Write about Inspector Goole’s role in the play. How far is he a believable policeman? How does Priestly use the Inspector in the play? In this essay I am going to be exploring the role and function Priestly gives the inspector in “An Inspector Calls“. I am going to break down his role in the play, explore his effects on the other characters, analyse his stage presence, show his intention in coming to the Birling household and also how Priestly utilises the inspector’s personal qualities. I am also going to express whether I think, in the play, the inspector is supposed to be a real person or something other.
The Inspector is a critical part of J. B. Priestly “An Inspector Calls”. He is a catalyst in a concoction of Edwardian lies and deceit. The Inspector’s role in the play is to make the other characters realise how people are responsible for how they affect the lives of others. Priestly thought that if we are more aware of responsibility, the world should learn from their mistakes and develop into a place where every can be treated fairly. The Inspector states that everyone is, “…intertwined with our lives…” (p. 56).
It is interesting that the Inspector enters after Birling has just finished his speech on society and how he says, “…you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else” (p. 10). The Inspector is the antithesis (direct opposite) of Mr. Birling’s Victorian and capitalist view on society: every man for himself. Clearly, throughout the play, the Inspector has talked about the community, togetherness and sharing. The Inspector expresses an individual view of society. From the dialogue, it is evident that the Inspector has a socialist view.
A socialist is a person who believes in a political and economic theory or system where the community, usually through the state, owns the means of production, distribution and exchange. An example of a socialist view from the Inspector is, “…we are members of one body. We are responsible for each other” (p. 56). Priestly uses the Inspector as a soapbox on which he can express his own socialist views. As a result, when these socialist ideas compete with capitalist views, the audience become more conscious about the flaws of society and themselves.
For example, through the Inspector’s comments on the way that factory owners exploited the desperation of others, the Inspector challenges the industrialist by saying that “…after all its better to ask for the earth than to take it” (p. 15), Priestly now begins to put across his message about social injustice. Consequently, with his opinions and morals, the Inspector undermines Birling. As when Birling states his capitalist opinion, the audience recognises early in the play that they are very wrong and immoral, “you’d think…we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense” (p. 0). In addition, when the Inspector leaves and the Birlings find out that he may be a hoax, Birling says that the Inspector was “probably a Socialist or some sort of crank – he talked like one” (p. 60). This all strengthens Priestly’s political and moral point. He demonstrates this through the play but more importantly, he voices his views in a dramatic and prophetic concluding speech. This educational talk encapsulates everything the play is about and Priestly’s views. The hyperbole may not have been possible if Priestly had built up the mystery of the Inspector.
One may think that Priestly should not have included this lecture about how people should treat each other and relied on the play itself to tell this. Priestly presents the Inspector with a refusal of being distracted from his moral mission. With the Inspector’s morals and views the audience will identify with him. He also does this by introducing the unseen Eva Smith as a sympathetic character she was a “very pretty” (p. 18) girl. His promotion of Eva’s cause helps the audience to shape an attachment or empathy with Eva. It also makes the audience hostile to the Birlings and Gerald, who are made to seem particularly insensitive.
The Inspector says that,“… it would do us all a bit of good if sometimes we tried to put ourselves in the place of these young women counting their pennies in their dingy back bedrooms” (p. 19 20). The Inspector is therefore a crucial device to engage audience empathy and thus is the moral and dramatic backbone of the play. Priestly wants the Inspector to be in this position. By surrounding the Inspector with power and mystery, it makes the Inspector a plethora of ambiguity, adding to the intrigue of the play. This can be found in the Inspector’s name: Goole.
It may be a pun on the word “ghoul”, which is a spirit, which is said to take fresh life from corpses. Otherwise, in a metaphorical context, a person who is obsessed, or has a morbid interest, with death. This is important, as it can be the reason why the Inspector is haunting the Birlings and Gerald with what they have done to Eva. It seems that he is intent in teaching the Birlings a lesson, a sort of moral juggernaut. One may argue that the Inspector’s presence is because of the girl’s death. Moreover, his name is the same name as the seaport town, Goole at River Humber.
