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Representation Of Women In An Inspector Calls?
- Category Literature
- Subcategory Plays
- Topic An Inspector Calls
An Inspector Calls is a play written by English dramatist J.B.Priestley, the play is set in 1912 which talks about the controversies, and the political problems in that era like how women were treated poorly because of their gender or their class and how that era was the opposite from the expectations of people in 1945. This essay will discuss about the unfairness, harsh environment for women and how badly they were treated back in the days.
Priestley portrays women as useless objects to men that are used then thrown away. He also portrays how upper class women are treated differently from working class women, how working class women were always humiliated by everyone around them, Mr.Birling says ‘Giving us the port Edna, that’s right’, this shows how Edna is just a function to all the others and how she talked to was different from others. All of them were just toys in the eyes of men. This were the stereotypes in that era, that were attached to women back in those days. Throughout the play, women were portrayed in different ways from age, class and how they’re presented as very important throughout the act with life lessons and different messages. In the play, Priestley included a long range of female characters showing how he wanted to convey women from different social backgrounds.
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Priestley wanted to portray his ideas by using different characters to show this in the play. How Mr. Birling states that “She’d had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go” about Eva Smith. This suggests things such as freedom to speak wasn’t taken seriously when it came to women back in those days. Men thought it was something that wasn’t necessary for women. It is something that Priestley portrays the lack of importance given to women. This is shown in how the character of Edna speaks, “Yes, Ma’am” or when she talked to Birling about the inspector calling, “Please, sir, an inspector called”. The way that she talks was so different from others and how short it is, this shows even more about sexism, also her class and job in that era. How difficult it was for women to actually live and survive around that decade, like how Eva Smith got sacked by Mr Birling “She was one of my employees and then I discharged her”. This is because of his selfishness and his capitalist point of view “Well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down, and if I’d agreed to this demand for a new rate we’d have added about twelve per cent to our labour costs”, that he denied her request to raise the wages leading to a chain of events that leads to her death later on, this was how working class women were so mistreated back then. Then the way that she called Mr.Birling “Sir”, reminds us even more about how the classes were back then. In certain areas of the play Mr and Mrs.Birling devalues their own daughter’s freedom of speech by “cutting in” when Sheila is trying to make a point. Mr. Birling shows that he does not think Sheila as capable to handle the inspector and wants to try and “settle it sensibly for you ” which he does not offer to do for Gerald or Eric. “I thought it would do us all a bit of good if we tried to put ourselves in the place of these young women”, this quote portrays that if the audience try and understand women they will understand the difficulty that they have to fight through everyday in their lives. The way Priestley uses different ways to portray women, gives us a better look about how women were treated badly, differently, because of their social class and gender.
Women in An Inspector Calls are presented and seen as objects. Mr Birling says “Giving us the port Edna, that’s right”. This represents the invisible working class and how she is only seen like just a thing in the house that serves its owner and the way she is talked to is different from others. Mr Birling says “your engagement to Sheila means a tremendous lot to me”, as like he is looking forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together. This suggest Sheila’s engagement is actually a business opportunity, rather than a formal agreement to get married. “Just used her”, “As if she was an animal”, was what the Inspector said about Eva Smith. Also she was also described as “young, fresh and charming” by Gerald. This implies that, for them, she was just someone they could amuse with until they can decide whether they still care for the relationship. Gerald gave her shelter then looked after her which shows that he knew she was vulnerable and that she was in need of help, however soon after that he just abandoned her. This shows us how powerful men were in women’s lives regardless of their class. This is another thing that shows us the theme of sexism and how it is presented by the author.
During the play, women are seen as weak, powerless and having no value. Eva Smith is described as “Pretty” and “Good-looking”. Although these are compliments, their memories of her are filled with her physical appearance. During the Edwardian era, women had little to no ways to prove themselves, other than looking good, and making their husbands happy. Gerald said “Miss Birling ought to be excused anymore of this questioning”, as he didn’t do this just to cover up his affair but also women are seen as weaker species to begin with. Also, when Sheila wanted to stay in the room, Gerald said “Why should you? It’s bound to be unpleasant and disturbing”, this phrase made us questioning whether he wanted to protect Sheila or just wanted her out of the room. Mr Birling sees Eva as just one of “several hundred young women” who worked at his factory and nothing more than just a worker who had no value. By saying “they keep changing” he shows the audience that he didn’t even care if he dismissed Eva as she was just cheap labour to him. Therefore, by the victim of the play being a working class female, Priestley highlights the vulnerability of women in those times, something that was socially acceptable.
