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Power In An Inspector Calls: Types, Forms And Effects

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The play, The Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley is a play about the death of a young girl being exploited by people of power such as Arthur Birling and Sybil Birling primarily but the rest of the family such as Gerald Croft, Eric Birling and Sheila Birling are also portrayed as important figures of the town who use power to their advantage. They use their power as a way to command and force people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. All of their acts of power towards Eva Smith or Daisy Renton lead to her death by the swallowing of disinfectant which burned her internal organs. Mr and Mrs Birling portray their power through their speeches, their attitude towards everyone and the way they act towards different people; for example, Mr Birling during dinner with his family, he gives speeches and expects the entire family to listen; this is a form of power since he expects everyone to listen to him due to his power over everyone. During this essay, I will explore and examine the ways and types of power explored during the play An Inspector Calls by J.B Priestly. Throughout the play, I will explore the many different types and forms of power being displayed such as physical to persuasive and also the link of power to social class and gender. Each character from Birling to The Inspector show a different form of power which helps define their personality. In my opinion, Mr Birling has no other form of power other than his reputation which originates from his business; he uses his status as a business owner to hide from reality.

Mr Birling – The idea of power is underlined through the dialogue of the characters throughout the play. Mr Birling and his family are characterised as posh and well-known people of the town with power. For instance, Mr Birling is portrayed and described as a “heavy-looking man” which demonstrates and shows his power due to his size. During act 1, while Mr Birling is talking to Gerlad, just before mentioning his knighthood, he tells Gerald that he worries that Lady Croft might not accept his daughter. “Lady Croft – while she does not object to my girl – feels you might have done better for yourself socially”, this is based on the social status as Gerald Croft and his mother are both higher up in the social ladder and financially higher than Birling. He then proceeds to mention his knighthood to try and assure Gerald that they will soon move up the social ladder and he’s trying to ease Gerald into telling his mother that if she were to mention that Mr Birling is of a lower class, Gerald would be able to mention to his mother that Mr Birling would be receiving a knighthood and that she has nothing to worry about. There is also a small hidden message in the quote saying that during the marriage of Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft that the love in the marriage and relationship isn’t as important as the social standing that Birling would be when his daughter marries the son of a lady. Mr Birling also has power over the majority of people in the town since he is a man of business. During the 1900s, being a man meant that you would be the person in the family to bring back the money and to help support the family which meant that you would have the most power and control of the entire family. This is why Mr Birling expected everyone to listen and abide by everything he says. During act 1, the audience also finds out that Mr Birling fired a young girl, Eva Smith because she asked for a small raise from 22.5 shillings to 25 shillings. This shows that even such a small issue such as a small pay raise would lead to the firing of Eva Smith. This could show the audience that Mr Birling abuses his power. He also shows fear at the first sight of disruption such as when Eva Smith asked for a small raise, it disrupted the workflow and he was afraid that his other workers would ask for a raise as well. He instinctively fired her without asking for an explanation or consulting with others about what to do about the situation, he made no shown effort to compromise with Eva Smith. Also, when The Inspector was involving his entire family with the implications of Eva Smith, he wanted to handle the problem immediately with bribery and use of social status by asking The Inspector to come to a corner and have a chat.

Mrs Birling – During the end of the play, Mr Birling’s wife, Mrs Birling starts to get interrogated or questioned by The Inspector about if she had any involvement with the death of Eva Smith or Daisy Renton. We then find out that Mrs Birling had the power to help Eva or Daisy but she denied her help. She then proceeded to mention “Girls of that class” which suggests that she feels that she has a lot of power over girls like Eva Smith. The reason why Mrs Birling denied Eva Smith from getting the help and care from her charity was due to the fact that during the application process for the charity, she put down her name as Mrs Birling. The actual Mrs Birling felt that Eva Smith was trying to be rude and infringe their name since the name Birling was very prestigious. Due to that, she was prejudiced against her case.

Gerald Croft – Geralf Croft, the son of Lady Croft, a high standing businesswoman of the town, was having dinner with the Birling’s when The Inspector came to interrogate the family.

Inspector Goole uncovers the truth that Gerald had an affair last year with a working-class girl whilst he was in a relationship with Sheila Birling. Gerald Croft had a kind heart but his weak principles overruled his good intentions so he didn’t help Daisy Renton in the best way.

