In An Inspector Calls, what is Inspector Goole asking the Birlings, Gerald Croft and the audience to consider?
Inspector Goole neatly sums up what his expectations are for his immediate audience (the Birlings and Gerald Croft) and for us, the readers or theatre audience, by saying the following before his departure in the final act:
One Eva Smith has gone—but there are 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, with what we think and say and do. We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. We don't live alone.
The inspector uses Eva Smith's unfortunate and horrendous demise as an example of what happens if we do not care about others and selfishly and carelessly consider only our own wants, needs, and comfort. In his interrogation of, and confrontation with, each of the characters throughout the play, he has illustrated most aptly how each one of them had a hand in Eva Smith's death. Their lack of care or empathy for the poor woman's situation caused them to exploit, abuse and abandon her, all because they were driven by greed, arrogance and an "I come first" perception.
The inspector makes it pertinently clear that we all are indivisible parts of the same society. We share a common bond and thus have not only a relationship with each other but also a responsibility toward one another. We therefore have an implicit duty to act for the good of all concerned. Our failure to recognise this is not just a failure for ourselves as individuals but for the whole of society. The implication is that we share a symbiotic relationship—what is good for the one is good for all, and in contrast, what is bad for one is bad for everyone else. Our lives are intertwined and our thoughts, words, and actions affect others directly or indirectly.
The inspector warns that, if we should ignore our social responsibility in this regard, we will have to face the terrible consequences of our carelessness, for we will be taught a most terrible lesson. Our ignorance and our selfishness will make us pay a heavy price, 'in fire and blood and anguish.' It is therefore imperative that we always consider our place in the world and what our duties are.
The inspector's dramatic denouement foreshadows the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and as well as the Second World War in 1939. The lack of care and the desire for power were the overriding themes of both these wars, precisely the ills of society the inspector so desperately warned against. The warning is still relevant today, and the question is, 'Have we learnt from our mistakes?'
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