AQA English Literature - An Inspector Calls Essay - June 2019
An Inspector Calls Essay - AQA English Literature Exam - June 2019
This is an exemplar An Inspector Calls essay, at GCSE standard, based upon the AQA English Literature June 2019 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 present selfishness and its effects in An Inspector Calls? Write about: • examples of selfish behaviour in the play • how Priestley presents selfishness and its effects.
In ‘An Inspector Calls’ Priestley presents selfishness as a pernicious and harmful quality, that has disastrous consequences for everyone.
One instance of selfishness is with the Birling family, who appear to live in their own “comfortable” bubble of wealth and avarice, which inhibits and warps their views of the world. For instance, the stage directions describe the “suburban” Birling family home as “pink and intimate”. The use of the adjective “pink” connotes ‘rose tinted spectacles’; the sense that the Birling family has a nostalgic, anachronistic and out-of-touch perception of the world, implying they are detached from the realities of modern Britain. This feeling is further augmented when the Inspector arrives and shatters their rapacious ignorance. The lighting changes drastically, going to “brighter and harder”. The implication of such a change is that the Inspector is shining a light (as though in a police interrogation) on areas the Birlings had never previously seen (because of the ignorance afforded to them by their greed and selfishness). The word “harder” connotes that the process of exposing the woes of the poor and the Birlings’ transgressions was actually physically gruelling for the family; perhaps as a result of the years of self-imposed myopia they underwent. Moreover, the Birlings’ detachment as a result of their selfishness and wealth has led to a degree of inhumanity, with Eva Smith being described as a “wretched girl”. The word “wretched” implies pity, not sympathy, and the word “girl” is demeaning to an adult woman who had recently died.
Certainly, throughout the play, Priestley conveys the feeling that greed, profiteering and capitalism are deeply virulent and subversive things that damage society as a whole. For example, Birling’s obsession with “profits” and so forth lead him to dismiss Eva Smith, engendering a downward spiral which ended in her death. The Inspector declared that “we are members of one body”. This metaphor connotes that people need to work together to survive, as the body consists of many vital organs and systems that all work together to thrive. The implication being that if even one component (or person) fails to work as part of a team, then the body (or society) will fail.
The calamitous consequences of a failure to work as a community and instead being selfish and acquisitive are enunciated by the Inspector, who warns of “fire and blood and anguish”. This biblical, prophetic warning is multifaceted. On the one hand, it urges people to work together lest there be such damage that physical injury (“blood”) damage and destruction (“fire”) and deep emotional suffering (“anguish”) take place.
But, alternatively, it paints the Inspector as an almost supernatural figure. This is because to a 1945 audience, such desperate suffering would have been all too apparent: all of them would have endured the hellish World War 2 (1939-1945) and most of them would have suffered through World War 1 (1914-1918). Such a prescient warning from the Inspector would have instantly aligned the audience with him and against Arthur Birling, who had previously fallen victim to dramatic irony (“Germans don’t want war”), making Birling seem pompous and tumid because of his selfish ignorance, whereas the Inspector (who embodied Priestley’s socialist ideals) appeared enlightened and popular with the audience.
Finally, the description of Arthur Birling proves his selfishness and gluttony. For example, the adjective “portentous” is multifaceted. One interpretation is that he is an arrogant and hubristic man who is overly self-important. However, it could also be deduced that he is bloated and swollen; either because of gluttony and excess consumption or because he is brimming with arrogance and vanity – this comes from the adjective “portly”, meaning stout or overweight.