However, sometimes in the play, women rise up to the level of power equal to the power of the male characters.. The first time the readers see the peak of power is when Sheila said “Don’t interfere please, father” to cut Mr.Birling off mid-sentenced. This shows how brave and strong Sheila is, to even have the guts talking back to her father, even shutting him off in the middle of his speech like that. When the Inspector left, she took over his role , as the voice of the author. She had the authority over all the characters, “Don’t you see?”, “They don’t seem to understand”. She had a point, and people were taking it in, instead of rejecting it, like how all women back in the day were treated. She was defending Eva Smith, fighting against her family and their idea of capitalism and even sexism in some way. How she stood up to protect someone in a lower class. Eva Smith was the one who represented the whole working class with the Inspector saying “Millions and millions of Eva Smith”. She was abused, looked down on, disrespected and not cared for. The theme of responsibility is emphasised when Sheila stood up for a powerless women like her against the harsh society with the idea of capitalism.
In conclusion, women are portrayed not only as emotional but also as very strong, independent and proud of their gender. The play showed the reader that women rely heavily on age, class and look to survive the cruel society back then.
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Example Essay on Geneder Inequality in An Inspector Calls
Here’s an example essay on gender inequality in Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls. It is a 29/30 A*/L9 essay, written by a student. It tackles important topics such as gender inequality, sexual harassment, and objectifying women that were present in Edwardian society.
How does Priestley show his idea about gender inequality in ‘An Inspector Calls’?
Priestley shows the idea of gender discrimination by suggesting the varied expectations and stereotypes of males and females in 1912 and how they contrast each other. He achieved this by describing men as charming and patriarchal, yet women as reckless and inessential.
This is demonstrated through the hypocrisy between Eva and Gerald in the opening scene. The stage directions suggest that Gerald is a ‘well-bred young man-about-town’, yet Eva is described as ‘cheap labour’ and frequently objectified by men of a higher class than her. The double standards suggest how an Edwardian society perceived men being considered ‘well-known’ by the towns folk an achievement and something to be applauded for, yet for women, it immediately made them victims of abuse and manipulation. Priestley demonstrates the hypocrisy when Gerald exclaimed ‘I didn’t install her there to make love to her!’ Gerald is objectifying Eva, suggesting how he believes she is worthless and his to deceive. The verb ‘install’ portrays his sexist views on women as he describes her as an accessory to his fortune, hence explaining why he deems it acceptable as he sees himself as the ‘fairy prince’ who is rescuing a vulnerable woman ‘allowing’ her to seek refuge in his company. Priestley may have done this, as a 1945 audience may have argued that Gerald had in fact aided Eva and provided her with life’s basic necessities. However, Priestley may have wanted to suggest how Gerald had an ulterior motive and may have wanted to take advantage of her vulnerability.
Staging and Performance in An Inspector Calls Explained
The inequality is further demonstrated when the Inspector discovers that Eric had forced himself upon Eva. This revelation examines the danger of inequality. Eric, as a wealthy, upper-class man is very privileged and fortunate, yet he abused this gift by behaving recklessly when he took advantage of Eva. Eric describes himself as ‘being in that state where a chap can easily turn nasty’ when he committed the crime. Much like Gerald, Eric is trying to persuade an audience that his behaviour was justified as he ‘couldn’t remember her name’ the morning after the incident and therefore believed it would have meant as little to her as it did to him, further supporting Priestley’s idea that gender prejudice was a signified issue in 1912. In addition to this, Eva may have been ‘driven to suicide’ by the internalised pain and uselessness she felt. She was a working-class, poor woman who had little to her name and stood very little chance of winning a court case against her offenders. This may have antagonised her situation, as very few people were likely to believe any accusation made by a woman was true, reinforcing how Priestley demonstrates gender discrimination, showing how Gerald objectified and charmed Eva, yet Eric took his actions further and harassed her, showing the dangers of discrimination. The author may have done this to portray to a 1945 audience how Eva had no one to go to and no one to help, possibly explaining why she believed death was the preferred option to living.
