I am going to be analyzing what Priestley´s main aim is and has he achieved it. I will be looking at the characters and how they link up with Priestley´s aim and why. The main themes of the play and the Inspector´s last speech and exit will also be discussed. I will also be looking at the contrast between Mr. Birling and the Inspector.
At the beginning of the play the family are sitting around a table all happy and gay celebrating Shelia and Gerald´s engagement. The atmosphere was carefree and joyful. The Birling´s appeared to be an upper class family of the time enjoying the evening and the luxury of their wealth. Priestley is setting the scene for the start of the play, trying to make the characters look like a nice warm welcoming family.
Mr. Birling and the Inspector are very different in many ways, Mr. Birling is very uncaring and selfish, however the Inspector is very open hearted and understanding. Priestley has deliberately made a clear difference between these two characters, to create a better contrast. Mr. Birling is only interested in his business and his family, he doesn´t even consider anyone else, we can see this in Act one page 9:
“a man has to look after himself and his family too”
Here Priestly is really showing the audience how awfully selfish Mr. Birling is, this would give an impact on the audience, and they would probably start to go against him for this. He didn´t care at all about Eva´s death and wouldn´t take any blame, instead he justified this by blaming the girl herself. He wasn´t even interested about her death when the Inspector mentioned it, we can see this on page 12 act one:
“Yes yes. Horrid business. But I don´t understand why you should come here”
Mr. Birling doesn´t even stop for a second to see if he could help in anyway concerning Eva´s death. During Mr. Birling´s speech on how we should look after each other, the doorbell rang, the atmosphere changed dramatically the moment the Inspector entered the scene. The audience might be questioning themselves, who is at the door at such a time. Their views on the family might change when the inspector enters because usually it means bad news or trouble. The family began to wonder who this new inspector was and what was his business there at such a time.
“The Titanic she sails next week-forty six thousand tons-New York in five days and every luxury-and unsinkable”
The play was set before the war but published after, so the audience would know that Mr. Birling is completely wrong about the war and the Titanic. This would cause amusement and also show Mr. Birling to be the fool, as Priestley intended. Author Birling is rather pretentious, only his opinion matters, he always knows best. But as the audience know he isn´t always correct. Mr. Birling also never seemed to be affected when the Inspector confronted his actions. We can see this in many places throughout the play.
The Inspector´s role in the play is a very important one. There are several reasons, the first being he opens up the characters personalities with his questioning. The inspector leads the characters to confront their own weaknesses, which makes them feel shocked and guilty. Also he is supposed to be the good character in the play (the person the audience take sides with). He is the catalyst for the evening´s events. The Inspector performs a very important speech that covers all the main themes of the play and allows Priestly to get his message across. The speech is very powerful and dramatic it is quite similar to a political speech. The reason it is so dramatic and powerful is because of the use of ‘we and us´ and memorable phrases like ‘fire and blood and anguish´. We can see this at the end of act three page 56:
“We don´t live alone, we are members of one body, we are responsible for each other.”
“If men will not learn this lesson they will be taught in fire and blood and anguish”
What Priestly is trying to get across here is that we (us) need to use collective responsibility in order to maintain peace in the world. If we don´t then it could result in a war, because personal suffering or as in this case someone committing suicide. I think the speech would have been performed as so: very serious and with a commanding tone, spoken slowly and carefully so the audience would get the full, dramatic impact. This way Priestley´s aim would come across in a good way. The Inspector´s speech would have provoked much discussion amongst the audience because of the powerful language used and because he left the scene directly after speaking. The audience may discuss between themselves whether or not they agree with the Inspectors speech. If they already do they probably feel quite pleased with themselves and if not they might feel guilty and ashamed. This left the Birlings subdued and wondering exactly what the Inspector´s speech really meant. One of the other themes of the play is wealth, unequal power between the classes this is shown in Mr. and Mrs. Birlings actions. Mrs. Birling shows this very clearly in Act two page 46:
“whatever it was, I know it made me finally loose all patience with her. She was giving herself ridiculous airs. She was claming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position”
Here Mrs. Birling is stating that a girl in her ‘position´ has no right to give her own opinions. This also links up with the main theme ‘collective responsibility´. We should treat everyone the same however poor or wealthy they may be. Everyone´s opinion matters. This would also make the audience feel angry towards Mrs. Birling, they would get the idea she was a selfish, snobby and small-minded old woman. This would probably what Priestley had intended because he wanted to bring Mrs. Birling across as a character the audience would not feel empathy with.
After the Inspector left the scene the audience really began to see the character true personalities. How they just tried to put the evenings events behind them. The only person who was truly affected was Sheila the rest were just thinking about themselves and how they will get out of this mess.
Throughout the play I have learnt a lot about the Birlings, their good qualities and their weaknesses. I think Priestley´s message of the play (his aim) was to explain to us that if we are like the Birling´s then we need to change, and be more considerate and caring towards others,
“We are members of one body, we are responsible for each other”
This is the sentence taken from the inspector´s last speech and I think that it sums up exactly what Priestley was trying to get across. Priestley may have experienced difficulties during wartime; this may have led him to believe that in order to live in a peaceful world man must consider his responsibility to fellow men.