‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play which was written in 1945, and set inearly 1912. It was a period where the British Empire was at the height of itspower. The Empire was often perceived as an exaggerated version of societywhich helps in emphasizing howunfair and unbalanced society was. Priestley was a socialist and believed thatthere should not have been any class distinctions within society, and that allpeople were to be seen equally and treated fairly.
He also believed that thereshould have been a re-distribution of wealth to create a more equal society.Priestley includes the theme of social responsibility as one of the play’s mainthemes, and presented it in various forms; such as the responsibility towardsworkers, family members, and strangers and so on. To achieve this, theplaywright utilised the Inspector as his voice, and granted him God-likecharacteristics to have a greater impact on the audience. He also representedthe different members of society vividly by making the Birlings (and GeraldCroft) represent the wealthy members of society, and continuously projectstheir lack of social responsibility; and made Eva Smith present the othermembers of society, to emphasise how unfairly they were treated. Despite thevivid class distinctions, Priestley successfully shows the audience that peoplecan eventually learn to be socially responsible through the use of the youngercharacters.Soon after Sheila walks into the investigation,we see a rapid development in her character, wherein she had turned into moreof a responsible and caring person rather than the materialistic andself-centred character we were introduced to.
We sense this as she says ” Ithink it was a mean thing. Perhaps that spoilt everything for her”. This emphasiseshow Sheila changed, wherein she showed a genuine understanding of the aspect ofsocial responsibility. This leads the audience to develop a sort of respecttowards her; unlike her father who had lost the respect of the audience throughhis ignorant claims. Priestley does this to show the audience thatpeople can learn to be socially responsible. Furthermore, the use of the words’that might have spoilt everything for her’ is describing the ‘chain of events’the Inspector had mentioned earlier on when he described the reasons behind EvaSmith’s death; whilst Sheila was absent. This assures the audience thatSheila’s character has indeed developed, and that she came to care aboutothers’ welfare rather than only that of her own. Priestley does this to createa contrast between Sheila and her father who only cared about making profits.
This accentuates the fact that we are able to change no matter how we used tobe and who we are affiliated with. Priestley might also be doing this to makethe audience develop a trust towards the Inspector, in order to make Theaudience believe whatever he would say and do; as every word that he had so farseem to be truthful. This helps the playwright relay his messages through theInspectors speech and actions. Sheila was the firstcharacter in the play who truly understood the importance of socialresponsibility.
Priestley emphasises this through the Inspector’s words as hesaid, ” (about Sheila) if she leaves us now … she’ll be alone with herresponsibility, the rest of tonight, all tomorrow, all the next night” The useof the words ‘alone with her responsibility’ create a gloomy and depressingeffect, as the audience is left to imagine the guilt that Sheila would havefelt which had been the result of her lack of social responsibility. The word’alone’ emphasises the depth of the feeling, and thereby, the importance ofsocial responsibility, wherein she will have to suffer by herself, withoutanyone with her or helping her through it.