An Inspector Calls: Why Social Status Won’t Beat The Morality

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An Inspector Calls by JBP is an unapologetically political play, which criticizes the past while suggesting hope for the future; the power is arguably used by Priestley as part of a wider argument on the benefits of socialism and the cruel consequences of capitalism. Power is presented through the characters of Mr. Birling and Inspector Goole as well as Shiela. This argument becomes keenly evident when you scrutinize the structure of An Inspector Calls and its three sections: before the Inspector’s arrival, during the Inspector’s investigation, and after the Inspector has left.

Before the Inspector arrives, power is presented through the character of Mr. Birling. This is shown through how JBP uses dashes. This is seen when Eric says ‘Yes, I know – but still -‘, indicating that he is in the middle of a sentence and that the next person speaking (Mr. Birling in this case) is interrupting him. This indicates power as the second character is cutting short the first person dialogue, implying that they think what they have to say is more important/significant. Preventing another character from speaking is one way of controlling them, showing a certain degree of dominance in a conversation.

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During the Inspector’s investigation power is presented through the character of the Inspector. The particular quote ‘one person and one line of inquiry at a time. Otherwise, there’s a muddle’. Each sentence in his dialogue is a declarative sentence which makes his ideas sound logical and slightly harder to disagree with, giving a sense of power and authority. By using the conjunction ‘otherwise’ the inspector anticipates a counter-argument to his methods of investigation, then immediately discredits it by calling it a ‘muddle’, strengthening his authority as he seems like an experienced police inspector. Also, the use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ shows that the Inspector is prioritizing himself, how he isn’t interested whether his methods inconvenience the Birlings or Gerald. Another quote that presents power is ‘Perhaps I ought to warn you that he’s an old friend of mine and that I see him fairly frequently. We play golf together sometimes’. This quote has an implied sense of threat that relates to power. When Mr. Birling tells the inspector that Cornell Roberts is his old friend, Mr. Birling is implying that he could have a word with him about Inspector Google’s conduct, which could result in him losing his job.

This relates to the theme of power as Mr. Birling is using his influence as a high Status and well-connected member of society to intimidate somebody else. In this exact quote, Mr. Birling is appealing to another character’s power, making it seem like Mr. Birling’s authority has not influenced the inspector and so instead he’s trying to use another character’s power to his benefit. By resorting to threatening to talk to Cornell Roberts about Goole, Mr. Birling is conceding that the power that he personally has it’s not substantial enough in this case.

However, the inspectors’ response to this is ‘dry’ suggesting an ironic and humorous tone which suggests that he is not taking Mr. Birling‘s threat seriously. By saying that he doesn’t play golf, he is suggesting that he has no interest in what Mr. Birling is saying.

After the inspector has left power is presented through the character of Shiela. The quote ‘I suppose we’re all nice people now’ shows that she is more independent and uses sarcastic comments towards her parents. In the beginning, she represents the early 20th century women, who are dependant on men and not thinking for themselves. However, toward the end of the play, feminism becomes more significant as the play goes on. This quote shows that women have a wider role in society because of the war, suggest using the power they behold.

In conclusion, Priestley was trying to portray the fact that just because the Birlings have a social title, doesn’t mean they will be kind and respectable. Not everything revolves around status and the influence you may have over the law because, in the end, it’s about morality and your real personality, not the one you buy.  


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