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.