The Role of Inspector Goole in the Play ‘An Inspector Calls’

‘An Inspector Calls’, written by John Boynton Priestley in 1945 just a week after World War 2 ended, was set in 1912, two years before the start of World War 1 when rigid social classes were present and there were evident differences between people who possessed power and those who didn’t. Being a socialist, he based the play on the Birlings who was a powerful, capitalist family living in Brumley, an industrial city in the North Midlands, and the events occur during their celebration of Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. Throughout the play, we learn about the power differences between the sexes and social classes and how they abused Eva Smith, who didn’t have power.

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The two speeches that are spoken by two strong characters (Mr Birling and Inspector Goole) give us an idea of how the different characters use their power for very different reasons. Contrast between the two opinions are displayed when Inspector Goole mentions that ‘we are members of one body’ and Birling protests that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself’. The metaphor symbolises the fact that we are all connected in one anatomy and presents the fact that there are no differences between humans with power or without, although Mr Birling believes that nobody can assist anyone else. Sentence structure is important in another very powerful dialog vocalized by Inspector Goole (duplicating Priestley’s voice) and gives us a strong idea about how everyone is connected no matter how much power they have, portraying the same message as the previous metaphor. The use of anadiplosis when repeating ‘what happened to her afterwards’ at the end of one clause and the beginning of the next, shows that these lines are linked together, just like everyone in our society, regardless of how much power you hold. Following on to these sentences, is the metaphor ‘a chain of events’. The concrete noun ‘chain’ expresses something which links objects together and is also associated to prisons immediately making it sound negative resulting in the audience to side with Inspector Goole.

The end of the play is very unexpected, leaving the audience with curiosity as to what will happen next. The job of the inspector was that despite not belonging to a high social class, in which the rest of the characters were in, to teach them a lesson and hopefully change them to be better people. As soon as he leaves, the audience learn that the older generation which includes Mr and Mrs Birling are not willing to change, hence history repeats itself and they receive the same phone call informing them that an inspector will arrive to question them about a death. Throughout the play, we don’t get much information on the inspector like we get of the other characters of the play. This makes him appear like he is not a character and holds more power by being a moral form, especially when after he leaves, he changes the opinion of the younger generation (Sheila and Eric), who are usually more immature, showing his immense power. This idea is carried on when he reveals his name as being ‘Goole’ which has a homonym of goule, almost ghostlike. In his dialogs he reveals details which he is not, rather that what he is like when he states ‘I don’t play golf’ giving us scanty information. This makes the audience less willing to like or dislike him, but focus on the message he is giving across which includes that ‘If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish’. The strenuous nouns ‘fire’ and ‘blood’ relate to war, which the audience have just lived through and continue having vivid memories of, so they don’t want them to transpire again. The inspector clearly asseverates that if they don’t modify their thoughts and actions towards civilians they are living with and take advantage of their power, these noxious wars will happen again and lead to severe ‘anguish’.     

In conclusion, it is written as a morality play, portraying a strong message about how power can be deleterious if not used in the right manner. Priestley chose this form to emphasise how the poor have more morals. Additionally, Inspector Goole appears to assess how they utilize their authority; the form can also be categorized as a ‘whodunit’ play asking numerous questions such as ‘And why did you do that?’ ‘And was it the girl’s fault?’ to each of the family members. The use of the short, snappy questions gives us the sense that time is running out and the repetition of the conjunction ‘and’ highlights that he yet has a lot of investigating to do. It is not a traditional ‘whodunit’ play as the detective – played by the inspector – does not narrow down the suspects to end up with one, in contrary, all the characters are guilty of abusing power. This technique is deliberately included by the writer to evoke his message to the audience through Inspector Goole that society as a whole is responsible for neglecting members that don’t have power and it just can’t be blamed on one person, linking to the form of a morality play.

07 July 2022

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