An Inspector Calls

Essay 1 ? pages (c) Select one of the members of the Birling family. Write a character study, using the text for reference, to show how Priestley uses the character to convey his own opinions and attitudes. The playwright of “An Inspector Calls,” J. B. Priestley, was a dedicated supporter of socialism, and by writing this play, he vents his own opinions and attitudes through his characters. The play is set in 1912, two years prior to the First World War, in the home of a prosperous manufacturer, Arthur Birling. It is perceptible to the reader that a prevailing aspect of the play is Capitalism versus socialism. This theme centres on Arthur Birling, a Capitalist. A conspicuous trait in Arthur Birling is his egotism. If one analyses deeply, Birling, in fact, is a subject of satire; he is intended to be portrayed as a typical Capitalist. A man of wealth, he is a pompous snob of the upper hierarchy, often ostentatiously displaying his advantageous connections. “I might find my way into the next Honours List … a knighthood… I was Lord Mayor … when Royalty visited us,” he boasts to Gerald Croft. Besides, he is obviously elated to welcome Gerald into his arms as his future son-in-law. You’re just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted” and “I’m delighted about this engagement” show that he is impressed by Gerald’s genteel family. This is rather amusing. J. B. Priestley wishes to point out his contempt for capitalist class systems by satirizing Arthur Birling; the reader can see that Birling’s vulnerability to high society is indeed shallow; the latter views the veneer of respectability as an honour. We ought to respect those with honour, ideals and determination; Gerald’s character is not particularly radical or persevering, yet Birling admires him for his wealth and gentility. Further illustrations of Birling’s character are in his eager remarks to Gerald, “we may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings … are working together – for lower costs and higher prices. ” We can see his greed and parsimony; this is supposed to be a relaxed, joyous celebration, yet Birling must “talk business on an occasion like this. ” It is clear that his desire for wealth cannot be restrained, even when he is supposed to be at ease. Later, we find proof of his avarice: he refused to raise the wages of capable employees despite being well-off. Priestley, being a Socialist, is concerned for the ill-paid lower classes. Birling shows an injustice in refusing to reward Eva Smith, a “good worker. ” In fact, he can afford to raise her salary, which she deserved as she increased productivity, and hence, his earnings. Yet he is obstinate in his selfishness. Priestley wishes to show how shallow, money-grubbing and stingy capitalists can be; many things are to their advantage, as they held power and dominance over their social inferiors. If their employees go on strike, they are dismissed, as eva Smith was. There was little protection for workers then. Money is a destructive force an Priestley demonstrates his disdain for its risky influence. Its evil influence is portrayed in Birling, the puppet, as it obstructs our finer feelings. We ought to compensate those who work industriously towards higher profits, and give employees a right to live better lives and more equally. Responsibility hovers around the play. As an employer, Birling is responsible for his workers’ welfare. He is responsible for paying their wages and to provide them with a suitable workplace. /yet, we see that he refused to increase the renumeration of capable workers. It is his responsibility to provide them so that that can enjoy a life of sufficient needs. Indignant, his employees started a strike, and Eva Smith, who spoke out – understandably – for her rights, was dismissed. A young woman in her position had little to live on, and Birling who already behaved graspingly, ought to have re-employed her, to provide her with a job. In another perspective, this solution would have fulfilled his other responsibility – to the consumers. Being capable, Eva Smith and the other ringleaders would have increased productivity, quality of the products and profits. With these girls, Birling could have offered better products to his consumers. After her dismissal, Eva was forced to resort to finding another job, but her earlier dismissal led to a concatenation of disastrous events, torment and ultimately, her death. When the Inspector confronts Birling with this information, Birling cold-heartedly refuses to “accept any responsibility” for her death as it would be “very awkward. ” Eva was helping Birling to make profits; in other words, she shared responsibility. Priestley indicates that we should share our responsibility – fairly. Birling ought to have allowed Eva more freedom for her diligence, and taken her under his wing. It is his responsibility to pay her benefits. Capitalists should be willing to accept responsibility. To ignore their workers’ needs would be inhumane. Capitalists gain profits from their employees’ efforts and drudgery, and should therefore ensure a comfortable living for them. More so, as Birling did not provide benefits, he is even more accountable for Eva’s sufferings. Priestley shows that the rich make the poor suffer, yet give them an unequal share and refuse to be held