An Inspector Calls by J.B Priestley
As a student preparing for your GCSE English Literature exam, it’s important to understand the themes and motifs of the book “An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley. This play explores the concept of class and its impact on society, which is an essential topic for the exam. In this blog, we will delve deeper into the key themes and quotes of the play, which will help you prepare for your exam in May.
The play is set in 1912, during a time when class distinctions were significant, and social inequality was rife. The Birling family is wealthy and upper-class, whereas Eva Smith is a working-class woman. Throughout the play, we see how the characters interact with each other and how their class affects their behaviour towards one another.
Did you know: This play was first performed in 1946 in two Moscow theatres. This is due to the fact that no London theatres would present it. Why? Because the socialist views of the play were seen to not fit with the capitalist views of many of the theatre’s visitors.
Who are the main characters of An Inspector Calls?
- Mr Arthur Birling
- Mrs Sybil Birling
- Sheila Birling
- Eric Birling
- Gerald Croft
- Inspector Goole
What is the plot summary of An Inspector Calls?
- An Inspector Calls is a play that centres around the apparent suicide of a young woman named Eva Smith.
- Set on an evening in 1912, the unsuspecting Birling family are throwing an engagement party for their daughter, Sheila.
- They are visited by a Police Inspector known as Inspector Goole.
- The Inspector explains that he is investigating the death of a girl, Eva Smith, who died two hours ago in the infirmary after committing suicide by drinking disinfectant.
- Throughout the play, it transpires that each member of the family had played a part in Eva Smith’s death for different reasons and through different actions. Leading to the core question: Who is responsible for Eva’s death?
- Inspector Goole leaves the family, but the suspicious Mr Birling telephones the infirmary. He finds out that there is no record of a girl dying from drinking disinfectant.
- However, after his conversation ends the phone suddenly rings. Mr Birling answers the telephone and receives the horrific news that a young woman has just died from drinking disinfectant and that the police are on their way to question them about the incident.
- After this, the curtain falls and the play ends.
Priestly’s work was very interested in class and the interrelated theme of social responsibility. Through this play, he is trying to show that the upper class are unaware that the easy lives they lead and a lot of this rests on the labour of the lower classes. Priestly was interested in the class system and showed in his work how this system determines the decisions people make.
The themes of An Inspector Calls
One of the significant themes in the play is the idea of responsibility. Each character’s actions have a ripple effect on others, which ultimately leads to the tragedy that unfolds. This theme is encapsulated in the Inspector’s statement, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” This quote serves as a reminder that our actions have consequences and that we should be mindful of the impact they may have on others.
Another essential theme in the play is the idea of time. The play is set in 1912, but it was written in 1945, after the Second World War had ended. Priestley uses this time frame to comment on the social changes that had occurred in the years between the two periods. This theme is highlighted in the Inspector’s statement, “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 and anguish.” This quote is a warning that if we do not learn from our mistakes, we will repeat them, and the consequences will be severe.
Some of the other themes you may want to discuss in your GCSE English exam could include:
- Wealth, Power and Influence
- Blame and Responsibility
- Public versus Private
- Social Responsibility
- Morality and Legality
Additionally, the play explores the concept of morality and how it is influenced by class. The upper-class characters in the play are portrayed as selfish and greedy, while the working-class characters are depicted as morally superior. This theme is encapsulated in the Inspector’s statement, “If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” This quote serves as a reminder that morality is not determined by one’s class or wealth, and that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.
However, today we are going to explore the central theme of class and look at how you can analyse class in An Inspector Calls.
Analysing Class in An Inspector Calls
Part of the GCSE English Literature course involves analysing key themes. It is important to know what the key themes of each text are and how you can analyse them effectively. In analysing class in An Inspector Calls we have chosen 5 key quotes that you can memorise and use in your exam to talk about this topic.
1. “Perhaps I ought to warn you that he’s an old friend of mine”
- When Mr Birling first meets Inspector Goole he attempts to intimidate him.
- He tries to assert himself as Goole’s social superior.
- In this quote, Mr Birling tells the Inspector that he is good friends with the Inspector’s Chief Constable.
- Mr Birling also refers to being an “alderman for years” and “Lord Mayor two years ago”.
- He constantly tries to enforce the idea that the Inspector ranks below him in society.
2. “Girls of that class”
- This is spoken by Mrs Birling when she is attempting to justify why she failed to offer Eva/ Daisy the aid she needed.
- She simply writes Eva/Daisy off as of a lower, less deserving class, incapable of true feelings and honesty.
3. “If you don’t come down hard on these people they’ll be asking for the world”
- This quote is from Birling, explaining why he fired Daisy (as she was called then).
- Birling says that he fired her simply because she asked for a pay rise.
- Both the Inspector and Birling’s daughter Sheila have to remind him that the workers in his factory are not simply “cheap labour”.
- Here we can also see elements of J.B. Priestly’s socialist political views in his writing.
4. In analysing class in An Inspector Calls you can reference one of Inspector Goole’s most famous lines from the play
- This key quote is: “We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”
- Here the Inspector is clear that we have a duty to each other in society and cannot act alone and selfishly.
- He references the idea of social responsibility, which is closely connected to class.
5. “I became the most important person in her life”
- This is quote is spoken by Gerald.
- Here is he explaining how Daisy (she’s changed her name by this point) reacted to him taking her in as his mistress.
- When Gerald does this he sets her up in a friend’s empty house.
- Daisy is desperate and he takes advantage of her because he is a man with money and she is not.
- This quote also closely links to the theme of gender within the play.
How to best use quotes when you analyse class in An Inspector Calls
When you use these quotes in your essay you must remember to follow these steps:
- Try to use short quotes, like the above 5 quotes. This will help you to spend more time analysing and less time trying to remember your quote.
- Where possible embed the use of quotes into a sentence. Your writing will flow better if you do this.
- Don’t forget: Just remembering quotes is not enough to score highly in your essay. You MUST spend time analysing the quote in relation to the question to get a good grade.
Overall in this article, you have learned 5 new quotes you can use to analyse class in An Inspector Calls. Additionally, we have learnt about how to effectively use quotes in your work and have looked at how, in your essay, you may want to include relevant context to help to further your grade, such as discussing why Priestly might reference class a lot.
In conclusion, “An Inspector Calls” is a thought-provoking play that explores important themes such as responsibility, time, and morality. As you prepare for your GCSE English Literature exam, make sure you have a good understanding of these key themes and the significant quotes that relate to them. Doing so will help you analyze the text more effectively and write a more insightful essay. Remember, the key to success is practice, so make sure you are practicing your essay writing skills regularly, and good luck on your exam!
If you found this useful, why not check our SchoolOnline’s online GCSE English Language resources. These are designed to help you improve your reading and writing skills so you can boost your GCSE English grade. Find out more here.