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What Methods Does Priestley Use to Present Selfishness=====

  • Date Submitted: 04/21/2014 09:19 AM
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The theme of selfishness is central to An Inspector Calls. Priestley questions the morality of the Birling and Croft
family and points out behaviours that are selfish. He also points to the wider selfishness of a society that is driven
by profit and with no structured welfare system to support vulnerable people. This is an expose of life in Edwardian
Britain that would have made a 1945 audience question what sort of society they wanted to create following the
devastation of two world wars.
This selfishness is presented in a number of ways.
Firstly, Priestly draws attention to the political and economic system that first set Eva off on her downward spiral.
With a lack of lawful minimum wage, Birling can set whatever wages he wants. But his selfishness in reaping the
rewards for himself leads him to pursue a business policy of ‘lower costs’. This means lower wages. Priestley may be
questioning what happens in a society where there are no legal requirements on pay, and the decisions are left up to
the conscience of selfish men like Birling. He describes himself twice as a ‘hard-headed man of business’, but the
audience is left wondering whether it is his heart that is ‘hard’. Birling’s decision not to increase the wages of his
workers is made even more stark by the fact that Priestley decides to dress the men in ‘tails’ and set the play to
show off the wealth of the family with ‘champagne glasses’ and a maid. Their wealth is immediately obvious to the
audience and this makes is more shocking that Birling would not raise the worker’s wages.
The fact that such power rest with Birling, also enables Priestley to question the class system and whether it is fair.
Eric has been born into money, without ever having to earn it, and Priestley could be saying that this idea that he has
a ‘right’ to things makes him selfish. Eric seems to think he has a right to Eva’s body on the night he gets her
pregnant when he says, ‘I was in a state where...


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