Back to: An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley
Table of Contents
The story has a central theme of social responsibility and human care. All human beings are not equally privileged and there is existent inequality in the world.
This is highlighted by the pitiable situation of Eva as against the rich and luxuriant life of her oppressors Arthur, Eric, Gerald, Sheila and Sybil.
This gulf between people becomes the main point of conflict in the text. The writer tries to provide a sarcastic and scathing expose of such inhuman and brutal realities of the world.
Even though this chasm exists, it should not make the rich become exploitative and selfish like Arthur, Gerald and Sybil. On the contrary, we should strive to bring harmony between different groups and classes of people.
The story shows a clear superiority and domination of men over women. As exemplified by the exploitation of Eva by Eric and Gerald.
Even the meek acceptance of Sheila to her fiancé’s dalliance represents how women feel the onus to forgive men and be the fairer gender.
However, the role of Sybil and Sheila represent two different shades of women. Thus, colouring women and men in one stroke is a problem that the writer tries to avoid.
There is a clear demarcation of society in terms of economic class. The Birlings and Crofts belong to the upper aristocratic class while the likes of Eva languish as the working classes.
The conflict between the different class presents a picture of competition and exploitation which ends up coercing the weaker class to surrender to the rich’s whims or commit self-flagellation as in the case of Eva.
The story is set in an age where the world is divided into various factions and ideologies. From capitalistic Britain to Communist Russia etc. the World is witnessing countries and people looking for allies to secure themselves against the ‘others’ or the ‘enemies’.
This is highlighted throughout the story especially through the commentary of Arthur Birling who is interested in geopolitics and social conditions of the time. The characters themselves also affirm to the ideology they belong as in the cases of Sybil and Arthur or Sheila and Eric.
Also, age in terms of different generations is used by the writer. The older generation of Birlings is adamant and self-centred while the younger generation in Sheila and Eric are repentant and responsive.
Compunction and reproach are what the writer wants the characters to feel for their involvement in the torture of poor Eva. However, the lack of regret and guilt exhibited by characters except for Sheila and Eric loudly declares the social beings as unsympathetic, cosmetic and selfish.
The end of the story reveals that even though the culprits or guilty may mask their guilt behind closed doors, the truth has its way of bringing justice where it is being outraged.
The story paints a stark picture regarding the power distribution at the beginning of the 2oth century. The society is wracked by capitalistic interests dividing the people into empowered and powerless.
This chasm of opportunities and resources creates vested interests where the empowered try to stay in power by not letting the powerless get any power.
This is highlighted in the conduct and thoughts of people like Arthur and Sybil Birling who do not even want to give aid as a charity to the people in need and feel threatened by people who voice their opinions.
The writer has cleverly used time in the story to predict how people will react in the future. The inspector has interrogated the family even before the news of the suicide is broken. This gives each character the opportunity to weigh their options and even accept their guilt.
While some confess to their wrongdoing like Sheila and Eric, the likes of Arthur and Sybil stay defiant in their stances Thus, time is used as a device to inform the audiences and let them form opinions regarding the future actions of the characters involved.