Inspector Goole as an Image of Socialist Values and Morality

Priestley’s views of socialism are expressed many times throughout the play, in suggesting that everyone has a collective responsibility to one another as shown in the final line of the inspector, who is Priestley’s mouthpiece. At the time in Britain, capitalism was the dominant political ideology, and there was obvious social inequality and prejudice against the working class. Priestley wanted to highlight these inequalities in the classes by showing the naivety of the upper class, represented by the Birlings. Furthermore, women were portrayed as delicate characters that needed to be “protected”, and men had very little respect for women, showing how normalized sexism was at the time.

Priestley creates dramatic irony by setting the play 30 years before the time of writing. We can see this on their contradicting speeches, where at the beginning of the play, Birling said, “You’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we are all mixed up like bees in a hive-community and all that nonsense” and further on “…a man has to mind his own business and look after himself…” Just after Mr. Birling said this, Inspector Goole enters, which proves that Goole came to oppose Mr. Birling’s strong capitalist speech. However, before the inspector left, in his final speech, Priestley reiterated his socialist ideology in saying, “we don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for one another.” From these two juxtaposing speeches, we can see that Priestley uses Inspector Goole as the voice of Socialist values and morality in the play, whereas Mr. Birling is only concerned for his reputation and capitalism.

Throughout the play, Goole is represented as a real police inspector, and everyone obviously believed him. However, as the play goes on there is a suggestion that he is lying. This is hinted at multiple times, such as that Birling has not heard of him, saying, “You’re new, aren’t you?” This is significant as Birling would most likely have heard of him as he has many contacts in the police force. Similarly, the Inspector is not fazed by the social superiority of Mr. Birling, questioning him, asking “why?” or “I don’t play golf” when Mr. Birling dropped the name of the Chief Constable, and how they’re old friends that play golf with one another. The expected response would be for Goole to step back as this man is his superior, which is also why his reaction is slightly suspicious. Finally, he doesn’t make an arrest at the end of the play, despite Eric confessing to not only raping Sheila, but stealing from his father. If it hasn’t already been established that the inspector isn’t a real inspector, it is proved at the end of the play when the Birlings called the police force and no one had ever heard of him. 

As the actuality of what Inspector Goole is never confirmed, there are many theories as to who and what he represents. Some people may interpret Goole to be a supernatural embodiment of the collective guilt of the Birlings, acting as a conscience. Goole seems omniscient in the play, and the fact that Goole speaks in a prophetic and philosophical way only adds to this idea. This is implied on the line, “A girl has just died on her way to the Infirmary-after swallowing some disinfectant. And a police inspector is on his way here- to ask some questions.” This means that the Inspector wasn’t actually there, and nobody knows who he is. This could mean he was there to get the truth out of the Birlings before an actual police inspector came that would just let the Birlings off the hook. He was there to teach the family a lesson and wasn’t really real. He also alludes to the fact that there are others like him, saying “we often [have an effect] on the young ones”. The use of the inclusive pronoun hints to the audience that there are others similar to the Inspector, that have experience of this kind of work. Goole’s name also suggests that he may be some supernatural embodiment, in that Goole is a homophonic pun for ghoul, and Inspector is a homophonic pun for specter. This serves to foreground the unreality of Goole and his role of avenging angel. Others may interpret Goole to be an indictment of the corruption of the real justice system at the time. We see this on the line, “you have no hope of not discussing it Mrs. Birling” and when the Inspector said, “Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” This shows the audience that he is slowly changing Birling’s capitalist views, and we can see this in how Priestley represents the high ranking, such as the Birlings, to be corrupt or part of illicit activities, such as Eric’s crimes. Finally, some may interpret Goole to be a metaphor for the role of the politically engaged artist/ author in society, with Goole being Priestley’s mouthpiece. This can be seen when the inspector says that “the young ones […] they’re more impressionable.” Priestley is suggesting that the young ones are more open minded than the older generation about the kind of society they want to live in, in this case that is socialist.

To summarize, Priestley has strong socialist views, which is conducted through the inspector as Priestley’s mouthpiece. When Goole says things such as, “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body.” or “Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges”. Priestley tries to represent how the upper class is unaware as to how easy their lives are, as shown by the Birlings, and how much they rest upon the hard work of the lower classes. Overall, Priestley, through his mouthpiece as Inspector Goole, presented the audience with an alternative vision for the future that is ethical and inspiring to the audience, to divert their preferences to the Inspector’s socialist ideals.

07 July 2022
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