An Inspector Calls Essay - AQA English Literature Exam - June 2017
This is an exemplar An Inspector Calls essay, at GCSE standard, based upon the AQA English Literature June 2017 exam question. The essay analyses the character of the Inspector and the ways that society could be improved. The An Inspector Calls essay has been well structured and almost achieved full marks. The An Inspector Calls essay was written by a student (aged 16) in exam conditions, taking approximately 40-45 minutes to complete.
How does Priestley use the character of the Inspector to suggest ways that society could be improved? Write about:
- what society is shown to be like in the play and how it might be improved
- how Priestley presents society through what the Inspector says and does.
In ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley depicts society in 1912 as capitalist-ruled, segregated and unfair, using the Birling family as a symbol for all upper-class aristocrats. The character, Inspector Goole, acts as Priestley’s social mouthpiece to portray the idea that socialism is the future. The Inspector could be the technique that Priestley uses to convey his own ideas and opinions, because in 1944-1945 (when the play was written) Priestley was a figure who campaigned for a social welfare state and a more ‘moral’ system. It is plausible that Priestley wrote the play, set in 1912, to convey the contrast between the pre and post-war societies (1945).
At the start of the play, stage directions indicate to us that the Birlings are having an engagement meal in celebration of Sheila and Gerald’s pending marriage. When Birling, the head of the house, and possibly the most passionate capitalist, says “a man has to make his own way” in life, the doorbell rings – signalling the entrance of the Inspector. This stage direction indicates to us that the Inspector will turn the Birlings’ artificial world upside down, sobering them to the harsh realities of the life for the poor.
Equally, the entrance of Inspector Goole turns the stage lighting from “pink and intimate” to “brighter and harder”. This, to the audience, would visually appear as if the rose-tinted spectacles, filtering out negativity and realism in their lives, would have been lifted and replaced with a “brighter”, “harder” light of an interrogation room. This theatrical device acts as dramatic irony, because the audience can see how Priestley is changing the physical setting to change the tone of the atmosphere, and to foreshadow change that the Inspector represents. As an audience, one can infer that Priestley is using the Inspector to criticise and reveal to the upper classes their sins.
When being questioned by the Inspector, Birling relates how Eva Smith had “far too much to say” and therefore “had to go”, just for asking for a small raise – an amount Birling could have easily spared. Instead, the “hard-headed business[man]” sent her on her way, beginning the chain of events that would lead her to her untimely demise. Sheila, often seems like a character heavily influenced by the Inspector’s questioning of her father’s actions. This is particularly evident when she says that “these girls” are people too, not just “cheap labour”. In the context of a society in 1912, if you were female your options were considerably limited. Firstly, the expectation was that women should marry and be a faithful housewife; or secondly, to become “cheap labour” for those within power. The Inspector also concludes that Birling’s reactions were hasty, ill-advised and wrong, because he later mentions how we are all of “one body”. This phrase “one body” indicates to an audience that he believes in order to prevent such tragedies occurring in the future, we must act as a communal “body”, in a socialist revolution.
The Inspector’s appearance too tells us that he will have great influence and strengthens his societal ideas - increasing their importance even further. The fact that he “at once” created an “impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness”, despite lacking stature, indicates to an audience that his presence will change things and his character holds all the power to instil these changes. In fact, once the interrogation is over, the Inspector states a brief but ominous warning – if people don’t change, “we” will pay the price in “fire, blood and anguish”. This biblical reference indicates to us that Priestley is giving the Inspector God-like status, as if this change is so urgently necessary that even God is enforcing it. The use of the words “fire”, “blood” and “anguish” create a semantic field of hell and doom, hinting that without social conformity, acceptance of culpability and an increased moral radar, we as “one body” face turmoil in the hands of our own capitalist selfishness. Priestley truly did believe this, evidently from the Inspector’s interrogation, because in 1945, he along with twelve million others, voted Labour (socialists) in the election, causing a landslide win for the first time in history.
The Inspector also subtly hints at how society can be improved upon by his actions and words. For instance, when Mr Birling tells Sheila to “leave”, for being the capitalist, misogynistic man he was, believed that Sheila couldn’t handle staying; however, the Inspector politely asks her to “stay”. This action foreshadows socialist changes that come after the war, as women’s role in society became more and more prevalent and significant. In a way, all of the Inspector’s actions could be indicating how through following his advice, a better, less tragic society could be formed. This is directly symbolic of Priestley’s message, as he believed that the future of Britain was socialist. He wanted all to benefit from a better, more-advanced system than the current capitalist one.
If a socialist welfare system existed in 1912, ultimately Eva Smith and “millions and millions” more would have survived. Workers would also be on a fair regulated wage, which would have prevented any “strike”, and therefore Eva would have remained in employment. Effectively, the Inspector opens audiences’ eyes to the devastating effects that a capitalist nation could bring.