Portrayal of Guilt and Prejudice in An Inspector Calls

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‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play written in 1945 by an English dramatist J.B Priestley after World War II, which he was greatly influenced by. He was attempting to encourage his audience to change and become a better person in society. In An Inspector Calls, the central theme is responsibility. Priestly explores this and how people from different social classes, gender, and age possess different attitudes towards the role of responsibility. The play focuses on the need for the awareness of social and personal responsibility where every individual in society is responsible for not only their own actions but also their actions that affect others. Through diction, characterization, and lines delivered by the character ‘Inspector Gooles,’ Priestley effectively expressed his view on responsibility in a highly effective manner. Each of the characters has a past, each linking to Eva Smith death, which is a secret to be revealed later on in the play. This presents social responsibility— every person has a responsibility to help each other and that their actions can affect others. At the start of the play, Sheila Birling is described as “a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with her life and rather excited.” She also appears to be a very compassionate person as when she heard the conditions of her father’s treatment towards Eva Smith, she immediately said “but these girls aren’t cheap labour-they’re people.” This portrays that she concerned about the poor and cares about them, she does not look down upon them unlike her family members. This also reveals that her attitude towards life is very positive.

On the other hand, Sheila Birling is also a stubborn person, raised with an upper-class mindset of utilizing power and superiority to hide her own insecurities. “I told them that if they did not get rid of her I will never go to that place again” This depicts that Shelia used her father’s upper class status to get rid of Eva in the wrong way. However, after she learned that her selfish actions is a part of Eva’s death, she helps Inspector Goole to inspect other family members. She regretted getting Eva fired. ‘If I could help her now I would.’ At the end of the play she still feels ashamed and guilty. Sheila Birling appears to be the only person to learn to be responsible for others later on in the play and is the person most affected and moved by the interrogation. The quote “I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it” shows that she is feeling guilty and is no longer pushing away her role of responsibility, unlike her mother. She represents the new generations who are willing to and can change to become a better person in society.Priestly builds up tension and suspense in the start the of the play. Gerald Croft was a suspicious character at the beginning of the play when Shelia questioned him “except for all last summer, when you never came near me.” This clearly shows how she has always been suspicious of him. Later it was revealed that he had cheated on her. This portrays that he had been dishonest and disloyal towards Sheila right from the start. We later learn that he does not care about what Shelia thinks and that he treats women lightly as shown by the quote “he says I’m getting hysterical.” However, he is somewhat socially responsible as he helped Eva Smith when he first saw her in trouble, albeit his later motives. This is shown in the quote, ‘Then gave me a glance that was nothing less than a cry for help.’ This shows that he cares. He also helped Eva by supporting her with both finance and hospitality. “So I insisted Daisy moving into those rooms to help her going.”

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The phrase ‘to help her going’ conveys how considerate and generous he is. Although after he was satisfied and got what he wanted from her, he broke things off with her and acted as if nothing had happened between them. His arrogance lets the audience down as when he thought the inspector was a hoax and immediately forgets how poorly he treated Sheila and Eva. He represents the selfishness of the upper class and the way women were treated differently from men. In my opinion, I think that even though Gerald Croft is guilty and responsible, he is not feeling as guilty and responsible as he should be.Mrs Birling sits on charity organisations and has public influence. Her personality is a confident and prideful women. She is described as a “a rather cold woman” and her husband’s “social superior.” She completely lacks empathy or understanding on how people live, stereotyping that different classes behave in a certain way. This is shown in the quote “a girl of that class.” The word ‘that class’ conveys how she looks down upon lower classes treating them as if subhuman. It also shows that she is judgmental and thinks that she is more socially and morally superior than others. She makes the audience see how the class division was in the 1912s and how awful life was for the lower classes. Mrs Birling does not feel any sympathy towards Eva nor does she accept any responsibility. This is shown in the quote “as if a girl of that sort would refuse money” and “but I think she had only herself to blame.”

The word ‘sort’ shows that she is being prejudice and biased on whether what Eva said was true or not. This shows how stubborn and cold she is. Her personality is also very naive and protective. Mrs Birling is ‘naive’ as she thinks that there is not an issue with her family and ignores what she doesn’t want to see. She also is prepared to blame the father of the child as she does not know that the father is her own son, Eric. “Go and look for the father of the child. It’s his responsibility.” This illustrates that not only she is not admitting her role of responsibility, but she is also trying to rid the blame from herself. She also cares only about her reputation and pride “oh, Eric, how could you?' Instead of comforting her son, she is humiliated and angered by Eric’s actions. This conveys that all she cares about is her reputation, as his actions is something that could damage it. Later, Mrs Birling started to become more protective of Eric when she realised the truth. “No – Eric – please – I didn’t know – I didn’t understand.” She started to show sign of repentance when she eventually realised Eric was the father, and her actions resulted Eva’s death. In the end, however, she is still proud that she did not feel any guilt and accepted no responsibility. Priestly used one character in particular as his voice — Inspector Goole— where Priestley’s moral views and thought on class distinctions and responsibility were represented. Priestly is a socialist and believes that it is fairer and more equal for both the rich and poor. He played on the word ‘Goole’ and ‘Ghoul’ to suggest that Inspector Goole is ominous or even paranormal. Inspector Goole is described as a “need not be a big man but creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.”

The three words ‘massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ suggests that he is a powerful man. The Inspector arrived at a critical moment when Mr Birling said, ‘... a man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—.’ Mr Birling summarizes his worldview of moral and economic to Gerald and Eric as if he was foreshadowing. Mr Birling represents an individualist, capitalist point of view where one tries to maximise their own social happiness without caring the benefits of others. He is also an ignorant and foolish person. The quote “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.” In which he is referring to the Titanic ship. Priestley’s creates dramatic irony which his original audience in the 1946 knows that Mr Birling’s foreshadow is wrong as the titanic’s incident is within the memory of the people. The Titanic is a symbol of a ship that is fated to sink as well as Mr Birling’s political and social morals and ideology under Inspector Gooles’s interrogation, he is being manipulated and controlled by the Inspector. Inspector Gooles creates an atmosphere of manipulation and mystery for the audience. The Inspector’s role is to make each individual characters realise that they are responsible and play a part in Eva’s death.

‘Each of you helped to kill her.’ This phrase makes the characters feel guilty and wrong of their foolish actions towards Eva. The word ‘helped to kill her’ suggests that each of them is responsible and none of them is innocent. The phrase ‘We don’t live alone. We are members of one body- We are responsible for each other’ suggests that they are connected to each other, a part of a larger society and every action causes a reaction to others that we might not have anticipated. Priestley’s use of responsibility in the play helps the audience relate to the narrative as everyone has been a part of responsibility in some point of their lives. The play relates to today as it highlights conflict in themes such as politics, inequality and family. The role of responsibility is unavoidable as it is something everyone experience. He uses Inspector Goole to convey his own opinions towards responsibility. His play consists of many different characters with different status and attitude. They usually represent social and political perspective.

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Portrayal of Guilt and Prejudice in An Inspector Calls. (2021, January 12). WritingBros. Retrieved June 16, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/portrayal-of-guilt-and-prejudice-in-an-inspector-calls/
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