An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley

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8 ‘Just a knighthood, of course.’ – The honour Birling expects has no longer any social or military function, but it is conceivable that the audience might recall that a knight in bygone days was bound to act chivalrously, especially towards women – and it is a woman, Eva Smith, who, the audience will soon learn has been treated most unchivalrously by the Birling family.

8 ‘so long as we behave ourselves. Don't get into the police court or start a scandal’ – This is ironic as the Birlings are about to be investigated by a police inspector – something the audience are expecting, given the title of the play.

9 ‘a sort of sign or token of their self-respect.’ – Clothes – of both sexes – are associated with status, something that was even more the case in 1912 than it is now. This is significant in the play because Sheila, it is later revealed, recently flew into a temper when a young clothes’ shop assistant (Eva) held a dress up to herself and looked prettier in it than Sheila had done. This piqued the latter since it reminded her that, however high her status as a woman in society might be, she is not necessarily any more attractive than a working-class girl in a shop. The overriding objective of middle-class girls in this period was to attract a suitable husband, and Sheila’s interest in fine clothes may conceivably indicate a degree of insecurity over her looks.

9 ‘Yes. I remember –’ – Eric is drunk and therefore rather prone to let things slip. He has thought of something regarding clothes and women, but he decides not to mention it, presumably because it concerns his affair with Eva. Eric’s blunders (and Sheila’s complaint that Gerald ignored her for six months) are the only indications in the play so far that there is more to the Birling family than meets the eye.

10 ‘But what so many of you don't seem to understand now, when things are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too, of course, when he has one – and so long as he does that he won't come to much harm. But the way some of 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 – community and all that nonsense.’ – This is an important speech, and, as Sheila notes at the end of the play, it is almost immediately after Birling has given it that Inspector Goole makes his entrance. His much more socialist ideas are a symbolic rejoinder to the unabashed selfishness of Birling’s position, which is strongly reminiscent of laissez-faire capitalism: ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after himself’.

10 ‘And feeling contented, for once,’ – The audience, who know the title of the play, may well sense the irony of Birling’s contentment now that the doorbell has rung. There has already been talk of a ‘police court’ (8).

10 ‘Please sir, an inspector’s called.’ – It is perhaps significant that Edna, a domestic servant, is given the line that provides the play with its title.

10 ‘I’m still on the bench. It may be something about a warrant.’ – The expression ‘on the bench’ means that Birling is serving a turn as a local magistrate, and, on occasion, a police inspector might need to have a warrant signed by such an official.

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J. B. Priestley

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