In An Inspector Calls what is the Inspector referring to when he talks about "fire and blood and anguish"? What does he mean?

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The Inspector's words are not just aimed at the Birlings; they're also aimed at the audience and, even more generally, at humanity as a whole. In keeping with Priestley's socialistic message, the Inspector is enjoining everyone to take collective responsibility for what happens in society, especially to its weaker members,...

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The Inspector's words are not just aimed at the Birlings; they're also aimed at the audience and, even more generally, at humanity as a whole. In keeping with Priestley's socialistic message, the Inspector is enjoining everyone to take collective responsibility for what happens in society, especially to its weaker members, as symbolized in the play by Eva Smith.

If the Inspector's solemn warning isn't heeded, however, then the consequences will potentially be catastrophic. "Fire, blood, and anguish" are precisely what we would expect to encounter in a war. The play itself is set not long before the outbreak of World War I and was written and performed in the aftermath of World War II. Priestley uses the Inspector's warning to remind us of what can happen if society's numerous tensions and inequalities aren't properly addressed. They can lead not just to the horrors of worldwide conflict but also to violent revolution, such as which happened in Russia in 1917.

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The triplet 'fire and blood and anguish' are the Inspector's final words before saying 'Goodnight'. They are part of a speech in the style of a sermon, his final attempt to get all the Birlings to accept the lesson that, 'We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.' The upper class Birlings have not observed this lesson in their dealings with the working class Eva Smith; they have not acted responsibly to their fellow human being, for example making her redundant or denying her financial aid without any concern for her future.

The conclusion of this sermon is 'if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish'. This is a reference to War for two reasons: firstly, because the individual words of the triplet make us think of hell, bloodshed and sorrow for loss of life which together define War. 

The second reason is to do with Time. The play is set in 1912 with Mr Birlings complacently of the opinion that there is no possibility of war.The First World War broke out in 1914. Also the play was first performed in 1946 just after World War 2 had finished. Priestley is telling the audience they mustn't be complacent: there will always be wars until we learn to live together as one.

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