I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.

The Theme Of Responsibility In An Inspector Calls By J. B. Priestley

In order to analyze the theme “An Inspector Calls”, the essay will discuss how Priestley, through his characters’ actions, demonstrates to the reader that all members of society have a collective obligation to one another. He illustrates this idea by contrasting older and younger generations, and highlighting the differences between those who accept their responsibility and others who don’t. The story of “An Inspector’s Call” was actually set in 1912, but it was written during World War II in 1945. Priestley did so to encourage the audience to learn and grow from their past mistakes.

Birling is a pompous, injudicious man who believes he only has responsibilities to himself. The pronoun, “his”, implies ownership. It also suggests a materialistic character. The pronoun “his” implies ownership and suggests his materialistic personality. “Yes, yes. Horrid Business.” portrays Birling’s attitude of dismissal and how he relates everything to his business, even though a girl just died. Eva Smith, a young girl who was killed by a car accident, is treated with a similar lack of compassion. It makes him a character that is very offensive to a war-weary audience. Irony is used to show that the character’s speculations and statements are untrustworthy. This character should be viewed as the exact opposite. Mr. Birling denies any responsibility for Eva Smith’s death, in part by pretending that he didn’t recognise her. The Inspector then questions him. Gerald, like Mr. Birling has an extremely contemptuous view of the Inspector. He is always agreeing with Mr. Birling. M. Birling does not change, despite the Inspectors’s clear lesson. He is shown as a very unrepentant individual. In contrast to the right way or change, the opposite of responsibility is shown.

Shelia is an example of a character showing true responsibility. As the play progresses, we see that Shelia is becoming her own person and assertive. Sheila is one of the first people to stand up for Eva Smith. She says, “They’re not cheap workers, they’re people”. This not only contrasts the attitude of her father but it is also her beginning to accept responsibility as a grown-up. Priestley shows her to be a character who can grow and change. She matures a lot by the time she reaches the end. It is clear that her sense of responsibility comes through when she’s shocked to find out she was involved in Eva’s death. Gerald, on the other hand, has not taken responsibility for her actions and is still judging her. Priestley taught responsibility by teaching the younger generations to learn from mistakes. The young are the ones who will be the future.

The Inspector is a character who reflects Priestley. The Inspector or Priestley’s voice in the book wanted Birling to take responsibility. The Inspector’s constant use of “we” was a way to show this. The Inspector changes the sentences of the Birlings by replacing “I” with “we”, even though no one else uses this pronoun. The Inspector is the only character who does not see himself as an individual with or without a sense of responsibility. The Inspector’s use of the collective pronoun is meant to convey that society will suffer if everyone does not take social responsibility. In the short-term, they may not feel it but in the long run everyone will suffer if that is how people think. Priestley makes use of the Inspector in order to get the Birlings’ attention and have them confess their crimes. He also interrogates them to learn about their secrets. The Inspector’s “massiveness, purposefulness and solidity” are cleverly portrayed by Priestley, giving the impression that he is always demanding, precise and solid. The Inspector serves as a role model, showing how we can be responsible. This is in stark contrast to Mr. Birling’s character who has never changed since act one.

We see characters accepting and denying their personal responsibility throughout Act One. Gerald and Birling make us dislike each other because they are so blasé about their mistakes. Sheila is a character that we like because she was able to change and grow as a person. Priestley’s attitude towards responsibility is well-represented by the Inspector, who represents society and Priestley’s thoughts. From the essay it was clear that responsibility is important and should be taken seriously.


  • emmetthouse

    Emmett House is a 29 yo school teacher and blogger who is passionate about education. He has a vast amount of experience in the field and is always eager to share his insights with others. Emmett is a dedicated teacher who truly cares about his students' success. He is also an expert on using technology in the classroom, and is always looking for new ways to engage his students.

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