“We Don't Live Alone. We Are Members of One Body. We Are Responsible for Each Other.” Explore the Ways in Which Priestley Conveys This Message to the Audience. Essay

They are the words of Inspector Goole; they are the views of John Boynton Priestley; the message of the play. In An Inspector Calls, Priestley conveys this to his audience; Inspector Goole represents Priestley’s views and his morals. Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls to further enhance this message; he portrays these views through the character of the Inspector in the play itself. The play is classed as a murder mystery/psychological thriller, however it is in fact a play of morality and [the title quote] is the underlying message in which we are to learn from.

We are all equal, regardless of class; we are responsible for each other; we should try to help others. I think that Priestley was trying to show his audience that every action can affect others; the smallest, meaningless things that we do can lead to disasters. An Inspector calls promotes the idea of socialism, which is strongly contrasted with the idea of capitalism- they are the Inspector and Mr. Birling’s beliefs respectively. In an Inspector Calls, Priestley uses a range of dramatic devices to keep his audience on-edge. A very effective dramatic device Priestley uses is cliffhangers.

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For example at the end of the play when Mr. Birling answers the phone and is told that the Inspector is in fact “a hoax”. Ending the play on a cliffhanger leaves the audience wanting to find out what happens next and keeps them thinking about the play and it’s moral meaning after they have seen/read it. Another example of the use of a cliffhanger is at the end of Act 1 when Gerald admits to Sheila that he had had an affair with Eva Smith. The Inspector then enters and simply says “Well? ” This simplicity is a very successful way of hooking the audience and making them want to know what happens next.

Act 2 then begins in the same way as Act 1 ended; Priestley decided not to change anything in order to achieve a sense of continuity, which is a dramatic device intended to keep the audience concentrated on a particular focus point. He also uses dramatic irony and he does so through the character of Mr. Birling; the “hardheaded man of business” that disagrees with the majority of the Inspector’s beliefs. As an audience we are made not to like this character; we are to view him as an arrogant and selfish man. Mr. Birling makes a speech in Act 1 saying that “[the Titanic is] unsinkable, absolutely nsinkable” and how “the world’s developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible”. The play was written and published in 1945 yet written in 1912 and Priestley implies that in order to move forward and re-establish the country, people have to work together as a society, instead of reverting back to capitalism. He uses the dramatic devices appropriately for the time in which he is writing the play and for the time in which the play is set. Included in the dramatic devices is the colour and brightness of the lighting.

This is another, more subtle device that Priestley uses very skillfully. The lighting first used is described as “pink and intimate” showing a warm and joyful atmosphere. However the audience begin to gather that the family are looking through ‘rose-tinted glasses’ and that everything is not really as it seems. We know that this is the case because when the Inspector appears on the scene the lighting changes to a “brighter and harder light”, giving the impression of exposure; the Inspector’s arrival strips away the closeness -that is in actual fact quite inadequate- of the Birling family.

Additionally, the general effect of the setting is “substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike”- the setting isn’t cosy and content, suggesting that the family aren’t either- this foregrounds the relationships between the family just as the play is starting. Throughout an Inspector Calls, tension is persistently building up between the Inspector and Mr. Birling as well as the other members of the Birling family. An example of this tension is in Act 1 when Sheila lightheartedly yet sincerely brings up that Gerald barely went near her “last summer”.

Even though Sheila isn’t intending to cause an argument of any sort, she is revealing to the audience that there are underlying secrets in the young couple’s relationship and this creates tension in the play. This is also ‘marking the moment’, which makes the audience suspect that this may not be the last we hear of Gerald’s secret and it will perhaps be exposed as the play progresses. Another example of tension is when Mr. Birling tells Gerald about his possible knighthood, but refuses to tell Eric about it when he re-enters the room; tension is present because the audience do not know why Eric is not to be involved in the conversation.

In the play, the tension continues to increase- the peak of tension being at the end of the acts where the cliffhangers lie. Another effective device used by Priestley is the timing of exits and entrances of the Inspector. He times the entrance of the Inspector so that he appears just after Mr. Birling has made his speech, as if to discredit everything Mr. Birling has just said. This is also giving the audience the impression that the Inspector is almost superhuman; almost ghost-like- his name being Inspector Goole. Thro In An Inspector Calls, there are things that we, as an audience, are unsure about.

Who is most responsible for Eva Smith’s death? Was there really a girl called Eva Smith who committed suicide in the infirmary? And, most importantly, who is the Inspector? Well, Inspector Goole is in fact not a real police inspector; his assertive and impatient manner isn’t what a wealthy, middle-class family –or anyone- would expect of him. In Act 3, the Inspector says to Mr. Birling “Don’t start with that, I want to get on”, this implies that he has no respect for them despite their social status and this links to Priestley’s message because he believed that everyone should be treated equally regardless of class.

The audience does not find a great deal out about the Inspector; we are given hints from the way he acts and what he says and we are to piece it all together to form our own ideas about his identity and his intentions. This way, Priestley is leaving his audience to act as a judge and to reach personal conclusions about him. The lesson that Priestley wanted the audience to learn is that we should be prepared to take responsibility for our actions and that we should feel responsible when doing things that could potentially affect others.

Inspector Goole is evidently not a police inspector and most probably knew what happened to Eva Smith all along; he wanted the Birling family to admit it to themselves. The Inspector acts as a moral voice for the audience to follow; he is one of the most thought-provoking and mysterious characters that modern day literature has yet produced. Eric and Sheila’s positive response to the Inspector’s message, in comparison to Mr. and Mrs. Birling’s negative response, is also significant.

Priestley uses this generation division to show that the younger generation symbolise expectations for the future. The fact that they are repentant as to what they have done suggests that they will make a conscious effort to improve their actions towards others. Unlike their parents, who only appear to have an interest in wealth and social status, Priestley shows that the younger generation will try to put their moral duties to practice towards their fellow citizens, even to those who are of a lower class.

Sheila, a naive, self-centred character, is the only person in the family that appears to have initial, genuine shock when discovering that a young girl had committed suicide and that she is partially to blame. Sheila is very moral in comparison to the other family members and this is seen throughout her questioning; she is immediately sorry for having had a part to play in the death of Eva Smith even though she was swayed by class at first- this proves that she’d learnt something from the Inspector.

When it is revealed that Sheila was the one who had Eva Smith made redundant she is immediately sorry and perceptibly horrified, saying “Oh- how horrible! ” I feel that she supports the message in the Inspector’s quote; at the beginning of the play we are fully aware of her naivety. Sheila knows that she is not only to blame for the girl’s death; her actions were rather insignificant, but she does appreciate that “we are all responsible for each other”. I think that J. B Priestley has cleverly and successfully used the character of Inspector Calls to let his audiences know of his views and beliefs.

Priestley uses opposing character opinions –Mr. and Mrs. Birling- to question the audience’s morals and who/what they personally believe is right. This is supportive and effective in relation to the main theme of the play, which is responsibility. As someone that has read and watched An Inspector Calls, I realise that it has improved my knowledge and awareness of community responsibility and other audiences will learn how this is more important than self-interest, which only leads to the fortuitous downfall of the people around you.


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