Examine the characterisations created by J.B. Priestley in


“An Inspector Calls.” How do they respond to the inspector’s questioning and what effect does this have on the audience?


An Inspector Calls is a play set in Edwardian England in the Spring of 1912. It is just before World War 2 and the author – J.B. Priestley tries to write to inform and change the audience. Priestley is trying to criticise the attitudes of the middle and upper class families of this time. The play looks at events in 1910, when a young girl’s troubles began. An Inspector Calls is an intentional criticism trying to warn people that if the middle and upper class families didn’t start treating the working class with respect and accepting their way of life then they will have to learn in “fire, blood and anguish.” Priestley was attempting to get social change through dramatisation of a common situation. He makes the audience reassess their moral values too and throughout the play manipulates both the characters and the audience. One scene you believe the family was not all it seemed, next, you think the whole inspector was a hoax and it makes you feel compassion and sympathy for the Birlings. “There isn’t any such inspector, we’ve been had.” Only a minute or two later, Sheila and Eric make you realise that it doesn’t matter if it was a hoax or not, all the situations and mistreatments were the truth and they should be thankful they’re not caught and make amends to treat the working class better. “You’re beginning to pretend nothing’s happened at all…It’s the same rotten story whether it’s been told to an inspector or to somebody else.”


Throughout the play we hear J.B. Priestley’s voice through the inspector.


One of the main characters who directly guides the audience with her open attitudes and honesty is Sheila. Sheila is a young girl with a lot of different sides. Being the daughter of a wealthy middles class factory owner has enabled her to be dependant on her parents. “I’m sorry Daddy, actually I was listening.” At the beginning of the play her attitude seems to be a flighty, young girl, without her own views, who jut floats on the surface of conversation and agrees with her mother. “He means I’m getting hysterical now.” She is quite happy to follow in her mothers footsteps and marry a man who, like her, has wealth and class and whom she can fully depend on. This is proved when Gerald gives her the engagement ring, “Is it the one you wanted me to have?” It shows her superficial, spoilt side and she is passive, because her ring is his choice.


Her status is quite low, she has little power and say in important matters and issues. I think, deep down Sheila is a confident, independent character and by the end of the play she lets this side of her break free. “You’re pretending everything’s just as it was before.” She is tense and passionate at this point. She uses her inner feelings and power as the fiancé and daughter of respected men to get a young working class girl sacked from the shop, solely because the girl is pretty and she felt jealous. “Yes but it didn’t seem to be anything terrible at the time. And if I could help her now I would-.” This is as her stronger character is breaking through.


Her role is to show the way a serious incident can shock a person into realising their wrongs and reverse them. She also shows that the younger generation of middle class and the working class have learnt to get along slightly better and, if given time could live side by side happily. Sheila and Eric have realised by the end of the play that they have all mistreated a working class girl, not because she was rude, or a bad worker or untrustworthy, but to either make them feel better or just simply because they knew they had the power to, and they could use it.


Sheila responds to the inspector’s questioning quite individually which is different from the spoilt, childish girl we saw at the beginning. “And probably between us we killed her.” This shows she