Through the play, the Inspector fishes for information, delving into the immoral sea of upper class Edwardian England. The mystery of the Inspector continues through the way he is like an omniscient creature. We, along with Sheila, uncover this uncanny trait early in the play. Sheila even stares at the Inspector “wonderingly and dubiously” because he seems to know all answers in advance and even understands her. Shelia’s sense of the Inspector’s power is seen when she laughs in a hysterical way and warns Gerald “Why – you fool – he knows. Of course, he knows. ” (p. 26).
Sheila is the only one who appreciates the Inspector’s power to reveal their dark secrets. The reason she is not taken seriously by her mother or anyone else is because she is a woman. This links to the theme of sex and how women were not appreciated in the early 20th century. The realisation of meriting someone by what they do, and not their class is a relevantly recent one. However, The Inspector’s one word question, “Well? ” at the end of the Act raises the Inspector’s position to that of someone who is all-knowing questioner. This adds to our sense of mystery as to where the Inspector has so much detailed knowledge.
The Inspector claims that he girl died “two hours” (p. 11) ago and he found a “letter…and a sort of diary” (p. 12). They are both convenient devices to explain his close knowledge of events. However, this does not entirely explain his omniscient qualities. It would not be humanly possible to read and digest all the information in that amount of time. It would take a few days to look through it properly. This shows his supernatural and otherworldly powers in this overlooked part of the play. His role as an omniscient character, yet being an outsider is an interesting combination.
As dramatically one can achieve results such as using the Inspector as a mouthpiece or being an embodiment of the character’s collective conscience or a means to co-ordinate the theatrical unities of time, place and action by letting the Inspector lead “one line of enquiry at a time” (p. 12). Another factor that the Inspector is an outsider is his clothing. He is dressed as a policeman “… in a plain darkish suit of the period” (p. 11). His sombre appearance perfectly contrasts the attire of the Birlings and Gerald who are in evening dress. The Inspector’s role is to be a policeman.
As a policeman, he is particularly authoritative, in his dialogue and in his personal presence: “he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. ” (p. 11). The stage directions continually show the Inspector “cutting through massively” (p. 12), “massively taking charge” (p. 28), “With authority” (p. 34), “taking charge, masterfully” (p. 55). He grows and remains solid when everyone else breaks down. Again, the Inspector can undermine Birling by being the law and thus above him even though being in a lower social class, he controls everything and everybody.
He even controls what people say: Sheila comments that “somehow he makes you” (p. 37) say things. Such as when the Inspector uses the characters’ own keenness to avoid the blame for example when Mrs. Birling is encouraged by the Inspector to condemn the father of Eva’s baby, before allowing them to realise that the father is in fact Eric – “If he is, then we know what to do, don’t we? Mrs. Birling has just told us. ” (p. 49). His speech is not only manipulative but the Inspector speaks “carefully, weightily” (p. 11) this is to control and organise the plot of the play.
His language is often blunt and sometimes intentionally harsh. For example, when the Inspector says that Eva was “burnt her inside out, of course” (p. 11) or how “she was in great agony” (p. 11) or “after several hours of agony” (p. 17) Eva died in “misery and agony” (p. 28). He uses these short, razor-sharp and brutal descriptions to keep the image of Eva constantly in the eyes of the audience. The Inspector’s candour increases the mood of conviction that the audience feels for those who have neglected Eva. He even dominates characters, which usually dominate others.
For example, when Birling wanted Eric “to go to bed” (p. 33) but the Inspector told him to stay up. And when Birling wanted the Inspector to “have him in and get it over” (p. 33), the Inspector states “he’ll have to wait” (p. 33) Birling then protests, the Inspector cuts in “with authority” (p. 33) enforcing his latter point. This example is one of many where the Inspector overrules Birling: a leading industrialist and important member of the community. The Inspector appears to be a believable policeman. However, as the play progresses, we see this is not the case.
The superficial appearance of the Inspector as an Inspector provides an impressive image of a believable policeman that the audience can accept. But, there are many factors, which makes him an extraordinary policeman. For instance, this policeman seems more concerned with right and wrong than what is or not legal. For example, when Gerald says that they are “respectable citizens and not criminals” (p. 22), the Inspector replies: “Sometimes there isn’t much difference as you think. If it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line” (p. 22).
