An Inspector Calls as a Tool for the Political and Social Criticism
of the Elite
"An Inspector Calls", by J.B. Priestly, is in effect a method the
playwright uses to convey an imperative political and social message
to his readers. John Boynton Priestley was born in Bradford, West
Yorkshire, in the north of England. After finishing school, he decided
to abandon education to pursue his passion for writing and literature.
In 1914 at the age of twenty Priestley was called to fight in the
First World War. As one may expect, the years Priestly spent on the
frontline, had an immense impact on his ideas towards the social and
political system in Britain, and are what fuelled his great
politically charged writings. Priestly began to ponder the state of
society and the way the social system worked. Perhaps most
importantly, he realised that while large numbers of people were
suffering, there were many egocentric individuals who were enjoying
"An Inspector Calls" was written in the very week that the Second
World War culminated. This shows the urgency with which Priestly
wanted to communicate his message. This play, like some of Priestley's
earlier work, explores the concept of time, and the phenomenon of how
someone's actions can affect someone else's life in the long run. The
play is set in an industrial Midlands town in 1912, just before the
First World War started. There are 5 main characters, other than the
inspector who appears at the very end of Act 1. These are Mr. and Mrs.
Birling, their children Sheila and Eric Birling and Sheila's fiancé
Gerald Croft. All of them are upper class citizens and are shown to
consider themselves to be part of the social elite.
Priestley uses this social class for his play not only because it is
the centre of his negative social and political attitudes, but also
because this is his intended audience. Every playwright knows that the
one way to secure his or her audience's interests is by making
characters which the audience can relate to.
The play begins in "the dinning-room of a fairly large suburban house,
belonging to a prosperous manufacturer." The reader is told that "the
general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy
and homelike." The lighting also has in important part in setting the
scene, according to the stage directions, "the lighting should be pink
and intimate until the inspector arrives, and then it should be
brighter and harder." This symbolizes a lot of clandestine affairs
which are uncovered when the inspector arrives. The Birlings are shown
to live in luxury, with good quality solid furniture, including a
table laid with champagne glasses, port glasses and cigars. The
overall effect is that of a lavish life.
Mr. Birling is the exact representation of the stereotype that exists
among people of lower classes regarding men of the upper class, and so
most of Priestley's criticism of the elite is shown through...