Though responsibility itself is a central theme of the play, the last act of the play provides a fascinating portrait of the way that people can let themselves off the hook. If one message of the play is that we must all care more thoroughly about the general welfare, it is clear that the message is not shared by all. By contrasting the older Birlings and Gerald with Sheila and Eric, Priestley explicitly draws out the difference between those who have accepted their responsibility and those who have not. An inspector calls is a murder mystery with a strong moral message set at the peak Edwardian era of hypocrisy, great wealth, misery, luxury and social debates. It was written in 1945, just after the end of the Second World War but set in 1912, the Edwardian period. This era was described as the Golden age. It was an extremely wealthy society, full of opulence with British power and wealth at its zenith. It was full of proud men and women, honoured to belong to what they thought of as `the best nation in the world’ and with four million people, was the world’s biggest city. Proms, concerts, musicals and plays hosted the work of upcoming talent.
The upper class lived a life of pure extravagant luxury. J.B. Priestley uses a range of effective devices in ´An Inspector Calls’ to promote his views on social responsibility including character and action, dramatic devices, language as well as historical and social setting. Written in 1945 and first produced in 1945, the play was set in 1912 just before World War One where in Britain 5% of the population owned 87% of the wealth. Therefore, the majority of people were very poor and only a few individuals were affluent. Despite the play being set in 1912, it was produced in 1945 because Priestley wrote it to encourage people to make a fresh start and to enable life never to be the same for the people of post-war Britain.
One way of promoting his views is through characters. Mr. Birling represents the stereotypical rich employer of the day, showing a disregard to the welfare of his employees as well as maintaining a capitalist view on his business and life generally. ´They were averaging about twenty -two and six, which was neither more nor less than is paid in our industry. She wanted…twenty-five shillings. I refused of course”, the two words ´of course’ show that Mr. Birling doesn’t think about the consequences of sacking Eva Smith and simply assumes that it is the obvious course of action. He doesn’t acknowledge the fact that Eva Smith may depend on her job and the money that accompanies it as a source of food.
“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 about responsibility. 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. In this play it points out the need for a sense of personal responsibility in every member of society; responsibility not only for individual actions, but also for the way actions affect others. Priestley is very effective in using the Inspector to voice the view of responsibility most strongly. Priestley has created these characters so that they act as the communal conscience of the other characters.
Priestley’s belief in socialism which really comes across in the play- every person has a responsibility to help each other and that your actions can affect others.
Priestley emphasises the difference between the upper and lower classes very strongly throughout the play. He uses the Birling family as a representative of the Upper Class and Eva Smith as a representative of the Lower Class. Priestley shows how in 1912, Upper Class citizens, such as the Birlings had no respect for Lower Class citizens. He uses this class divide to convey his message and to show that the rigidity of the class system is incompatible with his views on community and responsibility.