The Role of the Inspector in an An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
All three acts, which are continuous, take place in the dinning room
of the Birlings' house in Brumley, an industrial city in the North
Mr Birling his wife Mrs Birling and his son Eric are celebrating the
engagement of his daughter Sheila and Gerald Croft. An Inspector calls
round to question the family on the death a girl called Eva Smith who
committed suicide by drinking strong disinfectant because she was very
The author J.B.Priestley was born on September 13, 1894 Bradford, West
Yorkshire and died August 14, 1984 Stratford-Upon-Avon. Priestly was
educated at Cambridge University, and by the age of 30 had established
a reputation as a humorous writer and critic. His first major success
came with a novel, The Good Companions (1929), he became better known
as a dramatist. Without doubt, his best known play is An Inspector
He fought in WW2 and this experience had a lasting effect on him. The
play is set in 1912, only 2 years before the outbreak of WW1, and in
the inspectors' final speech he seems to hint at the trouble to
follow. "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
The play deals with the issues raised by an elite society, represented
by the Birlings, possession of most of the wealth and power in the
country and at the expense of the majority of the poor people,
represented by Eva Smith.
I think that Priestley had quite strong socialist views which seem to
emerge in the voice of the inspector. At the time, the top 3% of the
country "the upper class", possessed 98% of the wealth; class is at
the forefront of society and socialism a distant dream shared by few.
Priestley is one of these few and this shows through in his work. No
more so when he uses the inspector to symbolise his feelings towards
society. "We don't live alone.... members of one body.... responsible
for each other."
This is one of the major principles of socialism. Everyone is equal.
You can see that the inspector is a passionate socialist by the way
the inspectors line of enquiry alters, it turns to a more personal
line as though he believes entirely in what he is saying. "You helped
but you didn't start it (rather savagely) to Birling." The Birling
elders respect the inspector, this is strange for the time as the
inspector is from a lower class, but here he is controlling Birling,
but in their respect for him they are intrigued with him. The
following phrases "peculiar", "suspicious", "rude" and even
"assertive" illustrate their views towards him. Even so they let the
inspector trample all over them like weak grass-weak and feeble.
Even the "arrogant" Birling recognises this...