Themes Class/ Responsibility/ Gender
Theme 1 - Class System People were expected to know their place in society and stick to it and moving from one section of the class system to another was frowned upon by those in power.Workers were beginning to let it be known that they wanted to have a say in what happened to them and did so through strikes and the formation of trade unions to co-ordinate these actions.
This was a strange idea to those who owned the factories and workplaces, who expected to have complete control over all aspects of their workers lives. The bosses wanted things to stay as they always had been, with them in control of the labour, jobs, conditions and pay. The bosses, being of a higher class than the workers, believed that they knew best and should make decisions for the masses. These were mainly based on how much profit they could make and they rarely considered the welfare of the workers.
In the play itself the main family, the 'Birlings' are wealthy middle class landowners and proprietors of a large factory that was built up by the father of Mr. Birling. He has hopes of gaining a Knighthood, due to his service as a magistrate and as Lord Mayor, which he sees as his way to climb the social ladder to the lower rungs of the aristocracy. This is shown in the way in which he compares this to the mother of his daughter's fiancée, Lady Croft, who is already, part of the aristocracy. Therefore, it can be seen that by marrying Gerald Croft, Sheila is playing a part in the families' social climbing.
Is it fair for the wealthy to control the lives of the poor for their own profit?Should all people have a say in their lives and their conditions of work?Do you think that the poor could have done anything other than strike?
Homework Apply ‘class’ to each of your character profiles. How do they ‘fit in’ to their class? ( climbing or complacent) How do they treat the lower classes?
RESPONSIBILITY One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do.
collective responsibility everyone is society is linked, in the same way that the characters are linked to Eva Smith. Everyone is a part of "one body",the Inspector sees society as more important than individual interests. The views he is propounding are like those of Priestley who was a socialist. Remember at the time the ethos was based on the individualism ethos of laissez faire ( leave alone), Priestly wanted the characters to consider a social conscience and to embrace a collective responsibility.
The law and morality • The appearance of the inspector suggests that some legal crime has been committed • Birling assumes he is there because of ‘some trouble about a warrant’ • Progression of play- the inspector is investigating more than just an illegality- he is investigating immortality • Key theme in play- difference between law and morality- the line is blurred
Gerald ‘ we’re respectable citizens and not criminals’, the inspector says, ‘Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. Often if it were left to me. I wouldn’t know where to draw the line’ • They may not have committed illegal acts, they have acted immorally and should be held to account • Exception of course is Eric- sexual assault and theft.
Focus • ‘You're the one it makes most difference to. You’ve confessed to theft...You know’. ( Mr B) • Mr B recognises the difference between law and morality. He knows that in stealing, Eric has committed a crime that can lead to an inquest and sentencing, whereas he and the others have simply committed acts which are immoral and ‘perhaps make us look a bit ashamed of ourselves in public’ but nothing more. • Explains why Mr B thinks he can excuse his and his wife's behaviour. ‘There's every excuse for what both your mother and I did- it turned out unfortunately, that's all’.
Women- Gender and power. The place of women • Represented by Sybil and Sheila Birling, the servant Edna and the invisible but omnipresent Eva/ Daisy, women are seen variously as innocents, social climbers, victims and suspects. How are issues of gender played out and do they enrich or detract from the moral and political messages?
Add...To your characterisation charts • Gender • Power • Law and morality • Responsibility • Class