestly’s view to the audience. An Inspector Calls was written in 1945 (at the end of the Second World War) and was first produced in the same year, although it is set in 1912 before the First World War. This is a key factor in determining the impact of the play. In one of Mr. Birling’s speeches at the beginning of the play, he mentions that the Titanic is ‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.
‘ This is ironic as the modern audience know that the Titanic did sink, and the earlier audiences would also have known about this [and they may have been close to someone who had died in the event]. This would increase the audience’s hatred of capitalists and their views and therefore draws attention to Priestly’s main aim. An even more powerful example is the section of the speech referring to war. ‘Just because the Kaiser makes a speech or two, or a few German officers… begin talking nonsense’, Mr. Birling assumes that there is no chance of a war. However, the audience would certainly know that war was inevitable, a claim to which Mr.
Birling exclaims ‘fiddlesticks! ‘ Mr. Birling tells everyone that he is a ‘hard-headed, practical man of business’ and that he says ‘there isn’t a chance of war’. His arrogance prompts the audience to dislike him immensely, as everyone knows that there was a terrible war. He also mentions that Capitalists cannot ‘let these Bernard Shaws and H. G. Wellses do all the talking’. This is also ironic as these two people are still powerful influences and socialist figures, and are recognised widely today whereas very few capitalist figures, if indeed any are recognised today for the better.
Mr. Birling clearly represents capitalism within the play and we can see that this is true by looking at his speech and at the manner in which he speaks. A powerful example of this is when he talks about duty. The Inspector says that it is his duty to ask questions. Mr. Birling then says that it his ‘duty to keep labour costs down’. He then justifies what he believes to be a perfectly acceptable claim. However, we know that he really means that it is his duty to himself and capitalist society. Therefore he does not have a concept of duty.
When the Inspector talks about duty, he uses the word as a moral term; duty to the girl, to society, to truth and to what is right. This is clearly the better use of the word, and demonstrates that Socialist ideas are better than Capitalist ideas. When Eric challenges his father’s action of dismissing Eva Smith, Mr. Birling angrily tells him that ‘it’s about time [he] learnt to face a few responsibilities’. This is ironic as Mr. Birling himself clearly needs to face responsibilities and is telling his son to do this when actually Mr. Birling has no concept of the term responsibility.
Therefore, another example of the Capitalist attitude is portrayed to the audience. Such attitudes demonstrate to the audience that the world needs to change and helps them to accept the ideas of socialism. Mr. Birling abuses his power as he uses his status to dismiss Eva Smith from the works. As ‘she’d had a lot to say – far too much’, she had to go. He clearly feels that this justifies his actions and is surprised when both Eric and the Inspector are critical of them. This again shows the upper classes’ capitalist views and Priestly is attacking them through the Inspector’s character.