How does J.B. Priestley use the character of Mr Arthur Birling to criticise aspects of early twentieth society?

Essay by 02nnathwaniHigh School, 10th gradeB, September 2006

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'An Inspector Calls' is a play by J.B. Priestley which criticises the social structure of the early twentieth century society.

J.B. Priestley was born at the end of the 19th century; in 1894. At this time, Britain and Europe had a very class conscious society. Britain was highly industrialised and governed by right wing parties either the Whigs or the Liberals. Most of the royal families of Europe were inter-related and wielded enormous power. The workers in most countries of Europe were badly treated both at work and socially. This led to the formation of the Labour party in Britain in 1901 with the Russian Revolution, soon after in 1917.

J.B. Priestley served in the First World War, which together with the Russian Revolution changed society irrevocably. He served in the infantry and therefore had first hand experience of the trenches and the abominable conditions existing there. When the war was over the Russian Revolution had occurred with any survivors of the army returning to demand a society of their choice.

These were the condition prevailing when J.B. Priestley himself returned from the war. J.B. Priestley was a socialist who wanted to change society to be fair-minded. He tried to convey this through plays such as this one, 'An Inspector Calls' and 'The Arts Under Socialism' which he wrote two years later in 1947. In the former play he uses the character of Mr Arthur Birling, a self important business man, to mock typical capitalist business men.

In this play Mr Arthur Birling is given the characteristics of a typical capitalist business man being confident and self assured. His (Mr Arthur Birling's) attitude changes when an Inspector Goole (who voices J.B. Priestley's views), appears and challenges his views on society and community responsibility.

In Act 1, Mr Arthur Birling...