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An Inspector Calls - Themes

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at themes in An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley.

Theme in a work of literature is shown through multiple means. Often a theme is like a thread linking together dialogue, setting, characters and plot. Sometimes the theme will appear as a topic which arises several times during a novel or play. Perhaps it will be an issue which causes argument and disagreement among the characters. Sometimes a theme will be only subtly suggested through choice of vocabulary, as a collection of related words used by a particular character or in the narration.

Although theme is expressed through the text, it is not contained there. Theme is also how the author communicates with the reader, asking the reader to think about his or her own ideas and beliefs.

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Readers engage with the text through reflecting on the themes, even subconsciously. If a text, or one of its characters, evokes an emotion, it is often through the author’s creation of psychological conflict in the exploration of a theme or themes.

An Inspector Calls deals with themes of class, social change, workers’ rights, responsibility, gender and generational differences. Each of the themes is interrelated, building a complex web of meaning in the play. For each character is defined by his or her class, attitude to society, belief (or not) in workers’ rights — and the ability to affect these, by gender and by age. Their differences appear in their conversations with each other and with the Inspector and also determine their openness to the truths about themselves and their behaviour exposed by his interrogation.

Read the questions below and test your knowledge of the themes of An Inspector Calls.

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  1. How does Eva's gender contribute to her troubled life?
    Being refused charity during her pregnancy is presented by the Inspector as the final humiliation pushing Eva towards suicide
  2. Why are Gerald and Eric both able to treat Eva Smith as disposable?
    Although each man claims to have cared for Eva (or 'Daisy'), they both believed her difficulties could easily be solved with occasional gifts of money
  3. Eric Birling is a disappointment to his family. His drinking and disreputable behaviour invites his family to lecture him frequently on which of the following themes?
    Eric is expected to take over the family business and to hold the same values as his father
  4. What is suggested by the Inspector's statement, 'And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish'?
    The Inspector states that all human beings are responsible for one another, not merely for those who are most similar or familiar, and that this truth is so powerful that a failure to learn the lesson willingly will result in learning it through the most unpleasant circumstances. His language evokes images of revolution as well as Biblical ideas of judgement
  5. Sheila's involvement in Eva's fate is NOT due to which of the following:
    Sheila threatens to stop shopping at Milwards and to persuade her mother to do the same unless they get rid of Eva
  6. Mrs Birling's treatment of Eva Smith is expressive of which themes in the text?
    Mrs Birling refers to Eva Smith as 'impertinent' and a 'girl of that sort' (i.e. Eva is shameless and does not know her place in society). When Eva Smith seeks financial help from Mrs Birling's committee, Mrs Birling insists that the father of Eva's unborn child should take responsibility for his own actions and she therefore refuses to help
  7. Which of the following events is related to workers' rights?
    Eva loses her job for being considered a ringleader, or 'leading operator' in Mr Birling's words, in the strike for higher wages
  8. Which of the following best demonstrates the relationship between wealth and class in the play?
    Mrs Birling is of a higher social class and considers herself superior to her husband. Although very successful financially, Mr Birling exhibits anxiety at Gerald's greater social standing and the implications of Sheila's marriage into the Croft family. Possession of wealth does not guarantee acceptance by those of a higher class
  9. Eva Smith's death is caused by ...
    Class, gender and the lack of protection for workers each contribute to Eva's death
  10. In the final act, Eric and Sheila are deeply dissatisfied with the willingness of their parents to continue with their lives as if nothing has changed. Their dissatisfaction is most closely related to which of the following themes?
    J. B. Priestley holds out the hope of change if younger generations abandon the deeply-held prejudices with which they have been raised

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