Examine the characterisations created by J.B. Prie

stley inAn Inspector Calls. How do they respond to the inspectors questioning and what effect does this have on the audience?
An Inspector Calls is a play set in Edwardian England in the Spring of 1912. It is just before World War 2 and the author J.B. Priestley tries to write to inform and change the audience. Priestley is trying to criticise the attitudes of the middle and upper class families of this time. The play looks at events in 1910, when a young girls troubles began. An Inspector Calls is an intentional criticism trying to warn people that if the middle and upper class families didnt start treating the working class with respect and accepting their way of life then they will have to learn in fire, blood and anguish. Priestley was attempting to get social change through dramatisation of a common situation. He makes the audience reassess their moral values too and throughout the play manipulates both the characters and the audience. One scene you believe the family was not all it seemed, next, you think the whole inspector was a hoax and it makes you feel compassion and sympathy for the Birlings. There isnt any such inspector, weve been had. Only a minute or two later, Sheila and Eric make you realise that it doesnt matter if it was a hoax or not, all the situations and mistreatments were the truth and they should be thankful theyre not caught and make amends to treat the working class better. Youre beginning to pretend nothings happened at allIts the same rotten story whether its been told to an inspector or to somebody else.


Throughout the play we hear J.B. Priestleys voice through the inspector.

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One of the main characters who directly guides the audience with her open attitudes and honesty is Sheila. Sheila is a young girl with a lot of different sides. Being the daughter of a wealthy middles class factory owner has enabled her to be dependant on her parents. Im sorry Daddy, actually I was listening. At the beginning of the play her attitude seems to be a flighty, young girl, without her own views, who jut floats on the surface of conversation and agrees with her mother. He means Im getting hysterical now. She is quite happy to follow in her mothers footsteps and marry a man who, like her, has wealth and class and whom she can fully depend on. This is proved when Gerald gives her the engagement ring, Is it the one you wanted me to have? It shows her superficial, spoilt side and she is passive, because her ring is his choice.


Her status is quite low, she has little power and say in important matters and issues. I think, deep down Sheila is a confident, independent character and by the end of the play she lets this side of her break free. Youre pretending everythings just as it was before. She is tense and passionate at this point. She uses her inner feelings and power as the fianc and daughter of respected men to get a young working class girl sacked from the shop, solely because the girl is pretty and she felt jealous. Yes but it didnt seem to be anything terrible at the time. And if I could help her now I would-. This is as her stronger character is breaking through.


Her role is to show the way a serious incident can shock a person into realising their wrongs and reverse them. She also shows that the younger generation of middle class and the working class have learnt to get along slightly better and, if given time could live side by side happily. Sheila and Eric have realised by the end of the play that they have all mistreated a working class girl, not because she was rude, or a bad worker or untrustworthy, but to either make them feel better or just simply because they knew they had the power to, and they could use it.


Sheila responds to the inspectors questioning quite individually which is different from the spoilt, childish girl we saw at the beginning. And probably between us we killed her. This shows she has matured in an evening. Throughout the play she changes, as the truth comes out, she starts thinking for herself.


Sheila is compassionate for Eva Smith and can take responsibility for her actions. So, Im really responsible? Sheila accepts what shes done is wrong and is part of the younger generation, more open to change and is willing to make amends. But youre forgetting one thing I still cant forget. Everything we said happened really had happened. If it didnt end tragically, then thats lucky for us. But it might have done. She empathises with Eva Smith and, as more forgiving and understanding, is susceptible to change, like Eric. Sheila is the one most obligating to the inspector. She interacts with him and throughout the play learns to listen to what he says and admires his power to reveal her familys faults and be strong and find the truth. He manages to drag out secrets each one of them has. She guides the audience about how they should feel and respond to the secrets. You knew it was me all the time, didnt you? Here Sheila shows no anger towards the inspector but respect that he masked the information he knew, and got her to admit it herself.


The audiences reaction to Sheila changes through the play, this is Priestleys way of showing how the younger generation representing lower classes and future generations can make amends and change, accepting and not only considering themselves. This is how he wants society to be responsible and empathetic. She is thoughtful, affected and speaks her mind eventually. You began to learn something. And now youve stopped. She hasnt though. Her mother and father have pushed it aside and are more worried about their reputations than morals. All over now shows his relief that it wasnt a real inspector.


