In ‘An Inspector Calls’, the Birlings are portrayed as a family of wealth and power. Mr. Birling is a successful businessman, and lives in a nice, possibly large house, with a maid, and likely other servants too. Priestley uses this setting and stage set up in his stage directions to indicate that the Birlings are quite wealthy.
This is indicated by the stage directions, “… a fairly large suburban house, belonging to a prosperous manufacturer.”
Money is indeed central to the play’s themes and ideas. This is shown by the luxurious and wealthy lifestyle of the Birlings compared to the sufferings of Eva Smith due to financial problems. Throughout the Inspector’s interrogation, it is found out that several of the Birlings have used their power, wealth, and influence immorally, to disempower and worsen the position of a lower class girl.
In this play, J.B Priestley uses the division of classes in his character focus, to emphasize the significance of money/wealth. Mr. Birling used his power to sack Eva Smith from his factory just because she wanted increased wages. Furthermore, Sheila, being in a bad mood, used her social status and family’s reputation to get Eva fired from Milward’s.
Moreover, Mrs. Birling used her influence in the Charity Organization to deny financial aid to the girl. This is proven by Mrs. Birling herself when she said, “I wasn’t satisfied … so I used my influence to have it refused.” Thus showing that both Mrs. Birling and Sheila acted upon class supremacy in harming the girl. Whereas Mr. Birling, on the other hand, acted upon selfish, capitalist motivations.
Consequently, J.B Priestley wanted his audience of the 1940’s – specifically the upper-class people, since they were mostly the ones who watched the plays – to realize how their wealth and power affect the people from lower classes, and that they shouldn’t use their power immorally to harm others.
Additionally, for the modern-day audience, it should be remembered that with money comes responsibility, and wealthy, powerful people shouldn’t use their influence to do any harm.