However, to juxtapose my previous points Sybil Birling gives an audience a different perspective on gender discrimination. She is socially superior to her husband and consequently appears very matriarchal in her own ‘bubble’. She is manipulative and patronising, infantilizing her family in phrases such as ‘Now Arthur, I don’t think you ought to talk business.’ Or ‘Eric!’ The use of exclamatives suggests the urgency in her tone and how she is disciplining Eric as if he is a child, despite his current age. She also expresses hubris by asking the Inspector ‘What business’ it is of his to be concerned with how she treated Eva when she came to her charity posing as Mrs Birling. Priestley could have subverted the typical gender expectations of a woman in the Edwardian era to purposefully present to an audience how women can also be merciless and cold, but also the advantage of the less fortunate, like Sybil did when she denied Eva help. This may make an audience question whether gender discrimination is the most important theme in ‘An Inspector Calls’ or class division is.
In conclusion, I believe that Priestley demonstrates gender inequality to show there was a need for change, and how WWII brought that. It meant that women were no longer considered a trophy or a housewife, but as valuable citizens who fought for Britain just as well as the men did.
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An Inspector Calls: How does Priestly present ideas about gender in ‘An Inspector Calls’?
Ideas about gender are very persistent throughout the course of ‘An Inspector Calls’. Priestley believed that, at the time, women were seen as second class citizens and he disagreed with this biased and unfair treatment of women.
A character who suffers harshly at the hands of sexism is the character of Eva Smith, a lower-class girl. Throughout the play men use their status to abuse Eva Smith in ways that they see acceptable. For example, in Act 2; when Gerald explains to the Inspector how he met Eva Smith (named Daisy Renton at this point) he says “Old Joe Meggarty… had wedged her into a corner”. This shows how an upper-class man was able to take advantage of the lower-class women. Priestley criticizes this behaviour and by the use of “old” implies that this is outdated or a traditionalist view, which he opposed. Also, the use of “wedged” conveys that Eva Smith does not want to be there and that she had no choice in being there. This reflects Priestley’s abhor of this treatment of women as it goes against their own personal interests. Alternatively, the use of “wedged” and a speech made by the Inspector at the end of the play, “that lesson will be learnt in fire and blood and anguish”, suggests that Priestly feels, or is even trying to encourage, that women rise up against their injustice, which is an example of dramatic irony as, in the 20 th century, women name suffragettes fought for the rights of women.
Another way that Priestly presents ideas about gender is through the anecdote that Sheila Birling tells in Act 1. She explains that she had Eva Smith fired from Milwards as she had looked better in a dress than Sheila had; “you might be said to have been jealous of her.” First of all, this shows Priestley’s belief that the upper-class were no different from the lower-class, as both seem as emotionally torn as the other (though at the time the upper-class would have denied as their status was what made them look good), which could have extended to how Priestly felt about gender, that men and women were no different from each other. As stated in the above brackets, the upper class wanted to look splendid in the eyes of others. However, during the 1900’s, women were seen as the possessions of men, which is highlighted by the fact that Sheila went to Millwards’; she even mentions to Gerald that it was “for his benefit” which tells us that she was only there to look nice for Gerald, which he is pleased by: “Good!” This shows Priestley’s distaste for the objectification of women during the 1900’s; he believed, and shows in the play, that this treatment of women leads to pathetic and “jealous” behaviour that will always leave a woman who is emotionally damaged, as implied by Sheila’s “jealousy” of Eva Smith, and physically damaged, as in the case of Eva Smith, who we know is supposed to have killed herself at the end of the play.
