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Identify Key Themes in 'An Inspector Calls'

In this worksheet, students will explore the key themes presented in Priestley's 'An Inspector Calls.'

'Identify Key Themes in 'An Inspector Calls'' worksheet

Key stage:  KS 4

GCSE Subjects:   English Literature

GCSE Boards:   Eduqas, OCR, Pearson Edexcel, AQA

Curriculum topic:   Post-1914 Prose / Drama, Modern Prose or Drama, Post-1914 Play or Novel, Modern Texts: Drama

Curriculum subtopic:   An Inspector Calls

Difficulty level:  

Worksheet Overview

QUESTION 1 of 10

How do the images below relate to the key themes in 'An Inspector Calls'?

 

factory                   Titanic                    Edwardian lady

 

Some of the themes that Priestley explores in ''An Inspector Calls' are:

 

Class

Gender

Age

Responsibility

Capitalism vs. socialism

Morality

 

In the exam, you might be asked to comment on the presentation of a theme.

 

You will need to know which parts of the play explore each of these and will need to be able to use key quotations which demonstrate these themes.

 

Have a go at the following questions to revise the key themes Priestley explores in the play.     

 

You should always refer to your own text when working through these examples.  These quotations are for reference only.

 

                     

Priestley explores the theme of class.

 

Which character in the play represents the working class?

The Birlings are the family the play is centred around.

 

They are presented as an upper-middle-class family.

 

What political viewpoint does Mr Birling represent? 

Socialism

Capitalism

What theme does the Inspector help to explore in the following quotation?

 

detective on a phone

 

"We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other."

Social responsibility is a key theme in "An Inspector Calls".

 

Which quotation below shows that Mr Birling shows a lack of social responsibility?

"a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself - and his family, too"

"You'll be able to divide the responsibility between you when I've gone."

Which characters are shown to change throughout the play and accept their social responsibility by the end?

Eric

Mrs Birling

Gerald

Mr Birling

Sheila

Gender is also explored as a key theme in the play.

 

Which character highlights how important marriage was for women in 1912 in order to achieve wealth and status?

 

Edwardian lady

Which quotations below epitomise how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912?

"I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing room and leave you men..."

"it's my duty to keep labour costs down"

"I left 'em talking about clothes again"

Priestley explores the theme of gender.

 

While Priestley shows how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912, he also depicts Eva as a different type of women.

 

She is shown to be a modern woman, who is willing to fight for her rights.

 

Complete the quotation below that shows this, use your text to help you.

"I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing room and leave you men..."

"it's my duty to keep labour costs down"

"I left 'em talking about clothes again"

Priestley explores the difference in the attitudes of the younger and older generations as a theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotation to the relevant character, which shows this difference of opinion.

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"And I say the girl's dead and we all helped to ki...
Eric
"But I'd a special reason for not wanting any publ...
Mr Birling
"You're pretending everything's just as it was bef...
Mrs Birling
"I was perfectly justified in advising my committe...

Complete the key quotation below that sums up Priestley's message about social responsibility.  Use your text to help you with this.

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"And I say the girl's dead and we all helped to ki...
Eric
"But I'd a special reason for not wanting any publ...
Mr Birling
"You're pretending everything's just as it was bef...
Mrs Birling
"I was perfectly justified in advising my committe...
  • Question 1

Priestley explores the theme of class.

 

Which character in the play represents the working class?

CORRECT ANSWER
Eva
Eva Smith
EDDIE SAYS
Did you get this one? Although the audience never sees Eva on stage, she's presented as a working-class character through others' dialogue. In particular, the Inspector tells us about her difficult life, firstly working in Mr Birling's factory for extremely low wages and being sacked when she asks for more money.
  • Question 2

The Birlings are the family the play is centred around.

 

They are presented as an upper-middle-class family.

 

What political viewpoint does Mr Birling represent? 

CORRECT ANSWER
Capitalism
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot capitalism? Capitalism involves the acquisition of personal wealth. Birling is most concerned with his own material gain. He wants to keep wages low and prices high so that his business makes the most profit that it can. Priestley is clearly critical of this political viewpoint.
  • Question 3

What theme does the Inspector help to explore in the following quotation?

 

detective on a phone

 

"We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other."

