In 1914 at the age of twenty, Priestly was called to fight in the first world war. He became increasingly angry at the decisions made by the upper classes who were in charge of the war, as he saw many of his friends and colleagues die. What he saw in the war made Priestly want to give the upper class a message through his writing. Priestly believed the world, especially the upper classes weren’t ready for war.
‘An inspector calls’ was written in 1945 after the second world war had ended. The play has many examples of how Priestly thought the class system was wrong, Priestly did this knowing it would mostly be the upper classes that saw the play. The characters in the play each portray a certain social class or generation. Mr Birling represents the upper class male. He is very arrogant towards the lower class. He is also very greedy, his daughter Sheila is engaged to Gerald Croft another wealthy business man; however Birling sees the marriage not as love but more of a business deal,
“Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now-though Crofts Limited are both older and bigger than Birling and Company-and now you’ve brought us together, and perhaps we can look forward to time when Crofts and Birling’s are no longer competing but working together-for lower costs and higher prices.” This proves the greedy nature of Mr Birling. He is a stereo-type of the upper class, this makes it easier for the audience to relate this. Mr Birling thinks he is always right and is superior to others, Priestly had experienced many times the beliefs by the upper classes that they knew more and had more valid opinions.
“The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war, except some half-civilised folks in the Balkans.” He states superiority to some kind of inferior race. A lot of the time he thinks he knows everything when really he doesn’t. Like when he starts rambling on about the Titanic and how it’s unsinkable. The audience of Priestly’s time knows the Titanic sank, and that Birling is one of these ‘know it alls’. When the Inspector arrives Birling appears not to care about Eva Smith and instead wishes the inspector would go away: He’s always trying to disassociate himself from Eva’s death.
Suicide of course. Yes, yes. Horrible business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector-” This shows Birling trying to disassociate himself. Later, when the inspector has revealed that Mr Birling sacked Eva, Birling is talking about how he had to come down sharp on the working class or else they would have been asking for the Earth, the inspector replies, “They might. But after all it’s better to ask for the Earth than to take it.” This is aimed at Birling because he is exploiting the poor, and taking what he wants from them with out remorse. Priestly comments on this because he wants the upper class to stop acting in such a selfish way.
Mrs Birling is just as bad as her husband if not worse. When Eva is near the end of her troubles she turns to Mrs Birling who owns a charity group aiding people. When Eva arrives, she uses the name Mrs Birling. Mrs Birling is angry at this and therefore closes Eva’s case. Leaving Eva with no help even from a charity group. Priestly hates how the upper class are so selfish and single minded. Up until that point Eva had been sacked twice, fell in love then dumped in an instant, got pregnant from a one night stand and then was turned down by the only help she could get. Mrs Birling also believes every thing Mr Birling says about the working class.
Gerald is another member of the upper class who is always agreeing with Mr Birling, “Birling: They worked us hard in those days and kept us short of cash. Though even then-we broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes Gerald: I’ll bet you did.” Gerald is agreeing with him probably because Mr Birling seems to him as much older and wiser although Gerald’s family are more wealthy than Birling’s. Gerald greatly exploits the poor like Birling does in work, with low wages and getting higher prices for himself.