An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley

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Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

J. B. Priestley once said that, as a dramatist, “I owe much to the influence of Chekhov.” He came to maturity during World War I, and his vision of the bourgeois family was shaped by the incisive topical realism of the plays and short stories of Russian writer Anton Chekhov. In An Inspector Calls, the audience is made more aware of the family’s weaknesses than of its strengths, as the foundation of modern society. However, the play is marked by a hortatory tone that is generally absent in the more subtle Chekhov. Still, it is a work of solid theatricality and has proved very popular in many countries since its first production.

The play has, perhaps, three main themes. First, it points to the need for each human being to accept his or her moral responsibility for the welfare of others, especially of those who are less privileged. Second, it explores the various kinds of evasion of which humans are capable—through indifference or rationalization—when they try to avoid this responsibility. Finally, it shows through a conflict of generations that young people are at least more conscious than their elders of the importance of altruistic belief and behavior.

(The entire section is 397 words.)