Arthur Birling Says: “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?” How Does Priestley Present Ideas About Responsibility in an Inspector Calls?

1005 Words Apr 16th, 2013 5 Pages
Arthur Birling says: “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?” How does Priestley present ideas about responsibility in An Inspector Calls?

In An Inspector Calls, one of the main themes is responsibility. Priestley is interested in our personal responsibility for our own actions and our collective responsibility to society. The play explores the effect of class, age and sex on people's attitudes to responsibility, and shows how prejudice can prevent people from acting responsibly. In this essay I am going to explain how Priestley presents the theme of responsibility and how he uses structural and language devices to do so.
In Act 1,
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Everyone is part of “one body”, which reflects Priestley’s idea that he sees society as more than individual interest. This reflects the fact that Priestley was a socialist. Priestely wanted the characters to consider a social conscience and to embrace collective responsibility. He adds a clear warning about what could happen if, like some members of the family, we ignore our responsibility: “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. Priestley used the Inspector to voice his views about socialism.
Another way that Priestley portrays the theme of responsibility is by contrasting the views of the old (Mr and Mrs Birling) and the young (Sheila and Eric). The old are set in their ways and are completely confident that they are right and they see the young as foolish. They will do anything to protect themselves and how others view them (their social class). They deny all responsibility of their actions and blame everyone else, for example when Mrs Birling says: “But I think she only had herself to blame”. Priestley makes the older characters seem selfish and stubborn and he contrasts this with the young by having Sheila play an important role, as the Inspectors almost “assistant”, and protesting

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