‘An Inspector Calls’
Classical Literature Major – Due 01/05/2013
AN INSPECTOR CALLS BY J.B PRIESTLEY
Good Evening Reading Group,
I am Lindsay Kotmel and welcome to a seminar on ‘An Inspector Calls’ inclusion within the western canon. Some institutions such as schools, religion and the media determine what is considered ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’ on a variety of issues, theories and concepts within society. Thus constructions arrived from culture and history as well as the interests of particular groups. As culture changes, so do the concepts of truth and knowledge and therefore the literature that is worthy of the Western Canon. Though a classic contains a universal appeal, it is a snapshot of the era it was written. It presents depth into the era but also transcends this by lasting the test of time. In examining J.B. Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’, set in 1912, the author challenges the dominant discourse of the time it was set introducing the constructed themes of responsibility, class system and gender within society. He demonises the capitalist way present in the day and privileges the socialist manifesto though character construction. He presents the need for conscience to override society and the importance of welfare, women’s rights and social justice. Matthew Sweet of the UK Independent wrote that ‘An Inspector Calls’ ‘…speaks a truth we can’t ignore…’ and that it was ‘…two hours of conscience stirring drama’ (Sweet 2001). However, to determine if Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ proves worthy enough to become a classic worthy of the Western Canon, many factors must be considered. J.B Priestley wrote ‘An Inspector Calls’ in 1946 to open the minds of his audiences at faults within society. Leaving school at 16, by the age of 20 Priestley was a conscripted soldier in World War I. It would be these experiences of the prelude to and during the Great War that would later heavily influence his writings. Setting the book in 1912, two years before the outbreak of World War I, Priestley carried direct experience of the failings of the generation and its society. He skilfully weaves these failings within the plot and characters. At this time, the British Empire covered a quarter of the globe. The Edwardian era was infamous for luxury, elegance and extravagance led by the rich but it was also the era of prejudice, hypocrisy and exploitation. Priestley stated during the first war, ‘Britain, which in the years immediately before the war was rapidly losing such democratic virtues as it possessed, is now being bombed and burned into democracy (Priestley cited in BrainyQuote, n.d.).’ He uses dramatic irony in the play to show the unrealistic views of the future by the prominent members of society represented by Birling. Birling states that the Titanic would be unsinkable and a World War would be inconceivable. Shown in 1947, the audience knows that both these statements would soon prove tragically false. Composed at the conclusion of World War II, England had endured two wars leaving the younger generation to pick up the shards resulting in feelings of resentment and anger. The concept of the class system and the individual were, at this time, practically non-existent. England was swept by a mood highlighting the importance of the conscience and the community. Priestley uses the play, ‘An Inspector Calls’ as a timely response to plea and to encourage the younger generations to realise and act on the mistakes of the older generations, marginalising the selfish ‘every man for himself’ philosophy. A political mastermind, Priestley shows his views on capitalism through themes of greed, selfishness and the concept of the individual over the community through the characters of the Birling family. Set during the rise of the industrial revolution, the upper class family derive their wealth from the manufacturing industries, much of the population moved to the cities creating a...