Finally, at the time that ‘An Inspector Calls’ is set, women were expected to have children at to look after them. This idea about the roles of women is put into conflict at the very end of the play. Eric tells us that “She thought she was going to have a baby,” which immediately places Eva Smith into what was expected of her at the time, however, she was not married and would therefore have been shunned by others, especially those of the upper-class (which was one of the reasons why Priestly was spiteful towards them). However, the fact that Eva Smith was expecting a child would have agreed with the audience at the time, who believed that that was the role of a woman. However, when we discover that Eva Smith, or a girl, has “just died in the infirmary” this destroys this view that women were responsible for looking after the child, which would have outraged the audience at the time. Priestly believed that it was unfair that people believed that women were solely responsible for the child: Mrs Birling even states “the father, of course” when asked who was responsible for Eva Smith’s death. This illustrates Priestley’s view that men were not as important as they believed (he even criticizes them by having Eric, the father, as a drunk, “he’s squiffy”, which highlights his own weakness) and that they also had a responsibility to bring up their children, whether in the upper or lower-class, which he tried to destroy the barrier between by writing ‘An Inspector calls’.
As we can see, Priestley was a socialist who believed in equality for all. At the time, women were seen as second class citizens and they had little say on how their lives were led. Priestley challenged this view by creating stark contrasts between the views of people at the time and the events that befalls the characters in the play; an example being Eva Smith, who would have been expected to look after the child, failed by killing herself and the child along with her.
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Of all the themes in an inspector calls, gender is the one that lends itself best to remembering that we read this play from three different time zones: 1912, 1945 and 2020., so when writing about gender in this play remember this:, the play is set in 1912 - before women even had the vote, it was written for an audience in 1945 - when women were an emerging social force, but you are reading it in 2020, during the fourth wave of feminism , and post #metoo, with this, however, it's also worth remembering that context - which is writing about 1912, 1945 or 2020 - is only worth 6 out of 30 marks, so be interested but don't dwell on it....
Women in 1912 - When the play was set
Women hadn't yet won the vote - that came in 1918. upper class women were expected to be docile, pretty and focused on the domestic environment. they should be good, loyal wives, and although rich women would mostly have had nannies to look after their children, the nannies would all be women as well., mrs birling is an interesting character as the stage directions note that she is her husband's " social superior ." this suggests that she was from an aristocratic background, but married below her, as birling owned a business and had the wealth. this wasn't unusual as the industrial revolution had seen a lot of ambitious people from lower classes become wealthy. often men who had become wealthy desired a wife of a higher class in an attempt to climb the social ladder themselves. despite being of a higher social class, mrs birling is often submissive to her husband's wishes - as would have been expected of her in 1912., sheila's reaction to eva is also telling. women have almost always been judged on their looks - the battle to change this continues today. and sheila's reaction to eva's prettiness - the fact that eva looked better that her in a dress that sheila liked - is complicated. she shouldn't have had eva sacked for laughing, but sheila also shouldn't have felt so dismayed that she wasn't as pretty as eva. in some ways, we should feel some sympathy for sheila who - for no fault of her own - was made to feel bad because of her face or body shape., we should also remember that, at the opening of the play, sheila is being married off to gerald so that her father can unify their business interests and achieve " lower wages and higher prices ." this wasn't dissimilar to the way that aristocratic families had used marriage as a way to bring families together for hundreds of years. sheila's role, in this respect, is just to look pretty and do as she's told., gerald and eric's trips to the palace bar reveal that although sexuality was still very repressed in british life, it had a seedy underbelly. the bar itself - which is ironically named - was where rich men would have gone to find the kind of women they could pay to have sex with. at the time prostitution was illegal - which meant a woman could be put in prison if she was caught trying to sell sex - so there was an illusion of seduction that would have taken place before any cash was exchanged. what gerald does, really, is maintain a sense that he's not paying for a prostitute when in fact he was. in many ways, eric's rape was a more honest expression of what was happening., really though, what was happening was that people like george birling were driving women into poverty so that their sons could take advantage of them when they were at their lowest. the system was setup so that women would fail, and they could then be used for their most fundamental commodity: sex., women in 1945 - when the play was written, during world war