J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls
'An Inspector Calls' by J.B. Priestley is set in an industrial city,
Brymley in 1912, just before the First World War. The Inspector's
dealings with the Birling family cause some of the characters in the
play to re-evaluate their position in society, whilst others remain
unaffected. J.B.Priestley criticises middle class oppression of the
working class by showing how the Birlings and Gerald Croft are
involved in making a young working class girl's life a misery.
Act one begins by introducing the characters and presents a seemingly
happy united family looking forward to the future with a degree of
confidence. Arthur Birling is having an enjoyable celebration where he
produces many speeches and predictions. Mr Birling opens the play with
"You ought to like this port, Gerald. As a matter of fact, Finchley
told me it's exactly the same port your father gets from him."
Birling's first line of dialogue, shows him trying to impress Gerald,
as Gerald's father is of a higher class than the Birling family and
also to climb the social ladder. He views himself as a man of a high
class and uses manipulation to get to the top.
Mr. Birling is full of arrogant declarations such as, "The Titanic /
unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable." The upper classes stood a much
better chance of survival than the lower classes when the Titanic
sank, which is mirrored in 2oth century society. The 1945 audience
knew the fate of the Titanic and so Mr. Birling is immediately
discredited (although his view was shared by many in 1912.) Mr
Birling, like many of the men in 1912, was very pompous and believed
himself to be of a superior rank in society.
Birling's first priority is to make money, "It's my duty to keep
labour cost down." Sheila is engaged to the son of his "friendly"
rival, which could benefit him in the business world. Mr Birling wants
his daughter to marry and the marriage is seen as a business venture
rather than a happy occasion in their lives - "We may look forward to
the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing, but are
working together for lower costs and higher prices." This reveals Mr.
Birling's greed and confidence in business.
Mr. Birling has a selfish attitude towards life, which is exactly what
he conveys in a speech at the celebration of Sheila's and Gerald's
engagement, "... a man has to look after himself - and his family too,
of course..." Mr Birling believes that in society a man must only care
for himself in order to move up in the world. Another example of his
materialistic values is when he makes a speech, "Gerald, I'm going to
tell you frankly, without any pretences, that your engagement with
Sheila means a lot to me. She'll make you happy, and I'm sure you'll
make her happy. Your just the type of son-in-law I wanted..." The