JB Priestly’s Play, An Inspector Calls, teaches us many lessons about society. By using the Inspector with the Birling family, he points out many moral issues with society. These include responsibility, equality and open-mindedness. Priestly uses the Inspector as a teacher who is trying to change the ways of the Birling family. One of the most significant lessons evident in the play is individual and community responsibility. In the text, the Inspector continuously stresses the importance of every individual looking after not only themselves, but also all the other members of the community.
People have to take responsibility for all their actions, which may inadvertently affect others in ways that they never thought of. All people are part of a society, networked to everyone else in some way or other. Every person’s actions have an effect on one or more separate people. Priestly is trying to make the readers see that their deeds impinge on others, so they must always take responsibility and be mindful of their speech, conduct and thoughts. This lesson of responsibility is hinted many times throughout the play, but especially in the Inspector’s final speech.
Just as he leaves, the Inspector states, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. ” The Birlings are typical capitalists-they believe in the “every man for himself” policy. They show that they accept no liability for anything that happens to them in many places. For example, Mr Birling says that he “can’t accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody, we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward. ” The Birlings are arrogant and snobbish, treating the less fortunate people poorly.
The Inspector, with an opposite view, teaches them-and us-to look after others, especially the less fortunate, and take responsibility for all our actions. The Inspector also teaches the Birlings about equality. The play teaches the lesson that all people are equals, regardless of financial status or family background. The thing that makes an individual any different from the rest of the world is what is inside them, their personality and character, not their appearance. The Birlings have wealth and status, yet they have no ethics, compassion or caring.
Priestly believes that integrity and morals should make people to look up to someone, not their social status. He also thinks that material goods are of little use if you have no human kindness. The Birlings, particularly Mr and Mrs Birling, look down upon people who have little position in society. To Mr Birling, who runs a huge factory, young girls are cheap labour, as the Inspector points out to us. Mrs Birling refused Eva Smith help, complaining that she “was giving herself ridiculous airs” and “claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples” that “were simply absurd in a girl in her position.
The Inspector tries to make Mrs Birling see the connection between herself and Eva. He says, “You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling”. Mrs Birling, thinking that she is of the upper class and incomparable to people such as Eva Smith, dismisses this as rude and offensive. He also says, “I’ve thought that it would do us all a bit of good if sometimes we tried to put ourselves in place of these young women counting their pennies in their dingy little back bedrooms. ” Clearly, the Inspector believes that we are all the same as he tries to suggest that the Birlings put themselves in the shoes of those less fortunate.
The importance of open-mindedness is also emphasized. People must be unprejudiced towards new ideas. If nobody accepted and tolerated new ideas, then society would not advance any further. It was through unbiased thinking that humanity has been able to progress so far-without it people would still be in the dark ages. New ideas help development move faster and it is through unbiased acceptance of these ideas that they are put into action properly. The play opens with Mr Birling lecturing Gerald and Eric about life.