i, a third of male population of the uk went to fight. and over 700,000 of them never returned home. as a result, women had to step up to the plate and be counted - a task that women fulfilled. world war ii killed almost 900,000 men, and because that conflict was so much more complex the roles that women played were infinitely more involved. women became spies, data analysts, armaments manufacturers, farmers, code crackers and did - as with the men - anything that was asked of them to bring down the nazis., the world for women after the two world wars was a very different place., despite this, there would have been a certain number of voices who wanted to return to the 'good old days,' and priestley was determined that this shouldn't happen. throughout the play, he reminds the female members of the audience that they had been belittled and downtrodden prior to the wars, and through the character of sheila he shows that another world was possible., though eric does change, he lives in his sister's shadow. throughout the play sheila goes from being a kowtowed young woman who has to check " is this the ring you wanted me to have " and into a strong, wilful young woman who is prepared to call her parents the children, and - although she's very polite about it - return the ring her cheating finance had offered again., also, i can't help but feel that the women in the audience would have felt a real sense of camaraderie with eva - the voiceless, faceless girl who suffered immeasurably at the hands of the men around her. both wars were, after all, started and fought by men..., women in 2021 - context means today as well, feminism has come a long way since 1945 - first, second, third and fourth wave feminism have chipped away relentlessly and seen to it that young women today don't look at themselves in the same way they once did. however, the play itself is a relic of its time and while writing an essay about it you are encouraged to bring your own feelings to bear. here's a couple of notes that might be worth mentioning..., eva is called " pretty " 12 times in the play - that's four times in each act. so please remember that eva's tragic death was not heightened or lessened by how "pretty" she was. her good looks have no relevance to how sad we should feel. even the inspector calls her pretty repeatedly, and because he speaks with priestley's voice (and he never corrects this message,) we have to take away the idea that priestley somehow thought her good looks were relevant when they're not. it's as sad when pretty people die as it is when ugly people do - and beauty is in the eye of the beholder anyway., it's also worth noting that the inspector (priestley) claims that eva - who had previously been starving - would have been happy working at milwards as she was " amongst the pretty clothes ." here, the inspector doesn't say that she was happy eating, or happy with the security of a home, or happy being able to see a future again but she was happy with "pretty clothes." is this an example of the inspector (priestley) belittling a women by presuming that she was happier with pretty clothes than she was by securing something more meaningful - like food, towards the end of the play sheila observes that gerald "came out of it better than the rest of us. the inspector said that." but take a moment to reflect on the fact that gerald took a girl who was starving and then "kept" her until he was finished and then kicked her out and ask yourselves whether or not you feel that behaviour makes him "better than the rest of us.", sheila does return the ring, very politely. arguably, however, she should have thrown it in his face and then had a strong word with both her parents about why they suddenly decided it was ok to marry their daughter off to a cheat and a liar, just because they wanted to further their business interests., please note : all of the above are, arguably, true - in that we can see the truth of them today. however, the play is a relic of its time and you should write your essays with an understanding of how it was written in 1945, with an attempt to present 1912, but you're reading it in 2020. times change, texts don't. they can only ever reflect the time they were from and your writing should show you understand this., key quotes and references, mrs birling: when you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. you’ll have to get used to that, just as i had. mrs birling reminds sheila of her place. as a quote this emphasises just how engrained the patriarchy was (the patriarchy is the social system that kept men in power) because in it we can see mrs birling almost teaching her daughter that she will have to accept being ignored in favour of business. however, at the end of the quote mrs birling does express some dissatisfaction, admitting that she had to "get used" to it, something which at least makes it clear that she didn't like the situation. the quote also, however, reminds us how hard men like birling had to work in order to build and maintain their businesses, suggesting that the system didn't entirely help them either., (half serious, half playful) “yes – except for last summer, when you never came near me” –sheila (act 1), suggesting that she doesn’t fully trust gerald , despite the fact that they’re going to be married soon, but again shows how she is childish, and relatively light-hearted, as she is still ‘half playful’ even in something which could be seen as quite serious., oh – gerald – you’ve got it – is it the one you wanted me to have, when sheila is given the ring, she asks gerald if it’s the one “you