Choose a play which explores an issue or theme which interests you.
By referring to appropriate techniques, explain how this issue or theme is explored.
A play with a key theme: The responsibility of the strong to look after the weak.
- When Sheila gets Eva Smith fired.
- When Gerald sets her up as his mistress.
- When Mrs Birling denies her the support she needs.
- When Mr Birling sacks her.
- The inspector’s message.
Date of the piece: 1945
Name of the playwright: J.B. Priestley.
Title of the play: “An Inspector Calls”
The gist: A well-off family are forced to see the consequences of their thoughtless actions.
Intention: To show how the theme of social responsibility affects these characters, and the audience.
- Birling cares more for his own profit than for the people who work for him; he feels no sense of responsibility.
- “If you don’t come down hard on these people they’ll soon be asking for the earth!”
- This impresses on the audience how selfish Birling is.
- Eva Smith was not a concern to him – nor was her death.
- “come down hard” – shows he responds to his workers aggressively; zero tolerance for weakness.
- “hard” connotations of lacking emotion.
- “Look, inspector, I’d give thousands”
- Sees money as the solution to everything.
- Cares for his public appearance (especially his knighthood) – wants to avoid a scandal.
- Sheila’s sense of social responsibility
- Initially – she doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions
- But she is quick to realise her own guilt when the inspector arrives
- “it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time”
- “We really must stop these silly pretences” – she understands that the inspector already know the truth
- She sees that the family is entirely complicit
- She is wracked with guilt – she changes – unlike the elders
- “don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove the girl to suicide”.
- Unlike her father, she develops a sense of her social duty
- Mrs Birling judges Eva Smith by her class, revealing her lack of conscience and sense of responsibility.
- “girls of that class” – the tone conveys her distaste – she believes the lower class are different to the upper class – less important or valuable
- Emphasis on “that” – almost spat out – emphasises her snobbery
- Changes slightly when she realises her actions have killed her own grand-child
- “I didn’t know – I didn’t understand” – repetition of “I didn’t” – emphasises her sense of panic and shame
- Forced to see that her actions have consequences – sometimes close to home
- She soon goes back to distancing herself from any responsibility – a static character – different to her children
- Gerald takes advantage of Eva’s poverty – does not see how his actions would make Sheila break off the engagement
- Takes Eva as a mistress – brief happiness for Eva – Gerald had affection for her
- No possibility of Gerald (upper class) having a relationship with Eva (working class)
- Breaks Eva’s heart – “She looked young and fresh and charming…” – She only had value to him in her beauty
- She massaged his ego – “I became at once the most important person in her life…”
- He knew there could be no relationship but he strung her along
- Gerald is different to the other characters because he showed some warmth – but he did not behave responsibly
- The inspector is used to force the characters to confront their responsibilities
- He isolates each and makes them see that their actions have had dire consequences
- “Each of you helped to kill her”
- He is the voice of the play-wright, carrying his message
- “We are members of one body; we are all responsible for each other”
- Priestley wants the audience to think about their own actions and responsibilities
- The characters react differently to their own responsibilities
- The young accept they have done wrong; the old do not
- Priestley is optimistic – he suggests that the young are more likely to change than the old
- The play is as effective now as in 1945
- The theme of looking after one another will always be relevant