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Harry Grimshaw

Priestly uses The Inspector to call into question the arrogance and selfishness of the upper classes To what extent do you agree with this statement? There are many examples of arrogance and selfishness from the Birling family to be found in An Inspector Calls. The Inspector examines the lives of the Birlings and unearths hidden truths to rock their consciences. First to be inspected is the head of the household, Mr. Birling. Throughout his questioning, he tries to use his status and positions of authority in the local area to keep The Inspector in his place- I was an alderman for years- and Lord Major-and Im still on the Bench. Later he explains, This is Mr. Gerald Croft- you know, Crofts Limited. Mr. Birling is set upon climbing the social ladder and will leave no stone unturned to achieve his aim, even abusing his daughters happiness. His pride and selfishness obscure his vision and lead him to make bad decisions. At first, Mr. Birling acts very confidently, sure in the fact that neither he, nor his family, has done anything wrong or untoward- But I dont understand why you should come here. Later on, he becomes impatient and states that there is nothing mysterious- or scandalous about the events leading to the death of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. His impatience could be a sign of panic; any rumour of misdeeds relating to him might mean that he may not get his all-important knighthood. Again he is thinking of himself, and not those around him, as he should be. Mrs Birling also displays arrogance. Like her husband, she tries to use his standing in the town to cajole The Inspector- my husband was Lord Major hes still a magistrate. She takes The Inspector back in time, trying to use a position that is actually no longer held by her husband. Unscrupulously, she clings on to the fact he still is a magistrate. At this time it would have been seen almost embarrassing to brag about ones achievements and potentially a social faux-pas. During her inspection, Mrs Birling says, Please dont contradict me like that. And in any case I dont suppose for a moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class, before she is interrupted by Sheila saying that they mustnt build up a sort of wall between us and the girl. Mrs Birling uses the impersonal phrase of the girl, which could be seen as her trying to detach all responsibility for Eva Smiths death. She may be trying her best to forget about her actions and distance herself from someone who has been hurt by her. She stereotypes girls from that class, again distancing herself from Eva Smith. Her arrogance displayed here is astounding. That Evas actions are determined by her class is simply ridiculous and really very offensive. Furthermore, Mrs Birling uses the word we which suggests the ideology of them and us- two separate groups of people with different

Harry Grimshaw

thoughts, feelings and emotions, who, in actual fact, are very similar and it would be arrogant to infer otherwise. Another character interviewed by The Inspector is Sheila. She, like her two parents has behaved arrogantly in the past, but quickly sees the error of her ways and by the end of the play, the audience sees a startling transformation. She agrees with The Inspector, that out of jealousy, she as a daughter of a good customer and also a man well known in town, [decided] to punish the girl just because she made you feel [furious]. Sheila selfishly and thoughtlessly forces the company to comply with her wishes and fire Eva Smith. Half way through being inspected, she can be seen to have changed a little, although she is not the whole way there- I know Im to blame but I cant believe- I wont believe- its simply my fault she- she committed suicide. She begins to acknowledge that she may have played a part in the young girls death, but still finds it difficult to believe and is definitely against the idea. Her refusal to completely accept responsibility could be seen to demonstrate simple stupidity that her actions do not have effect within other peoples lives. As well as this, she still remains rather stubborn, saying she cant and straight afterwards that she wont believe. Later in the play, the audience sees a much more mature Sheila. She uses the phrase but dont you see many times in the latter stages, due to the lack of compassion and awareness shown by her family. This could be Priestleys way of suggesting that the privileged upperclasses are blind to the plight of the lower, disadvantaged classes. She shows maturity when synopsising the progression of events that had happened previously that night- it doesnt much matter who made us confess Thats whats important- and not whether a man is a police inspector or not. She has enough perception to realise that the importance lies in the truth, and not if the police inspector is real. This also raises the question of who really judges and controls the upper classes, or are they a law unto themselves? To conclude, I agree that the role of The Inspector is to call into question the arrogance of the upper classes, and show that although the many are stereotypically arrogant and selfish, not all are and to suggest that it may not be themselves who are to blame.