accountable for their inhumane actions. Another implication lies in Birling’s role as the autocratic father. He is narrow-minded and prejudiced against the lower-classes, the young and revolution. The revelation of Birling’s hand in Eva’s demise arouses Eric, “why shouldn’t they try for higher wages? We try for the highest possible prices. ” Birling instead becomes angry with him and this shows his hypocrisy. He aims to charge higher prices, but disallows his workers from following suit. Sheila voices her sympathy for Eva, but Birling disdains this. He evidently does not believe in the young voicing their opinions. This play is not merely about the pinions of Socialists, but also the ideas of the young. It is the young who bring new ideas, but due to their unestablished position in the world, the old hold them in contempt. A Radical, Priestley points this out. The old cannot change sufficiently quickly for new reforms. They fear this change, and impose their haughty stands on the youngsters. Eric and Sheila express their views that labourers have the right to “try for higher wagers”, Birling puts is foot down. The young are less hardened, but they are exposed to new ideas, and can do better for the labourers. They consider possibilities; Birling retorts that “there isn’t a chance of war. ” He is trying to avoid the possibilities of his ruin. It is ironical that he mentions, “Look at the progress we’re making. ” For further progress, the ideals and the efforts of the young are required. With Birling’s preconceived notions, society cannot progress to a fairer state. How can we hope for revolution with the young suppressed? Birling’s bigotry is depicted in his male chauvinism. He treats females with less respect, and with contempt. He views them as mere toys. The discovery of Gerald’s amorous intrigue with Eva Smith does not perturb him. Gerald has committed an indiscretion by seducing Eva and betraying Sheila, and Sheila resents this. Birling, however, states that “you must understand that a lot of young men –” have libidinous flings. It does not anger him. He feels that it is all right in men to philander, but he does not respect Sheila’s resentment of Gerald’s indiscretion, and forces her to marry him. That portrays that he does not respect her rightful opinion. He has little admiration for womanly strength, insisting that “there isn’t the slightest reason why my daughter should be dragged into this unpleasant business. To him, women are weak, and ought not to know about violence and strumpery. Girls at that time were expected to be innocent. Priestley feels that women should be given the right to know “unpleasant and disturbing things” and express their opinions. As a large component of the workforce, women are exposed to drudgery, knowledge and the ways of the world; they ought to have the right to defend themselves and give opinions. After the war, many men were killed. And women became more significant in the workforce. Should not capable women be free to speak? Being ignorant increases their vulnerability, and girls like Eva Smith do not have the protection of a male figure. There is a suggestiveness conveyed by Priestley. Birling, as we know, is against Socialism. He does not believe in the possibility of war. “Just because the Kaiser makes a speech or two, or a few German officers … begin talking nonsense … there isn’t a chance of war … The world’s developing so fat …Look at the progress we’re making … we’ll have aeroplanes that will be able to go anywhere … you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these Capital versus Labour agitations and all these silly little war scares. Naturally, the First World War took place after this, in 1914, and the progress in technology aided it. The downtrodden revolted and fought for more equality, despite the fact that rich Capitalists pooh-poohed this notion. It is as though Priestley is telling the reader that although the capitalists believed otherwise, war occurred, and Socialism triumphed. The war caused more equality. Therefore, Priestley suggest, socialism, being an excellent ideal, gained victory, hence it is like a battle between “good and evil. ” Priestley is cynical about monetary success under Capitalism. He feels contempt for Capitalists like Birling, who disdain Labour, and expressed this scorn by making Birling a hateable, despicable person. The truth is beautiful. Birling strives to conceal Eric’s affair with Eva, in order to preserve his reputation. Why should we deny the facts? Birling, besides, disapproves of his daughter’s knowledge about his covetousness and Gerald’s indiscretion. Priestley detests pretension that comes with social stability. That way, we can administer justice and determine our responsibilities. Capitalists are supposed to be law abiding; they do not permit strikes. Yet the truth is veiled. Therefore, it is evident that Priestley conveys his revolutionary opinions and attitudes toward society through this play, through subtle means. The characters serve as his puppet-like orators, but with an enthralling plot, influence the reader to think, reflect and analyse the differences between then and now. There are many opinions expressed in this drama, and we can discern Priestley’s wrath and contempt in Arthur Birling. Marks: 12/12

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