Mrs Birling is one of the older generations. She feels that decisions are best left to her husband, and although she is his superior, and deep down is more bold and firm, has learnt to drop these traits and follow him. Just be quiet so that your father can decide what to do. She wants Sheila to be like her, to follow and be loyal. When youre married youll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. Youll have to get used to it, just as I had. Mrs Birling is upper-middle class, born into wealth and she is superior. She feels that she has power over less wealthy people.


Her role is to be a stereo-typical businessmans wife, depending and loyal, caring for herself, her family and her reputation at the womens charitable organisation, if it is at the cost of the lower classes than so be it. She has a lot of respect from other women and has been in the chair. Sybil Birling is around fifty, a cold, harsh lady who is very snobbish. Her beliefs are that girls should get married and have children and she is certainly not ready or willing to change her views.
Her status is very privileged, she believes she is greater than others are and looks down on the lower classes. She doesnt believe a working class girl would be responsible, respected, sensible and proud enough not to accept stolen money, even if she was desperate.
As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money! It shows her arrogance and complete over bearing and assumptuous personality. She accepts no blame or responsibility and believes it was Eva Smiths fault that she fell pregnant.


Mrs Birling responds rudely and without obliging answers. She feels as the middle class woman she is, she doesnt have to do or answer anything that she doesnt have to and believes she is much more innocent than the inspector thinks. Even after the truth is out about her cruel refusal, eventually finishing Eva Smith off, Sybil is not feeling compassion, sorrow or responsibility. I accept no blame for it all. When she discovers Eric is responsible as the father she collapses, and comes off her upper class level. She is one of the last to realise Eric is involved because shes so caught up in being innocent and having no blame for anything.


For most of the play Mrs Birling is a snobbish woman and has suppressed and sustained all her views inside her, enabling herself to be middle class. It is only at the end of the play that she lets out all the feelings she held in. Her language is upper class, and she expects Sheila to copy her. Really, the things you girls pick up these days!
Her attitude is a bit more understanding after she finds out about Eric but as soon as she knows its a hoax her superiority returns. The audience feels no sympathy for Sybil, as she shows no understanding for a girl in Eva Smiths position.


Mrs Birling and her daughter are direct comparisons with each other. They are opposite in personality and tolerance and have different views on social class.


Mrs Birling has the views of her husband and agrees with him. He makes the decisions and she has learnt to abide by him, similar to a father and daughter role. Yes my dear I knowWeve had experience – and we know. Yes of course dear. Birling is patronising to his wife. They are loyal and share snobbery over lower classes. Mr Birling treats Mrs Birling like his property and if he doesnt agree with the manner of what the inspector says to her he will object, not herself. I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have. Mrs Birling idolises her son therefore after he disgraced the family by impregnating Eva Smith and stole she falls apart. She is not close to Eric, as she hasnt noticed his heavy drinking.
But I didnt know it was you I never dreamt. Besides, youre not the type you dont get drunk .
Sheila is close to her brother and as they are both more accepting and thoughtful comfort each other over their disappointment in how the family is acting. Thats just what I feel Eric. And its what they dont seem to understand. Sheila knew about Erics drinking and covers for him. Sheila and Eric represent the new generation Priestley is trying to encourage through the play and show that a bit of sorrow and compassion does everyone good. Sybil looks upon Gerald as the hero and he is not followed by Sheila at all, as he would like to be. He redeems himself by discovering the hoax after admitting his affair. Birling shows his forgiveness by saying Good lad! You asked about him eh? The people representing the older generation and the wrong way to be are Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald. Eric, Sheila, the inspector and Edna (working class) are what Priestley is supporting.
The unaccepting people respond roughly to the inspector and dont want to answer his questions. Perhaps I ought to warn you that hes an old friend of mine. Here Birling shows his position and power and tries to bribe the inspector. The younger generation represents the working classes and persuades the audience that its the way to react and believe. They see beyond social class and hold personality above social values.


Priestley created such contrasting characters to underline the split between old and new, not accepting and accepting and bad and good. He clearly shows that the world will learn, even if it has to be through pain and death but if people were a bit more like Eric, Sheila and Edna and took responsibility then the lesson will be learnt and war not needed. He shows that communicating and working together instead of looking after your own as Birling thinks, will show that it needs team work, we are members of one body.


Priestleys intentions are summed up in we are responsible for each other.


The effect of contrasting characters on the audience is that it makes you think and decide whom you are like and whom you should be like. It does affect you and I feel that he fulfils his wish to warn and try for more equality. Times have changed and people have started looking out for each other a bit more, working together and preventing war. The social classes have dropped and I think that nowadays we dont live alone and we try to help if possible. Priestley has generally succeeded.

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