During An Inspector Calls, JB Priestly uses the Birling family and the inspector to show life in a different light. Within the Inspectors presence throughout the play, Priestly delivers his aims to the audience by certain characteristics in the family and the social commentary from the inspector. Combined they change the audience’s perception of society, which is one of Priestley’s aims. In An Inspector Calls, Priestly tries to argue against the Edwardian values displayed by the Birling Family by focusing on society of around that time period. Mr Birling is portrayed as an upper class man who is not afraid to show it.
He is also shown as a capitalist and his ignorance is clearly seen in his personality. In the first act of An Inspector Calls, he displays his self pride by showing off about himself as a “hard-headed businessman” and shows his arrogance by making claims about society which the audience knows turn out to be wrong in the real world (dramatic irony). Priestly uses dramatic irony to emphasise Mr Birling’s arrogance since he says “There isn’t a chance of war” where in fact, a few years later after the year in which the play was set in, World War one commences leaving Mr Birling looking a little silly by the audience.
This could be argued as one of Priestley’s many aims – to teach the audience not to be over confident and arrogant like Mr Birling. Later in the play when Mr Birling is explaining his reasons for sacking Eva Smith to the Inspector, he exclaims how “It’s my duty to keep labour costs down” and this gives the impression to the audience that Mr Birling is an out and out businessman who couldn’t care less about a girl who is asking for a small and reasonable pay rise.
Priestley uses this to show Mr Birling in a negative view and again could be argued that it’s one of his views used to demonstrate how not to be as selfish and ‘money hungry’ as Mr Birling. After Mr Birling finishes with the interview, the inspector moves swiftly on to Sheila. The Inspector describes how Eva Smith was almost bullied out of a job by Sheila’s jealousy. Sheila immediately feels very guilty and ashamed of her harsh actions.
She is quick to being very sorry for what she did and explains how traumatised she is by the whole event “I can’t help thinking about this girl – destroying herself so horribly – and I’ve been so happy tonight”. Sheila can be described as one of the younger generation of the Birling family and as of the younger members, she is the one who shows most regret and concern about the situation, unlike the older members of the family. However this statement can also be seen as a little selfish because she seems to be thinking more about how it’s ruined her night.
Nevertheless I think Priestley is using Sheila in this situation to show that the younger generation can be more alert to society and are quicker to learn moral lessons while the supposedly wiser and older generation can show very little concern at all and refuse to learn anything from their mistakes. I think this point is particularly effective to a modern audience and often relevant in the modern society since there is very little respect for the younger generation who can be commonly stereotyped in the wrong light (as yobs or immature).