Arthur Birling says, ‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?’
How does Priestley present ideas about responsibility in An Inspector alls? !"# $arks%
Priestley cleverly uses the contrasting personalities of all of the characters in the Birling family along with the socialist Inspector who is a mouthpiece for Priestley’s view in the morality pla y. The inspector is seemingly the most responsible in his ideas, as we can see by the connotations of his speech as well as his judgement of the Birling family. He also offers supernatural themes to this otherwise normal play. Priestley sets the scene within the Birling household of a rich family who are very self satisfied and somewhat ignorant sitting at the table discussing future
prospects with the family.
Priestley conveys his own personal ideas about the social class system within the play through Inspector !oole, who could be seen as a mouthpiece for Priestley’s opinion in the play. In act one of the play the Inspector is introduced as someone who "creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ This suggests that the inspector is very wise and "purposefulness’ can imply that the Inspector #nows what his duty is in terms of interrogating the Birling family and also he has a strong sense of social responsibility. $ollowing this, when offered whis#y the Inspector immediately emphasises the fact that he is "on duty’. This conveys to the audience that the inspector #nows what his responsibility is at that point in time and whatever is a distraction is not important to him whatsoever. The Inspector is also portrayed as a moral being who realises that the Birling family’s contribution to %va’s death was unethical and also due to a lac# of social responsibility, in the sense that all of the wrongdoings to %va also #nown as &aisy 'enton were an e(ual contribution of their abuse of social authority. The Inspector says )we are members of one body.* This is biblical language that would have been preached by +esus hrist in the bible, who #new not to do wrong, and had a very strong sense of responsibility. -s well as this the Inspector clearly states later in the play that each of the Birling family "helped to #ill her’. This shows that Priestley believed the Inspector to be the most responsible and morally
enlightened character and as a result used him as a mouthpiece of his own views, because he realised that it was through the multi contribution of social abuse and the idea of social hierarchy was what lead to %va committing suicide.
in#ing in with this, Birling has a completely contrasting identity in this play in comparison with the Inspector and seems to lac# social awareness, which is conveyed through the use of dramatic irony. In act one, Birling states that the Titanic is "absolutely unsin#able’, which of course the audience #nows will already ta#e place. Birling’s rich status is clearly a #ey
contribution to lac# of social awareness because he believes that life is as perfect as it is for his family for everyone, which is not the case whatsoever. This shows a lac# of responsibility
because it is evident that Birling does not #now the e/tremes of life in terms of poverty and suffering and as a result he believes that nothing bad can come of the Titanic sailing just because it is built with a lot of money. -s well as this, Birling shows a clear lac# of social responsibility because he refuses to ta#e any blame for %va smith’s death. This ta#es place when he refers to %va as a "wretched girl’. By calling %va "wretched’ this portrays connotations of ignorance to the audience because Birling does not show any remorse even though he #nows %va has died and still ma#es it clear that he considers her a nuisance that deserved to be fired from his wor#s. Birling may be a mouthpiece of some ignorant people who are at the top of society who refuse to ta#e responsibility for the possible harm they may be causing to those lower down in the social class system such as %va. The stage direction of "still angrily’ shows that instead of ta#ing responsibility for h is actions, 0r Birling is instead reacting aggressively and refusing to accept the fact that he contributed to %va’s death in any way.
However, Priestley does portray some aspects of the Birling family in a good light with the
class with the reformation of 1heila throughout the play. This is done through the use of the stage direction "miserably’ to convey 1heila’s reaction vividly to the audience. "0iserably’ shows to the audience that 1heila is clearly showing remorse for what how she had treated to %va and clearly contributed to her death and is willing to ta#e responsibility for her actions and move forward positively. -nother clear connotation of 1heila thin#ing about others apart from the family is
where she as#s the (uestion "1o I’m really responsible2’ This is a personal (uestion that ma#es it seem as if 1heila is actually as#ing herself this, which shows that she is pondering deeply about what she did and how she practiced the idea of social responsibility in the past. In this way 1heila could move on and amend her past mista#e by focusing on not abusing her social class in the future, in this way she develops a very strong relationship with the Inspector. Priestley could be implying here that the younger audience viewing the play were supposed to act in the same way as 1heila and really ta#e in to account social responsibility to create a better future.