This is the point where the Inspector claims he is more interested in moral law than legal law. It also establishes the point where the Inspector’s views on society become more intense. This can be seen as this policeman shows a compassion, which extends to people who recognise the wrong they have done. He does not forgive, but when freely admitting their faults he allows them to see that they can find forgiveness through resultant good behaviour. For instance, this is apparent in his treatment of Sheila and Eric. The Inspector even states earlier “we often do on the young ones. They’re more impressionable” (p. 0). The Inspector succeeds when Sheila admits that “I behaved badly too. I know I did. ” (p. 57) and Eric concedes that “The money’s not important. It’s what happened to the girl…that matters” (p. 65). However, the other characters do not feel any guilt and re-establish their arrogance and immoral views. As when Sheila asks if they are ready to “go on in the same old way” (p. 71), Birling says, “And you’re not, eh? ” (p. 57). This is the reason why the process has to start again of the coup de theatre at the end of the play; it will continue to persist until they have all learned their lesson.
This comfortably evolves the unities into a cycle, linking to Ouspensky’s theory on time. Priestly was fascinated about time and especially this theory, which is evident in this text. Ouspensky suggests that when we die we re-enter our life once more from the beginning. We are born again in the same house, to the same parents and continue to replicate all the events of our life just as before. This cycle of identical lives would go on being repeated if we changed nothing of connotation.
If, however, we bettered ourselves in some spiritual way, we could convert the circle into a spiral of events that would, if we continued to make significant improvement, eventually open for us to escape from the echoes of past lives and into a new life in which we did not repeat our mistakes. We see that the Inspector is immune to the social superiority of the Birlings. This is seen when Birling threatens the Inspector by telling him that the Chief Constable is an “old friend” (p. 16) of his, the Inspector is not intimidated. A normal police inspector may feel threatened and withdraw because of the risk of losing his job.
His determined questioning and control of the events superficially is that of a policeman, but towards the end, it is these same virtues that fuel suspicion. He is very determined, and will not be misled from his aim: to get the characters to freely admit their part in Eva’s death. It is like he is a machine and his sole intent is to uncover the truth. Priestly presents the Inspector as working systematically like an ordinary policeman. The Inspector prefers to deal with “one person and one line of enquiry at a time” (p. 12). This on the surface looks like what a real policeman would do.
Nevertheless, he lets everyone hear and interact within each enquiry. A real policeman would do this privately with one person, as it would dilute the questioning. It is just like Sheila aptly puts it, “he is giving the rope to hang ourselves with” (p. 55). The aspect of working methodically with each character is how a traditional whodunit would unravel. It is made famous by writings of Agatha Christie and other crime writers. Priestly exploits the conventions of several genres for his own purposes. He uses parts of Greek drama, morality plays, the well-made play, disputes, whodunits, crime, and murder mysteries.
The combination of such a diverse mixture makes this play very idiosyncratic. The play follows the traits of the well-made play, where everything is smoothly linked together and fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. The Inspector is being used as the catalyst in the play evoking the obligatory scene many a time. He makes things happen and allows secrets to be revealed. Furthermore, the Inspector allows them to freely admit their link in the chain, the “chain of events” (p. 14) that is repeatedly said throughout the play. It also makes the play feel more realistic.
Priestly was part of the Realism movement that took place from the late 19th through to the early 20th century. Many plays from this time have been very fanciful and imaginary. The aspect of common sense was ultra-modern for that time, as one must realise that reality television was not in their common knowledge. It also makes the play itself relevant at any time and even more important now. One may suggest that Priestly wanted his great success to be access at any time. In conclusion, one finds that Priestly’s use of the Inspector is critical for the success of the play.
Priestly is the Inspector, the Inspector is Priestly: the symbiotic relationship between character and author is potent and creates the distinctive edge needed. The Inspector uses a myriad of mystery, which injects intriguing plot into the play in which he is successful. The powerful altercation is successfully carried out by Priestly’s passion for the truth and what is morally just. Yet, Priestly and the Inspector are catalysts whose social principles disregard when judged with the desire for truth and justice. Not only does the disinfectant kill Eva, or the morals of the Birlings, but kills our materialistic social view.