Preachy Priestley’s Inspector Calls Commits Seven Deadly Sins Against Literature

an inspector calls

I can’t say that I didn’t know this would be bad. I once helped someone get an A* on an essay, without having to read the play. The fact that it is that easy to get a good grade should tell you all you need to know about the “quality” of Inspector Calls… and yet some people still attest it’s a masterpiece. Well, sorry, the false niceties of Priestley’s garbage haven’t won me over. It’s crap. Let’s get into my (rather indolent) explanation as to why that is…

SLOTH- it’s lazily written. Merely a vehicle for Priestley’s sanctimonious preaching, this play is stagey, melodramatic and mindlessly bland. *Amazingly* all the characters sound the same and you’d never know who’s talking if you hadn’t been told. And by amazing, I mean it’s so shoddily written that none of the characters come across as remotely real. Everyone is a cardboard cut-out with as much personality as those Knight vs Peasant mock debates Tudors used to write to weigh up the pros and cons of Enclosure. Which nicely segues into hot take number two…

GLUTTONY- this is stuffed full of bad characters– chief among them is the Inspector, the titular character and the closest we get to the hero in the play. It is with the greatest irony, then, that this faceless imposter actually comes across as the villain. He reminded me distinctly of the bureaucrats in Kafka’s Trial and Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. He’s much like the KGB invading the home without due-process and demanding everyone kowtow to their demands. It’s not clear for most of the play whether the accused are guilty and frankly it doesn’t matter- this is not what amounts to a fair trial. Believe me, I get that this is supposed to be like the ghoul of past sins coming to visit, yet as a moral arbiter, matilda chocolate cake.gifthe Inspector looks rather sinister and ultimately reflects the fact that Priestley does not know what true justice looks like. Of course, in the true fashion of badly written propaganda, everyone in the cast conveniently fesses up to their alleged crimes. Never mind that this is wholly unrealistic. No, fans of the play tend to overlook this poor characterisation, because they are delivered their own preconceived ideas by the plateful.

PRIDE- in his arrogance, Priestley is really insulting to the working class. Again, fond as he is of the faceless entity, he tries to create sympathy through the “universal” entity Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/symbolic-poor-chick. In reality, this reduction dehumanises the working class, especially as he seems to be stating that the poor have no responsibility for their own actions, no agency of their own and thus every interaction with the rich must inevitably push them closer to offing themselves. Nice. Really progressive. Very “Thirteen Reasons Why” before it was cool. All the horror is placed at the Birling’s door, but Eva (knowingly) kills herself and her unborn child with her. But she’s totally sympathetic because you see poor people don’t have autonomy– gosh this is patronising bilge. Frankly, I find this uppity attitude insulting and out of touch, but what do I know? I’m poor 😉

LUST- Priestly is in love with the sound of his own voice. Moralising and moaning and beating you over the head with its message, Priestley is determined to bludgeon you into agreeing with him. What makes this THE PITS in terms of plot is that there’s no story here- beyond emphasis on causality, there’s nothing to it. The message isn’t even powerful, half of it is just “be nicer to each other” platitudes. You want a round of applause for that Priestley? Of course, there is a more sinister side to the argument…

ENVY- it is built on the politics of envy. The fact that this was first performed in the Soviet Union should give you some idea of its political leanings (yeah, I fact checked this several times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, this was first performed in 1945 in LENINGRAD). Not that it really bothers to explore left-wing ideas with any real depth or offer any real solutions- that would be a more challenging endeavour and as we’ve already established, Priestley was a lazy prat. Still, its origins are relevant. The resurgence of this play in the 1990s is credited as being because of its “universal” ideas reaching beyond the Soviet Union. Really, beyond telling you that people like vacuous banalities, it should tell you that not enough people bother to read Solzhenitsyn and have the memories of goldfish when it comes to the evils of communism. Heck, they don’t even like to look beyond their borders to Venezuela these days. It’s a shameful blight on our education system that this piece of propaganda is given the same amount of space on the exams as the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare, but ho hum, it’s easy and fun to indoctrinate kids. I don’t suppose it matters that…

WRATH it’s just blind rage, absentia any logic. While wildly aiming his fury at the “system”, Priestley’s drivel makes for pretty poor analysis. Literature should be endlessly complex not an algebraic formula of (the author’s) authoritative ideas. And yet, here’s a book asking to be solved in the simplest way. People somehow feel clever knowing exactly what Priestley intended them to know, like they’ve solved the world’s hardest puzzle- stressed monkey orangutan0002except this is a game designed for toddlers and you should feel a little ashamed if you’re patting yourself on the back for putting the round peg in the round hole. This is deliberately straightforward to trick you into thinking it’s clever (which is a stupid move, if you ask me). The only reason people like this is because of confirmation bias- not because it’s making any solid arguments. In my book, it barely makes the cut as literature, let alone a classic. The fact that it’s somehow managed to make it onto exams makes me wrathful.

GREED– it greedily steals one more twist… and ouch. It made me groan. The ending is a gimmick and used to disguise the fact you’ve been preached to- so I guess I’ve come full circle to the fact this is just not a very good play. Which leads me to do the stingiest thing of all with the rating and give it a banana peel:

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And that’s all for now! If you thought my analogies sucked, that’s cos my brains went on vacation after reading this trash. Have you had the misfortune to read this? Let me know in the comments!