An Inspector Calls Questions and Answers
by J. B. Priestley

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How is socialism represented in J. B. Priestley's play "An Inspector Calls" ?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Socialism is presented by Priestley as more of a moral imperative than an economic rival to capitalism. In An Inspector Calls Priestley allegorizes what he sees as the morally destructive impact of unrestricted capitalism on people's lives. And that doesn't just mean those at the bottom of society like Eva Smith, but also the wealthy social elite such as the Birlings. Their souls have been completely corrupted by capitalism, and it takes the supposedly more humane spirit of socialism—as personified by Inspector Goole—to force the Birlings to face up to the reality of their moral bankruptcy.

Inspector Goole's lugubrious presence is intended to act as a reminder of the moral transformation that Priestley believes will come to Britain in due course. In advance of the impending arrival of socialism, those who have derived the most benefit from the capitalist system must examine their consciences and at least reflect on how they must change their ways in adapting to a new, more communitarian system.

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parkerlee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Do you mean as an institution or as a philosophy?  If you mean the latter, the inspector himself represents socialism (or rather its values) by knocking on the Birlings' door and asking for a personal reckoning of each person's dealings with the suicide victim in question (a poor, bewildered, and abandoned pregnant girl who kills herself by swallowing poison). The moral "in a nutshell" is that as members of society, we are all implicated and we are all responsible for the down-and-outers living on the fringe of our material world.

Socialism as an institution is not really represented since it is the capitalistic system that the author is criticizing.

Priestley's silver spoon preoccupation with the plight of the poor are reminiscent of Charles Dickens,  Bernard Shaw and George Orwell (Eric Blair), all disgruntled with the inegality of wealth distribution and more particularly, with the flagrant disparity between word and deed of the social "do-gooders" of their times.

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