Published: December 1st 1948 by Dramatists Play Service (first published 1945)
Genre: Mystery, Theatre/Drama, Classics
Book format: Paperback copy, read for school English class
Date started: Monday, May 16th, 2016
Date finished: Thursday, May 19th, 2016
The action of the play occurs in an English industrial city, where a young girl commits suicide and an eminently respectable British family is subject to a routine inquiry in connection with the death. An inspector calls to interrogate the family, and during the course of his questioning, all members of the group are implicated lightly or deeply in the girl’s undoing. The family, closely knit and friendly at the beginning of the evening, is shown up as selfish, self-centered or cowardly, its good humor turning to acid, and good fellowship to dislike, before the evening is over. The surprising revelation, however, is in the inspector…
The Medium-Length Version
An Inspector Calls is your classic British play about marriage, family, and class. In fact, it reminded me somewhat of the famous play The Importance of Being Earnest (which I did not read, but saw a performance of) because they have these same central topics. However, woven into the setting of An Inspector Calls were some unique themes: capitalism vs. socialism, avoidance of responsibility, denial, guilt, selfishness, ignorance, youth vs. age, social hierarchy and relationships. Most of all though, I enjoyed the play’s exploration of the various states of denial people go through upon being told the fault in their ways. The first part of the play has to do with the unraveling of the pompous and self-righteous Birling family, after which the Inspector leaves and the Birling family work hard to deny any responsibility for their actions that resulted in the suicide of the young girl in question.
This particular aspect of the play reminded me of the book I just recently finished, My Bloody Life, where where we see the same dismissal of any advice given to the main character to change his ways. The truth is that change is difficult to accept, especially if we’ve been living most of our lives in a certain way.
J. B. Priestley also comments on the diversity of reactions between young people and older people. He highlights the ignorance of Mr. and Mrs. Birling, who were so sure of themselves that they would not accept any sort of feedback on their lifestyle. Just moments before the inspector arrives, Mr. Birling says,
“‘But the way some o these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and – ‘(We hear sharp ring of a front doorbell.)“Mr. Birling (by J. B. Priestley)
Despite being a mystery/crime novel, it was also peppered with the fantastic British humour I’ve grown to love, and had a clever way of leading you to infer certain facts, that left you feeling smart and engaged.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable mini-play to read (in fact, it felt very much like a sketch).
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