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Explore How Key Themes Develop in 'An Inspector Calls'

In this worksheet, students will explore how the key themes are developed throughout 'An Inspector Calls'.

'Explore How Key Themes Develop 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

  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.

 

For a higher mark in the exam, you also need to think about how themes change and develop by exploring their presentation in different parts of the play.

 

You should also try to link the themes to the key contextual factors surrounding 'An Inspector Calls.'

 

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.

 

Eva represents the working class.

 

factory

 

What do we learn about Eva's working-class life?  Use the words below to help you with your answer.

 

charity

class

shop

pregnant

sacked

working

 

Priestley explores the differences between capitalism and socialism through the characters in the play.

 

Column A

Column B

"We are members of one body. We are responsible fo...
Priestley presents the Inspector with a socialist ...
"a man has to make his own way - has to look after...
Mr Birling represents the capitalist viewpoint tha...

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

 

Do Mr and Mrs Birling show any acceptance of their social responsibility when they learn of Eva's death?

Mr and Mrs Birling show remorse and regret their actions when they learn of Eva's death and show that they will act differently in the future.

Mr and Mrs Birling show no acceptance of their fault in contributing to Eva's downfall. They lack any remorse and are more focused on how their reputation could be ruined by such an allegation.

Some of the characters change their attitude to social responsibility when they learn about Eva's death.

 

Does Sheila accept responsibility?

Column A

Column B

Sheila shows that she is more open minded than her...
"But these girls aren't cheap labour - they're peo...
Sheila shows immediate remorse for her actions, sh...
"I'll never, never do it again to anybody"
When Sheila learns of Eva's death, she still shows...
"I've been so happy tonight. Oh I wish you hadn't ...

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

 

In 1912, society was patriarchal - women were seen as inferior to men.

 

Edwardian lady

 

How does Priestley present the theme of gender in the play? Click on all accurate answers.

Priestley depicts the equality between men and women in Edwardian society.

Priestley highlights how marriage was a woman's means to wealth and status when she wasn't allowed to build her own career in 1912.

Priestley depicts the men looking down on the women in the family, considering them to only talk and think about superficial things such as clothes.

Priestley shows are women were respected by men in Edwardian society.

The way in which Mr Birling suggests that Sheila should not be privy to the Inspector's interrogation highlights the way in which women were seen as weak and inferior to men in 1912.

Priestley explores the theme of gender.

 

While Priestley shows how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912, he also shows how women are capable of much more.

 "Why - you fool - he knows.""they suddenly decided to ask for more money.""The girl discovered that this money you were giving her was stolen didn't she?""her husband's social superior."
Sheila is presented as the most perceptive member of the family.
Eva is presented as a modern woman who is willing to fight for her rights.
Mrs Birling is presented higher in the social hierarchy than her husband.
Despite Eva struggling in poverty she maintains her set of morals.

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

 

The quotations below show the characters differences in their attitudes.

Column A

Column B

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

Complete the quotation below that sums up Priestley's message about social responsibility.  Use your copy of the text to help you here.

Column A

Column B

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

What is the effect of the ambiguous ending on presenting the theme of morality and social responsibility?

 

 

Priestley ends the play with another phone call about the arrival of an Inspector. Priestley shows how the family initially did not accept their responsibility and now have another chance to change their attitude. Priestley shows his audience that they need to decide whether they want to return to Edwardian values of 1912 or move towards a more socially equal society in 1945/6.

Priestley announces the arrival of an Inspector at the end of the play to show that the Birlings will be punished afterall for their part in Eva's downfall.

Now it is time to have a go at a mini-essay question to practise writing about themes in the play.

 

Remember to use quotations to support your points and try to link each of your ideas to the context in which Priestley was writing.

 

Task: Write about the ideas about responsibility in 'An Inspector Calls.'

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

  • Question 1

Priestley explores the theme of class.

 

Eva represents the working class.

