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Character and Theme in An Inspector Calls. Characters Overview. Remember that the characters in the book are symbolic. Each of them represents a particular type or class. The one exception might be the Inspector. Characters Overview 2.

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characters overview
Characters Overview
  • Remember that the characters in the book are symbolic.
  • Each of them represents a particular type or class.
  • The one exception might be the Inspector.
characters overview 2
Characters Overview 2
  • One way of judging the characters is to look at the way they change, or don’t change by the end of the play.
  • Ask yourself – are they different at the end?
arthur birling 1
Arthur Birling 1
  • He is wealthy and middle-class with aims of becoming part of the upper class.
  • Hopes to be knighted “there’s a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours List”. P.8
  • Former Lord-Mayor of Brumley and as such he is full of his own self-importance “I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago.” p.11
arthur birling 2
Arthur Birling 2
  • As a local magistrate he sees himself as being above the law. He thinks he can get away with things.
  • In Act One he says he know the Chief Constable – “we play golf together sometimes” p.16
  • Look at his reaction when he thinks they’ve rumbled the Inspector…
  • At the end of the play he is glad to have avoided a public scandal.
arthur birling 3
Arthur Birling 3
  • He is totally unaware of the effects of his actions on other people.
  • He doesn’t care that there are low wages for workers. He celebrates ripping off his workers and cutomers “lower costs and higher prices” p.4
arthur birling 4
Arthur Birling 4
  • He is totally unrealistic about the future.
  • His speech about the Titanic calls it “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable”. P.7
  • He wrongly doesn’t think there will be a war – “There’ll be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.” p.7
sybil birling
Sybil Birling
  • She is a horrible snob and looks down on people with less money.
  • She refuses Eva Smith money for just having the cheek to use the same name as her, calling it “a piece of gross impertinence” p.43
  • She is also a hypocrite and judges lower classes more harshly than her own family.
  • She calls (in a moment of dramatic irony) her own son a ‘drunken young idler’.
gerald croft
Gerald Croft
  • Gerald is a real member of the upper classes, the son of Sir George Croft and Lady Croft.
  • He is also quite weak and willing to do the easy thing. Look at how he sucks up to Birling – “I believe you’re right Sir’ p.6, but also on page 15 and 17.
  • He is also a liar, he tells Sheila that he has been very busy at work when he has been having an affair.
gerald croft 2
Gerald Croft 2
  • In the end he is very much concerned with his reputation above everything else.
  • Look at his relief when he finds out the hospital has not got the body of a suicide victim.
  • He believes that the most important thing is if the Inspector is a fake as “that makes all the difference.” p.63
  • Eric is a party-boy, hard drinking (perhaps because he is miserable) and is portrayed as being the black sheep of the family.
  • He is also a rebel, and tries to take on Mr Birling’s selfish views. For example p.6 “What about the war?”
eric 2
Eric 2
  • Eric is one of the few characters who has managed to change because of the terrible experience of Eva Smith.
  • He says it was “tough luck” that she was sacked, and shows sympathy for her tragic life.
  • Later on he realises that the Inspector was showing them their own faults: “He was our police inspector all right” p.59
  • Sheila is the character who works out the tragedy of Eva Smith most quickly.
  • When she admits that she was at fault for having Eva fired from Milwards. She asks the Inspector if “I’m really responsible?” p.23
  • She also works out that Gerald has been up to no good. “I expect you’ve done things you’re ashamed of too.” p.23
sheila 2
Sheila 2
  • Sheila is sometimes called ‘the conscience’ of the play, as she is one most troubled by Eva’s story.
  • She appeals for the others to help the inspector. P.30
  • At the end of the play she doesn’t seem ready to take Gerald back. “No. Not yet. It’s too soon. I must think.” p.72
inspector goole
Inspector Goole
  • He is a character who doesn’t, like others try to gloss over the truth. Sometimes he is described as blunt or direct.
  • He outwits the family by isolating them, “one line of inquiry at a time” p.11
  • He refuses to be intimidated by Birling. See the earlier golf scene, and also in Act Two when he refuses to apologise to Birling. “Apologize for what – doing my duty?”
inspector goole 2
Inspector Goole 2
  • Goole always tells it like it is and advances the political philosophy of the play.
  • Look at dialogue in Act Two when he puts forward the idea that the rich should care for the poor. “Public men, Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” p.41
inspector goole 3
Inspector Goole 3
  • The mystery of the Inspector is heightened by his name – ‘Goole’. This technique is called nomenclature.
  • When he disappears we are left with the question of who he was.
  • Is he a vision from the past or future?
  • In he representative of all of our consciences?
themes social responsibility
Themes – Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility

