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An Inspector Calls Analysis

  • Date Submitted: 09/23/2012 11:15 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 50.9 
  • Words: 1454
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An Inspector Calls, as its curtain rises, does not seem particularly different from many other plays popular in the same period. A middle-class family sits around a table, having just enjoyed a satisfying dinner, and the maid clears the table. The scene sets the expectation that this is going to be a family drama, maybe even a comedy, and the focus will be on this happy family environment. Yet, Priestley’s play undergoes a subtle shift in mood and tone until it has become something much more unusual, which defies both its initial expectations and its seeming naturalism.
This first tableau, for example, can be seen as something other as a cozy emblem of this rich family’s life, for among them is a picture of one of the “millions and millions” of Eva Smiths, here working for what is likely a minimum wage, clearing the table and putting out port and cigars. It is no accident, surely, that “Eva” the girl and “Edna” the maid have such similar names. The presence of Edna onstage throughout the play symbolizes the presence of Eva and reinforces Priestley’s ultimate point about the abuse of power and the failure to take sufficient responsibility for one’s actions toward others.
Immediately, with the Inspector’s interrogations of Birling and Sheila, we see Priestley’s key salvo: the lower-class individuals are the responsibility of the middle and upper classes. This idea draws on traditional class morality. But as the society has become less hierarchical, the new way of expressing this morality is to say that society at large should care for people who are poor and need support. As Birling did not worry about firing the girls who led the strike for more wages, as Sheila did not think twice about causing the shop assistant to get in trouble, so too do the Birlings routinely ignore Edna during the play. Edna’s silence in the play, though she begins as a natural component of the comfortable family room as the curtain rises, gradually comes to seem more and more significant...

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