How important do you think social class is in An Inspector Calls and how does Priestly present ideas about social class?
Throughout the play the theme of social class is shown through all of the characters and enables the audience to see. The theme of social class is most apparent through the character of Arthur Birling, his ignorant and selfish personality has evidently been very much shaped by the money and success which he has attained through his role as the town mayor.
However although Arthur Birling’s earlier life are not mentioned in the play it is evident to the audience that Mr. Birling is not a member of the higher class because of his family, but solely by his work and the money he has received. This is shown as Mr Birling finds himself being corrected by his wife, his social superior.
When Mr Birling requests that the cook is to be thanked for the meal Mrs Birling almost immediately responds “Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things”, the fact that Mr Birling has to be corrected by his wife about the way he acts and speaks almost mirrors the relationship between a mother and child as though Mrs Birling is teaching Mr Birling the correct way to act as a member of a higher class, magnifying the fact that Mr Birling evidently wasn’t taught these as a child again showing his true social standing. The theme of social class is also shown through the character of Sheila.
Sheila is a character whom takes advantage of the social standing which she holds and thinks because of this that she holds power over others. This is shown in Act One when she recalls being in a “furious temper” when she was in the department store Millwards where she is a frequent customer, she informs the inspector of the scene where she apparently saw Eva Smith smiling when Sheila tried on a dress. Sheila then takes advantage of the social standing which she hold and orders the store to dismiss the girl or she would “persuade mother to close [their] account with them”.
The fact that the social class that the characters are presented with causes them to make arrogant and selfish decisions is important throughout the play as it allows the audience to feel no sympathy towards the Birling’s and also allows the audience to see the division between different members of the family and the changes that they make. Mrs Birling is the social superior to the rest of the Birling family and often finds herself correcting the rest of the family members.
However, she is also seen by the audience as very similar to the rest of the family as her ignorant and selfish persona shows through, when he is made aware of the death of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton, instead of showing remorse or sadness she refers to Eva/Daisy as “that girl” revealing Mrs Birling’s selfish and arrogant characteristics, the use of social class here is important as it shows the clear difference between the elder and younger generations where she is called “that” girl by an elder member of the family but “poor girl” by Sheila, a younger member showing how the behaviour of the family differs through the ages of the family.