 

factory

 

What do we learn about Eva's working-class life?  Use the words below to help you with your answer.

 

charity

class

shop

pregnant

sacked

working

 

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill all of the spaces? Although the audience never sees Eva on stage, she's presented as a working class character through others' dialogue. We see how at every stage of her life she struggles to simply survive. Priestley was looking back at 1912 in the play, depicting the social inequality that existed and the clearly defined class system. By 1945/6 when the play was first performed, there was more social equality and a welfare system in place to help people like Eva. Priestley offers a warning about returning to this kind of society that left the poor to struggle on their own.
  • Question 2

Priestley explores the differences between capitalism and socialism through the characters in the play.

 

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

"We are members of one body. We a...
Priestley presents the Inspector ...
"a man has to make his own way - ...
Mr Birling represents the capital...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them both? Priestley juxtaposes Mr Birling's capitalist viewpoint against the Inspector's socialist perspective. Remember that Priestley's play was first performed in 1945/6 when social equality was beginning to grow after the war. By setting the play in 1912, Priestley depicted how society used to be and warns his audience of what it could become again if people were not careful.
  • Question 3

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

 

Do Mr and Mrs Birling show any acceptance of their social responsibility when they learn of Eva's death?

CORRECT ANSWER
Mr and Mrs Birling show no acceptance of their fault in contributing to Eva's downfall. They lack any remorse and are more focused on how their reputation could be ruined by such an allegation.
EDDIE SAYS
Did you choose the second one? The Inspector arrives to teach the family a lesson. When he leaves, the family have an opportunity to learn from what they've been told and to change their ways. Mr and Mrs Birling don't show any signs of doing this; in fact, they show relief when Gerald tells them that the Inspector wasn't real. They think they're off the hook - never mind that a girl has killed herself! However, their complacency is interrupted by a phone call at the end of the play which announces the death of a girl and an Inspector coming to question them. Inspector Goole had previously told them that they would pay if they didn't learn their lesson and although the play ends ambiguously with this announcement, we get the sense that they will be made to pay for their actions.
  • Question 4

Some of the characters change their attitude to social responsibility when they learn about Eva's death.

 

Does Sheila accept responsibility?

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Sheila shows that she is more ope...
"But these girls aren't cheap lab...
Sheila shows immediate remorse fo...
"I'll never, never do it again to...
When Sheila learns of Eva's death...
"I've been so happy tonight. Oh I...
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Whilst Sheila initially shows a selfish attitude, the news of Eva's suicide is shown to really affect her. She's very upset and promises to change her ways. Indeed, Sheila is shown to have learnt her lesson when Gerald reveals that Inspector Goole wasn't real. Her attitude is juxtaposed against her parents when she emphasises that it doesn't matter whether the Inspector was real or not, someone still died. Priestley's intention was to show how it was the more open minded younger generation that had the capability to move society forward and strive for more social equality.
  • Question 5

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

 

In 1912, society was patriarchal - women were seen as inferior to men.

 

Edwardian lady

 

How does Priestley present the theme of gender in the play? Click on all accurate answers.

CORRECT ANSWER
Priestley highlights how marriage was a woman's means to wealth and status when she wasn't allowed to build her own career in 1912.
Priestley depicts the men looking down on the women in the family, considering them to only talk and think about superficial things such as clothes.
The way in which Mr Birling suggests that Sheila should not be privy to the Inspector's interrogation highlights the way in which women were seen as weak and inferior to men in 1912.
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to find three? Remember that during the Edwardian period when the play was set, 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 was sought in their choice of husband. 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! The way in which the men treat women in the play also highlights how the patriarchal society of 1912 viewed women. Women were viewed as weak and only capable of talking about superficial things as clothes and weren't involved in more serious and important conversations. More equality existed between men and women after the war so by depicting a return to these Edwardian values, Priestley warns what society could become again!
  • Question 6

Priestley explores the theme of gender.

