An Inspector Calls - Responsibility - Referat
When we talk about „An Inspector Calls”, one of the hardest questions to answer is: Who is most responsible for Eva Smiths death? Arthur Birling, because he discharged her for starting a strike? Mrs. Birling for letting her alone when she needed help the most? Responsibility – That’s what my presentation is about and at the end of it, you can answer this question and understand, which two types of responsibility the play is about.
There is a quote – not from An Inspector Calls – but from the movie Spiderman, which says: “With great power comes great responsibility” and there is a lot of truth in that when we consider, that a person with the ability to make decisions for others, has a huge influence on their life.
And the Birlings and Gerald are exactly in that position. Let’s start with Arthur Birling. He is a factory owner which means he controls the live of his workers. In addition to that, he was Lord Mayor from Brumley which enables even more ways to extend his power. When the Inspector starts contradicting Mr. Birling more and more, he even tries to intimidate the Inspector by telling him that he’s an old friend of the Chief Constable of Brumley, Colonel Roberts. That shows that Birling is ready to make use of his power for his personal goals without hesitation.
Continuing with Mrs. Birling, she controls the local charity organization and decides who is worthy to receive help and who is not.
All in all, the Birlings are a very powerful family. Coming back to the quote from the beginning, we can now analyze the Birlings view on their responsibilities.
BIRLING Still, I can’t accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody, we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?
INSPECTOR Very awkward.
BIRLING We’d all be in an impossible position, wouldn’t we?
This quote shows that Mr. Birling is not aware of his responsibilities. The word “impossible” shows, that they are rather a joke to him, than something to be taken seriously. He describes community as “nonsense” and has the opinion, that “a man has to make his own way”.
Like her husband Mrs. Birling shares his way of thinking. She is convinced she can’t “accept no blame for it at all”.
Unlike their parents, Sheila und Eric start blaming themselves or their parents’ actions.
SHEILA Mother, I think it was cruel and vile. Says Sheila as a reaction to the rejection of Eva Smith in the charity organization.
Also, Eric contradicts Mr. Birling “It isn’t if you can’t go and work somewhere else. Their opinion changes more and more towards the Inspector’s, as the play progresses.
The Inspector represents the opposite of Mr. and Mrs. Birling’s opinion. He is a socialist and points out, that all lives are “intertwined” with each other. He confronts Mr. Birling that “it’s better to ask for the earth, than to take it”, after Mr. Birling complains about the “selfishness” of the girls asking him for higher wages.
A dramatic irony, we haven’t talked about yet, is, that Mr. Birling tries to teach everybody about responsibility, but is blind to the fact, that the inspector wants him to realize exactly that.
BIRLING It’s about time you learnt to face a few responsibilities, he says to Eric after him contradicting Birling, unaware, that the inspector could have said the same thing to him.
For a better understanding of the concept of responsibility in the play, we must look what the Inspector answers Gerald after tells he him that he and the Birlings are respectable citizens and not criminals.
INSPECTOR Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. Often, if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line.
Drawing the line, that’s what we are going to do now. When we imagine the behavior of each character being separated into good behavior und criminal behavior, we can place the Birlings and Gerald at the beginning of the play right in front of the line of criminal law. The Inspector creates a new line, a line of morality, which causes the space between to be a grey area. Each of the Birlings and Gerald use their power to get what they want. Although nobody does break the law or does something illegal, their actions are morally wrong. For instance, discharging Eva Smith is not illegal for Mr. Birling, but it is morally wrong to take away her job and leave her alone without support. It is not illegal for Sheila to complain about Eva Smith, but it is morally wrong to risk her losing her job, especially when we consider that it is due to superficial reasons. And even if we consider sexual assault being illegal, Eric will get away with it due to his social standing. It’s the same for Mrs. Birling and Gerald.
But Sheila and Eric change their opinion during the play. I refer to the quotes I talked about before, where they contradict their parents. In the way of thinking they move out of the grey area into the area of morally good behavior. Only when we get to know that Eric stole money, he moves into the criminal area. But a part of him must stay in the morally good area, because he stole the money not for himself, but to support Eva Smith.
Concluding, we must answer the question from the beginning. Who is most to blame? In my opinion, Eric is the most to blame, because he brought Eva Smith in a situation where she must take care of a child in about a year in her bad economic situation. He has the highest responsibility as a father.
But, as the Inspector says: “You are all partly to blame”, there is no correct answer to this question.
Well, you could argue that Sheila and Eric regret what they did. And you are right. They are the youngest people in the play and the only ones to admit that they had done something wrong. In contrast to that, Mr. and Mrs. Birling don’t want to step out of the grey area. This can be interpreted as a sign for hope and that Priestly thinks that the next generations will overcome the immorality. Showing regrets is also a part of responsibility which at least guarantees that Sheila and Eric have learned their lesson and won’t repeat their actions.
Coming to an end, the characters in the play represent two types of responsibility. On a scale from complete egoism to a perfect morality, we can place the self-responsibility, represented by Mr. Birling and the social responsibility represented by the Inspector. These are the two types of responsibilities we face in “An Inspector Calls”. The play questions us where we place each character due to his actions and leaves us with the decision where we place ourselves.
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