CORRECT ANSWER
Social responsibility
Responsibility
EDDIE SAYS
How did you do? The Inspector represents a different political attitude to Mr Birling - he represents a socialist viewpoint where the focus is on the responsibility of the community. The wealthy have a responsibility to support the less wealthy. The Inspector helps all of the Birlings to see their part in the destruction of Eva's life - he shows how they're all somehow responsible.
  • Question 4

Social responsibility is a key theme in "An Inspector Calls".

 

Which quotation below shows that Mr Birling shows a lack of social responsibility?

CORRECT ANSWER
"a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself - and his family, too"
EDDIE SAYS
Did you choose the first one? Mr Birling speaks these words just before the Inspector arrives. Priestley depicts Mr Birling's selfish views where he prioritises himself and his family and expects everyone to look after themselves. Mr Birling represents the capitalist society of 1912 that was full of social inequality.
  • Question 5

Which characters are shown to change throughout the play and accept their social responsibility by the end?

CORRECT ANSWER
Eric
Sheila
EDDIE SAYS
Did you find two? Eric and Shelia are shown to accept their faults and take some of the blame for what happens to Eva Smith. Even after they find out the Inspector wasn't real, they still take their responsibility seriously - they don't show relief that they're off the hook like their mother and father!
  • Question 6

Gender is also explored as a key theme in the play.

 

Which character highlights how important marriage was for women in 1912 in order to achieve wealth and status?

 

Edwardian lady

CORRECT ANSWER
Sheila
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to get this one? At the beginning of the play, the Birlings are celebrating Sheila's engagement to Gerald. Mr Birling talks about how the joining of the Birlings to the Crofts will be great for business! Remember that during this period, women's roles were defined as wives and mothers. They weren't seen to build their own careers. Therefore, for the middle and upper classes, wealth and status were sought in their choice of husband.
  • Question 7

Which quotations below epitomise how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912?

CORRECT ANSWER
"I think Sheila and I had better go into the drawing room and leave you men..."
"I left 'em talking about clothes again"
EDDIE SAYS
Did you spot two? Notice how Sheila and Mrs Birling leave the room so the men can talk about 'serious' stuff and then Eric reports that the women are talking about clothes! Priestley depicts how men viewed women as only interested in frivolous things such as clothes; indeed Mr Birling even makes the derogatory comment that this is how they gain their self-respect! On several occasions, Mr Birling tries to exclude Sheila from the serious conversations with the Inspector; ironically it's Sheila who's the most perceptive in the interrogation from the Inspector!
  • Question 8

Priestley explores the theme of gender.

 

While Priestley shows how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912, he also depicts Eva as a different type of women.

 

She is shown to be a modern woman, who is willing to fight for her rights.

 

Complete the quotation below that shows this, use your text to help you.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill both spaces? Eva stands up for her rights and asks for higher wages. Mr Birling sacks her for this reason. Working women would've been at the very bottom of the social hierarchy in 1912 - they would've received the lowest wages and the worst working conditions. Despite Eva's position she maintains her dignity - after all, we're told by the Inspector that she refuses Eric's money when she learns that it's stolen.
  • Question 9

Priestley explores the difference in the attitudes of the younger and older generations as a theme in 'An Inspector Calls'.

 

Match the quotation to the relevant character, which shows this difference of opinion.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"You're pretending everything's j...
Eric
"And I say the girl's dead and we...
Mr Birling
"But I'd a special reason for not...
Mrs Birling
"I was perfectly justified in adv...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Notice how the younger generation show remorse for their actions, whilst Mr and Mrs Birling are keen to put the blame elsewhere and show relief when Gerald tells them the Inspector isn't real. Mr Birling is mostly interested in his reputation and Mrs Birling is more concerned with Eric's drinking rather than what's happened to a young girl. Priestley shows how the younger generation who are more open-minded will be the ones to pave the way forward to a more equal and liberal society.
  • Question 10

Complete the key quotation below that sums up Priestley's message about social responsibility.  Use your text to help you with this.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill the spaces? It's important to think about the characters as the tools in which Priestley explores his themes and delivers his social and political messages. The Inspector can be viewed as Priestley's voice in this way - he tries to teach the family a lesson about their social responsibility. Whilst the younger generation take this on board, the older generation dismiss what they have learnt. After they learn the Inspector wasn't real and they continue to speak in a selfish and irresponsible way, they receive another call about an Inspector coming. Priestley suggests that they can try to escape their responsibility, but they will pay for this eventually.
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