 

While Priestley shows how women were viewed as inferior to men in 1912, he also shows how women are capable of much more.

CORRECT ANSWER
 "Why - you fool - he knows.""they suddenly decided to ask for more money.""The girl discovered that this money you were giving her was stolen didn't she?""her husband's social superior."
Sheila is presented as the most perceptive member of the family.
Eva is presented as a modern woman who is willing to fight for her rights.
Mrs Birling is presented higher in the social hierarchy than her husband.
Despite Eva struggling in poverty she maintains her set of morals.
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to match them all? Remember that by 1945/6 women had won the right to vote and after the war, were seen to fulfil more previously male dominated jobs. Although complete equality between men and women was still not achieved, it was much better than 1912 when the play was set. Priestley reminds women about how society used to be and warns of what it could return to! Even in this 1912 society, Priestley shows hints that women are more than they are allowed to be. Most importantly in this, Eva stands up for her rights and asks for higher wages showing her to be a modern woman, much like the suffragettes. In addition to this, Sheila is shown to be the most perceptive member of the family - she sees what the Inspector is doing before anyone else! Not so weak and incapable of talking about anything important afterall!
  • Question 7

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

 

The quotations below show the characters differences in their attitudes.

CORRECT ANSWER

Column A

Column B

Sheila
"You're pretending everything's j...
Eric
"And I say the girl's dead and we...
Mrs Birling
"I was perfectly justified in adv...
Mr Birling
"But I'd a special reason for not...
Gerald
"Everything's all right now"
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. Note however, that Gerald's attitude, although part of the younger generation here, is very similar to the Birlings. He's quick to find a way to shake off the blame! However, through Sheila and Eric, 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 8

Complete the quotation below that sums up Priestley's message about social responsibility.  Use your copy of the text to help you here.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
Did you manage to fill the blank? 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 the 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.
  • Question 9

What is the effect of the ambiguous ending on presenting the theme of morality and social responsibility?

 

 

CORRECT ANSWER
Priestley ends the play with another phone call about the arrival of an Inspector. Priestley shows how the family initially did not accept their responsibility and now have another chance to change their attitude. Priestley shows his audience that they need to decide whether they want to return to Edwardian values of 1912 or move towards a more socially equal society in 1945/6.
EDDIE SAYS
Whilst the second option may be true, the first explanation explains the effect of the ending more thoroughly. Priestley's use of an ambiguous open ending to the play gives the audience the power to decide what the future will hold. Do they want to return to the social and gender inequality of the capitalist Edwardian society or continue to pave the way forward to a more equal, liberal and socialist society in 1945/6?
  • Question 10

Now it is time to have a go at a mini-essay question to practise writing about themes in the play.

 

Remember to use quotations to support your points and try to link each of your ideas to the context in which Priestley was writing.

 

Task: Write about the ideas about responsibility in 'An Inspector Calls.'

 

Try to write 3 paragraphs.

CORRECT ANSWER
EDDIE SAYS
A paragraph might look something like this: Priestley explores the idea of responsibility through the younger generation in the play. Whilst Priestley highlights how the younger characters have affected the life of Eva Smith through their selfish attitudes, they show remorse for their actions. Although Sheila initially continues to show a selfish attitude and remains in denial with "I wish you hadn't told me", she is clearly upset and quickly tells the Inspector that she'll "never, never do it again to anybody". Sheila appears to have learnt her lesson and this is tested when Gerald reveals the Inspector is not real. Whereas her parents see this as their way out of the blame, Sheila is quick to recognise that nothing has changed and they all still have a responsibility. Sheila explains that the fact the Inspector was not real "doesn't make any real difference" and continues to accept her responsibility when she says "we drove that girl to commit suicide." Priestley's intention was to promote a socialist society where people valued the idea of a community that supported each other. Through the character of Sheila, whose attitude contrasts that of her parents, he shows that it is the younger generation who will pave the way forward for a more equal society.
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