  • J.B Priestley was a socialist and one of the big questions he is asking his audience is ‘How should society be organised?’
  • He is offering us a choice between socialism in which the rich are compelled to share their wealth, or through capitalism where you are allowed to keep more of your money.
social responsibility 2
Social Responsibility 2
  • The two different views of society are represented by Birling and the Inspector.
  • The Inspector tells Birling that: “We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
  • Birling tells his family that everyone is on their own, “A man has to make his own way – has to look after himself.” p.9
social responsibility 3
Social Responsibility 3
  • The relationship between the working class and the rich is the way that Priestley explores the struggle between socialism and capitalism.
  • Eva Smith is symbolic of the way that all workers are treated. The Inspector tells Eric that he used Eva like “an animal, a thing, not a person.” p.56
social responsibility 4
Social Responsibility 4
  • The idea of the play is what happens to Eva Smith represents what happens to all poor workers.
  • In his final speech the Inspector makes that obvious (p.56) “One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do.”
themes time
Themes - Time

Remember the play has two time frames that you have to remember.

  • It is set in 1912 – a time before the horror of World War One.
  • BUT it was written in the Second World World War in 1945.

Priestley is contrasting a very innocent time with a time of horror, bombing and mass killing.

time 2
Time 2

Life in Britain in 1912

  • Photo of a grocer shop in Twickenham 1912.
  • In Britain it was a freezing winter with many dying from the cold. Things were made worse by coal, dock and transport strikes.
  • March 1st - Window smashing rampage in Londons West end by Suffragettes. (Women who wanted equal rights)
  • October 1st - First Balkan war - Turkey invaded by Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro.
  • The class system was still prominent and the people at the top of society were massively wealthy compared to normal workers, and those workers often had very poor pay and conditions.
  • There was also increasing competition with Germany and the USA for trade and the first rumblings of war were in the air.
time 3
Time 3

Life in Britain in 1945

  • Britain was wrecked by the Second World War. Major cities had been ravaged by fire after being attacked with incendiary bombs and London had been hit by the blitz.
  • January 27th – Soviet armies discover death camps in Nazi occupied territory.
  • Feb 13th – Allied planes firebomb Dresden killing over 25,000 people and destroying the city.
  • August 6/9th - American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons.
  • The men and women who had fought the war had started to feel that they wanted a fairer society and wanted more rights. After the war the Welfare State was implemented offering all people the guarantee to free healthcare, education and a state pension for the first time.
time 4
Time 4
  • Priestley was really interested in different theories about time and was very interested in a thinker called J.W Dunne. Dunne wrote a book suggesting that the same things might be happening simultaneously all the time.
  • He believed that people who were specially trained could see backwards and forwards in time. Priestley thought that this might mean you could be warned by visitors from the future about how to behave.
time 5
Time 5
  • However that wasn’t the only odd belief that Priestley had.
  • He also liked the ideas of a mystic called Ouspensky who pioneered a theory called ‘eternal recurrence’.
  • His idea was that you’d live your life over and over until you’d made all of the right choices. This means that you’d get the chance to avoid mistakes you’d made before.
gender age conflict
Gender/Age Conflict

Look at the issues in the play:

  • Women used as possessions by men.
  • Women don’t have the same rights as their men.
  • Youth versus Age is often highlighted, for example Eric vs Mr Birling.
  • These issues highlight social changes to come in the future.