Close reading: ‘An Inspector Calls’ (#LivesIntertwined pt. 2)

Until my post last week about Mrs Birling, I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed writing about An Inspector Calls. There’s a reason why I’ve taught it to class after class for a decade now: it’s a simply fantastic play that invites endless discussion and analysis, and I get something new from it every time I read the text or see it in performance.

Although the plot is rooted firmly in the social politics of the early twentieth century, its themes are timeless. Indeed, Priestley’s message of social responsibility feels more and more relevant with every passing year that sees the gap widen between the very rich and the very poor. The characters, too, have a transcendent appeal that belies their origins as broad caricatures from almost a century ago. It will always be tremendous fun to mock, for example, Mr Birling’s misplaced confidence or Sheila’s comical naivety, but Priestley’s art is to imbue even the most loathsome of characters with surprising depth and humanity through which we may feel a degree of compassion for them even as we condemn their actions.

For all of these reasons and more, then, I want to spend a bit more time appreciating An Inspector Calls. As such, I’m following the example set by Hester Lee-Jeffries’ #SlowShakespeare project, and over the next few weeks couple of months however long it takes I’ll be conducting a leisurely, mindful study of An Inspector Calls from start to finish. Because the play is a perennial GCSE English Literature text my close readings might eventually be useful for students or first-time teachers, but for now I’ll be doing this mainly for fun (I’m weird like that). Instead of meticulously-referenced academic essays, this running commentary will consist of shorter and more personal observations that appreciate moments of language, structure, character and theme as they arise.

So: with the stage set and introductions out of the way, pull up your most heavily comfortable chair, pour yourself a glass of brandy (but don’t get squiffy) and relax in the pink and intimate lighting (enjoy it while you can). A police inspector is on his way here to ask some questions…

Image credit: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre (

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