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

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I need to write an essay on how Priestley presents the Inspector in An Inspector Calls, and I need some help in putting a structure together.

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J. B. Priestley's presentation of the Inspector shifts as the play progresses. At first, the audience, like the Birling family, assumes that he is simply who he says he is: a police inspector investigating a case. However, it becomes clear that the Inspector's focus is not exactly what one would expect of a policeman. He seems to be more concerned with moral responsibility than with legal culpability. Finally, by the time he is talking of the lesson of human brotherhood being taught "in fire and blood and anguish," he seems more like an oracle than a police Inspector.

When Mr. Birling discovers that there is no such officer as Inspector Goole in the local police force, he assumes that the Inspector is a vulgar fraud, or someone playing a very distasteful joke. The younger Birlings, however, along with the audience, realize that this cannot be the true explanation. When, at the very end of the play, it is revealed that the Inspector was speaking the truth after all, he comes to seem like a Messianic figure come to warn them to repentance.

I would therefore structure an essay on Priestley's presentation of the Inspector by beginning with our initial impression, based on Priestley's stage directions and the Inspector's opening lines. I would then note when and how our impressions change, based on what he says and does (and, in the final act, on outside information). For simplicity's sake, I would adopt the perspective of the audience, but you could also note when the family, or some members of the family, lag behind our understanding. You could then conclude with the way we all, including the audience, come to see the Inspector by the end of the play, together with the dramatic and moral impact of the shifts in presentation up to this point.

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