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He was suddenly ashamed that he used somebody like that and that perhaps this had contributed to her death. I think that Gerald is genuine because of his startled reaction when he realised that it was Daisy who was dead. Gerald says ‘(Distressed) Sorry -I – well, I’ve suddenly realised- taken it in properly – that she’s dead’. Also when he had finished his story and he explained that he wanted to go for a walk, he gets all his words mixed up and can’t speak properly. His regret for the way he used her is genuine, but he is not as deeply touched as Sheila as shown in act 3. He felt responsible enough to find Daisy somewhere else to live and provided for her when he broke off the affair. However, it didn’t seem like he thought of the long term consequences for when he started his affair with her.

Sheila says to Gerald “At least I am trying to tell the truth. I expect you have done things you’re ashamed of too.” Gerald”'(surprised) Well, I never said I hadn’t. I don’t see why -” The state of Sheila and Gerald’s relationship is now finished, as they knew it. They didn’t know each other well enough to see the real person behind the mask. This disloyalty to both women indicates that despite his kind and chivalrous nature his own needs came first. Gerald was unkind to Daisy Renton because he used her for his benefits. He had a kind heart on a superficial level but his weaknesses reduced the effects of his good intentions both in the beginning and later in their relationship. His weak morals also diluted any kindness towards his fiance. My opinion of whether Gerald Croft was kind towards Daisy Renton is that he had a generous heart and intended no harm and good intentions with Daisy Renton, but his weaknesses didn’t allow him to consider the consequences of their affair. Gerald Croft had good intentions but they ended up ruining his relationship with Sheila. The power corrupted his mind and made him commit such acts when he initially had good intentions with Daisy Renton.

Sheila Birling – The way which sheila demonstrates and shows her different type of power is she can avoid responsibility due to her social class. She makes herself seem vulnerable and tries to inflict the guilt and responsibility on others. During Act 2, The Inspector starts to question Sheila about her link and if she had anything to do with Eva Smith. Since Sheila is the daughter of Mr Birling, even though she is young, she is still of a high class so therefore she has some power over people. Later, The Inspector Discovers that sheila abused her power and ordered the boss of Eva Smith to have her fired from her job. This was all because Sheila Birling felt jealous and saw Eva Laughing at her. She then tells the inspector, “If she was a pathetic looking thing I don’t think I would have bothered” which shows that she was jealous of Eva Smith and if she wasn’t as pretty as she was, she wouldn’t have gotten her fired. This shows how easy it is for people with power to take advantage of people for the wrong reasons.

The Inspector – The Inspector can make the Birlings and anyone in the room to say things they other else wouldn’t; he uses this to his advantage. For example when Mrs Birling was blaming the father of Eva Smith’s unborn child, The Inspector did not, in fact, tell her that the father of the unborn child which she was blaming was, in fact, her son Eric Birling, instead, he allowed her to “deep a deeper hole” and increased the blame on which she placed on Eric once finding out he, in fact, was the son of Eva Smith’s unborn child. The Inspector has the most power in the room even though the Birlings dislike him they still answer all of his questions since they all know that the Inspector has the power to expose everything which they have done and destroyed their reputation which would lead to loss of power on the Birlings side. Another time we see power presented and portrayed through the characters in The Inspector Calls is when the Inspector enters the scene. It seems that The Inspector has control over the setting as when he enters the room, the lighting goes from an intimate pink atmosphere to a harsh, white light which is somewhat similar to the lighting which you would find inside an interrogation room which could signify the inspector having a lot of power over everyone inside the room. The word harsh, used in the stage directions may have a negative connotation making the readers feel that The Inspector could be somewhat dangerous and intimidating. The change of light due to the coming of the inspector might also show that the Inspector has more power than he shows.

Eva Smith – Eva Smith herself had a large amount of power, not like the others but in the form of influence. Eva Smith managed to change the relationship of the Birling family. She had an impact on each and every single Birling individually. She managed to expose an entirely new side of each innocent-looking Birling.


In conclusion, the theme of power is portrayed and shown in many different ways throughout the play The Inspector Calls such as the link of power to social class and the link of power to gender there are also many different types of power. Hidden within each family member and other characters. This play demonstrates that first impressions are not always accurate and some people are more powerful than we first think and witnessed.

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