In conclusion, Priestley conveys ideas about responsibility positively in the form of 1heila and the Inspector but also negatively in the form of 0r Birling, who refuses to accept any responsibility for what he has done. Priestley does this through his effective use of language and also stage
directions in the play to convey a clear image to the audience on how the character is feeling and reacting to the various testing situations in the play.
Socialist Party, Priestley felt strongly about his political views in favour
of socialism and these views are displayed prominently throughout An
Priestly used the character of !r Birling to represent how the upper
class frowned upon people below them in society.
Priestley was concerned about the conse"uences of social ine"uality in
Britain, and the disparity caused by wealth and class divide. #e
believed that what resulted from this were the very characteristics
shown in !r Birling $sel%shness, inability to admit responsibility for his
part in &va's death, e(ploitative tendencies, power lust etc.) Priestley
wanted to encourage his audience to disli*e !r Birling and to see him
as a fool + by reecting the attitudes held by !r Birling, Priestleys
audience could lead a better life.
Throughout the play, Priestley ma*es it clear that there is a
conse"uence for every action. Through !r Birling's thoughtless actions
of %ring &va Smith, his inability to admit his partial responsibility in
&vas death, and Birling wanting to cover up for &ric stealing money,
Priestley portrayed the evil side of money and capitalism, as well as his
disli*e for capitalism due to the lac* of care in society for the poor.
Pg / Showing o0 to 1erald roft '2ou ought to li*e this port, 1erald. As a
matter of fact, 3inchley told me it's the same port your father gets from
Pg 4/ apitalism, Sel%sh 56ow you have brought us together, and perhaps
we may loo* forward to a time when rofts and Birlings are no longer
competing but are wor*ing together + for lower costs and higher prices.
Pg 7/ 8ramatic Irony 5The titanic- she sails ne(t wee*-59nsin*able,
Pg :/ ;emorseless 5It has nothing whatever to do with this wretched girls
suicide. &h, Inspector<
She represents the wealthier, privileged classes and their sel%sh attitudes.
She sees the lower class as morally inferior + Priestley hated this *ind of attitude
and believed that people with these attitudes had to change if society was going
She ma*es us see ust how awful life was for the lower classes at this time $:=:>)
+ the class divide was huge.
She played her part in the death of &va Smith + she turned her away $from her
charity) when she needed help. The girl was penniless and pregnant + but !rs
Birling thought she was lying, as no girl 5of that sort would refuse money.
She represents $with &ric) the younger generation + Priestley saw them as 5more
impressionable + after all, they were the future.
She gives the audience hope that their society can improve if people ma*e
changes and ta*e responsibility.
She learns her lesson. She ta*es responsibility and changes@ she also tries to
encourage others to do the same.
Pg :=/ Socialist iew 'But these girls arent cheap labour + theyre people.'
Pg >/ Apologetic '6o, not really it was my own fault.'
&va Smith and getting her pregnant. #e treated her 5as if she were an animal,
a thing, not a person. At the start of the play, he was ust li*e the others +
abusing his power over a wor*ing class girl.
#owever, he accepts responsibility, and li*e Sheila, feels very guilty about
what he did. #e is ashamed of his behaviour and shows that he is capable of
changing for the better. 5The fact remains that I did what I did. Therefore, the
audience is more li*ely to forgive him.
#e is Priestleys voice + he represents Priestley's strong moral views. #is ob is
to ma*e the characters change their attitudes, face up to what they have
done and start ta*ing responsibility for each other + see his %nal message in
#e heightens drama + his entrances and e(its are well timed in order to
create ma(imum tension $e.g. at the end of Act : when he wal*s in on 1erald
and Sheilas conversation).
#e controls the structure of the play + each revelation moves the play one
#is message is that everyone should loo* after each other in society in order
for society to survive.
#e personi%es the idea of social conscience.
Chen he arrives the lighting changes to bright to show that he is going to
reveal the secrets hidden by theB
1oole is a homophone for 1houl which means ghost this suggests that there