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5 Essential An Inspector Calls Quotations

There are many, many rich and powerful moments in An Inspector Calls that demand detailed analysis and exploration. The below gets to grips with just some of the things we could say about five absolutely key quotations in the play.

Number One:

When you’re married you’ll realize that men have important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. You’ll have to get used to that, just as I had

Mrs Birling to Sheila
  • There is created a clear hierarchical distinction between men and women where men ‘have important work to do’ and women must make themselves busy with something of far less importance. This is a key example of patriarchy.  
  • This is said by Mrs Birling: she has internalised the social norms of the Edwardian period. It is not simply that men are telling women what to do, but that Mrs Birling has been ideologically compelled to become complicit in this also. The patriarchal ideology is so entrenched within society that it is adopted and propagated by Mrs Birling.  
  • There is a sense of resignation: there is nothing that can be done about this and as such Sheila will just have ‘to get used to that’. This also speaks to the idea that this ideology has been passed down through the generations: just as Mrs Birling accepted the ideology so too, in time, will Sheila.
  • However, it is exactly this cycle that Priestly seeks to break through his play. Notice, for instance, that Sheila’s response to this is: ‘I don’t believe I will’ (half playful, half serious)’ (3). She may only be half serious now, but by the end of the play she will be entirely serious.  

Number Two

He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking.

Stage direction, introducing the Inspector
  • One especially interesting aspect of this description is the use of ‘weightily’, which suggests a certain solidity and physicality to the Inspector. He is immediately established as exuding a physical and domineering presence.
  • This establishes the Inspector as the moral bedrock on which the play is founded and this is in contrast to Birling’s often fragmented speech, which is often interrupted by hyphens. The Inspector is solid and dependable both physically and morally.
  • Notice also how he is described as ‘looking hard at the person he addresses’: he is to shine a spotlight on the actions of the Birling family and this is reflected by the way in which the light changes, upon the Inspector’s entrance, from ‘pink and intimate’ to a ‘brighter and harder’ colour.  
  • This is further suggested in the National Theatre Production where the Birling family live in a doll’s house, which then swings open upon the Inspector’s arrival: the Inspector is to lay bare and unpick the moral assumptions, which have determined the family’s actions.  
  • He is moral compass and Priestley’s mouthpiece: he is the textual mechanism through which the play is able to impart its didactic message.  
  • The arrival of the Inspector is a consequence of the behaviour of the Birling family and as such there exists a causal link between the two: the Inspector exists because the Birling family have abdicated civic responsibility just as the play exists because of the action of society at large.  
  • One might even consider Inspector Goole’s name, which is a homonym for ‘ghoul’. A ghoul is a phantom that is said to feed on dead bodies and can also describe a person who is morbidly obsessed with death. Given the Inspector is there to investigate the death of Eva Smith this is an apt description, but it might also suggest that the Inspector is to feed on the Birling family.  

Number Three

As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money

Mrs Birling, about Eva
  • This demonstrates Mrs Birling’s clear class prejudice
  • The lexical choice of ‘that’ has the same dehumanising effect that Mrs Birling’s earlier use of ‘these’ had. It suggests that Mrs Birling views Eva as utterly different to her and one can imagine the actress almost spitting out the word with complete disdain.
  • Equally, the use of ‘sort’ suggests categorisation and hierarchy. Mrs Birling views Eva as belonging to a different category of human. She is, adopting Edward Said’s term, a cultural Other.
  • Furthermore, it also shows that for Mrs Birling all that matters is Eva’s class: her worth and value as a human is inextricably linked to her social class and, again this is the view that Priestly sought to disrupt.  

Number Four

We are members of one body.

The Inspector
  • This stresses the fact that all people in society should share responsibility for one another. It is at the crux of the play’s moral and didactic message.
  • The metaphorical image of us being ‘one body’ highlights this. If one part of your body is ill or not function as it should then all the others parts suffer.
  • We do not live in a vacuum, but are part of a whole. The health of the whole is dependent on the health of the part.  
  • The use of ‘members’ is also highly suggestive. This is perhaps an antidote or corrective to the Birling family rhetoric of division and hierarchy (‘that sort’): the play emphasises that we are not divided or different, but in fact a community in which we ought to protect one another.
  • Perhaps ‘members’ also has connotations of union or political party membership, maybe suggesting that for Priestley the way in which to cultivate this communal protection is to participate in political activism, as ‘members’ of the Labour Party for instance. This would not have been lost on an audience in 1945.

Number Five

And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, when they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish

The Inspector
  • This highly powerful image of lessons being taught in ‘fire and blood and anguish’ would be especially evocative for an audience who has just fought through two world wars.
  • This reinforces the fact that the natural consequence of a society that does not care for one another (in other words the mentality advocated by Mr Birling) is war and conflict.
  • The polysyndeton helps to strengthen this message by rhetorically and structurally emphasising just how much suffering will accrue from a continued abdication of one’s civic duty. There will not just be ‘fire’, but also ‘blood’ and ‘anguish’.
  • Indeed, the choice of ‘anguish’ is especially interesting, as opposed to just ‘pain’. If one thinks of ‘anguish’ then one thinks of prolonged and deep suffering, further cementing Priestley’s message.
  • Thus, the only way to ensure further conflicts do not happen is to create a society where we look after one another. The natural political manifestation of this ideology, for Priestly, is socialism and this is what the play promotes.  
  • In fact, the reference to ‘lessons’ just makes this point all the more clear: Priestley is using the play to express a political and didactic lesson to his audience.

3 thoughts on “5 Essential An Inspector Calls Quotations

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