wanted me to have.” here, she completely removes the idea that she might have feelings about which ring she gets. this reflects both her position as a woman in a patriarchal society, and how, as a young girl, she still needs to have decisions made for her. it’s as if she wants to please other people so much that her own opinions don’t matter – this will change once her conscience is awakened by the arrival of the inspector., “these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.” – sheila (act 1), priestly using sheila as his mouthpiece, in place of the inspector, and also highlighting the division between the generations further, and the moral aptitude of sheila. this shows that sheila is learning. she won’t see sheila in terms that are limited to her material worth to the company, but she sees them as people., mr birling: clothes mean something quite different to a woman…a sort of sign or token of their self-respect. the inspector: she enjoyed being among pretty clothes, i've no doubt., the first line here comes from mr birling in act 1, and as such is one that we are encouraged to mock - this is a man who thought the titanic was a great idea after-all. however, the inspector supports it later in the play when talking about sheila working in milwards suggesting that there is something more complex going on. does priestley think women are defined by their clothes, or is birling observing another kind of communication that exists amongst women as an attitude in the play, it's one that you're encouraged to have your own opinion on., gerald: eva was " young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful. ", gerald describes eva in a manner that would leave some members of the audience a little uncomfortable. the first half of this quote is supposed to show eva in a positive light (though her tragedy was still tragic even if she was old, ugly and a bit sour) but the second half of it is quite shocking. of course she was grateful, gerald... she was starving and you fed her, used her, and then dropped her when you were done., inspector: and you think young women ought to be protected against unpleasant and disturbing things, gerald asks that sheila be allowed to leave the room, to protect her fragile female sensibilities, but the inspector challenges him. if gerald really believed women should be protected, why did he not offer the same treatment to eva why was this poor working class woman treated as badly as she was by a society that also treated upper class women as though they were too fragile to leave the house here, the inspector reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the patriarchal behaviour of upper class men., “ women of the town” – mrs birling (act 2), mrs birling is using a euphemism here to talk about prostitutes. her shock shows just how little she understands about her son or gerald; and how little she understands about working class life in general . this is especially telling in mrs birling as she runs the charitable institute. we have to ask why a woman who holds the views she does would run an institute for desperate women, if not solely to wallow in the power it gives her., “you and i aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here.” –sheila (act 2), again showing how she has matured enough to recognise that she has matured, and that both of the characters present have undergone great change (sheila and gerald), due to their confessions of involvement with eva smith, and this also shows how sheila has become rather perceptive over this play. h e re, because this follows her returning gerald's ring, it emphasises just how much she has grown as a person and as a woman. she now wants a little more from her life - in the same way that the women of 1945 were being encouraged to ask for a little more from theirs too, eric: i wasn’t in love with her or anything – but i liked her – she was pretty and a good sport, eric's description of his feelings for eva speaks volumes. he didn't love her but he wanted to marry her which shows a deep misunderstanding of the nature of relationships and love, and emphasises his immaturity. while the fact she's described as "a good sport" after presumably responding to his having raped her with a stiff upper lip, shows a quite staggering level of insensitivity. she's also called "pretty" again., “everything’s all right now, sheila” – gerald (act 3), he’s reverted back to his former patronising tone with sheila – so long as he wasn’t to blame for any suicides, he’s happy. gerald goes on to find out that inspector goole isn’t even part of the police force, and that eva smith/daisy renton doesn’t exist and seems more at ease than before, and doesn’t seem ‘shaken’ at all by the events that had taken place, and he seems to form an ‘alliance’ with the older birlings, by confirming the inspector wasn’t real, and shows that he was unable to change. over the course of the play, he changed to a more moral and humanistic person, but changed back to his former self, at the very chance of possibly being let off this crime. though it shows he expresses regret if it did happen, it shows that he doesn’t care if he wasn’t involved. in a nutshell: he thinks he got away with it, so he’s happy now., mrs birling: now just be quiet so your father can decide what to do, though she is her husbands "social superior" mrs birling knows her place. she leaves the room so the men can talk business as soon as dinner is over, and at the end of the play - in the quote above - she makes it clear whose responsibility it is to make the really tough decisions in their relationship..