Social Inequality In An Inspector Calls

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In An Inspector Calls, J B Priestley highlights the social inequality prevalent in 1912, in pre-war Britain. At the centre of the play are the Birlings, an ambitious upper-middle class family. Priestley uses gender stereotyping, contrasting characterisation and symbolic actions to depict the presence of social inequality. Priestley conveys his socialist view, that the upper classes should be responsible for others as well as themselves, and projects his disapproval of class, hence evoking a social and moral conscience amongst the upper class.

Priestley uses the contrasting characterisation of Birling, a firm capitalism whom is staunch in beliefs, and the Inspector, a character with more moderate, socialist ideas who acts as Priestley's mouthpiece
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The Inspector’s dismissal of Birling’s relationship with the Chief Inspector “I don’t play golf” shows his refusal to be intimidated by status, hence encouraging the audience to weaken the influence of social hierarchy. Moreover, the Inspector’s presentation as omniscient, via the use of dramatic irony and foreshadowing, makes Birling seem short-sighted. Birling’s belief that the Titanic was “absolutely unsinkable”, when the audience knows better, depicts the blindness of the upper class, their idealism and lack of awareness for what is going on, which leads to them acting in a sense of authority they don’t deserve. The inspector’s entrance and disruption of Birling’s speech about social responsibility to Eric and Gerald is significant as it reveals Birling’s hypocrisy as he refuses to accept his inherent social responsibility. This leads the audience to trust the Inspector’s perspective, as a communicator of positive, socialist change. In addition, the Inspector provokes Mrs Birling into blaming the “drunken young idler”, which the audience knows is Eric, evincing dramatic irony. On realising that Eric is the drunk, she tries to retract her statement highlighting the double standards and hypocrisy of the upper class moral code. Contrasting to their parents, the younger Birlings are shown to be socially responsible and regretful for their actions contributing to the untimely death of Eva Smith. This symbolises Priestley’s hope of the younger generation instigating social
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