English Literature

‘An Inspector Calls’: Names as Memory Anchors

There has been lots of chatter and tweeting about students memorising quotations and contextual information for the new 100% closed book exams. It is a challenge to ask students to go away and memorise quotations and context, because this takes commitment and time which not all students have or are prepared to give up, unfortunately. To support their memory of concepts and ideas, in each lesson it’s important to consider three things:

  • When did they last cover the topic/concept?
  • How many times have they revised it?
  • What kind of impact did it have?

Rather than just sharing the expectation that students need to remember facts and information, I try to ensure they interact with these elements in exciting and varied ways each lesson – varied is important so that it does not get repetitive. One way that I have found is successful in the classroom, is anchoring quotations and context to the names in the texts. Here are some of the key interpretations I’ve used for Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’.

Inspector Goole

Probably one of the most obvious associations we have with the name ‘Goole’ is a ghost or a ghoul. Could he perhaps instead be an angel sent from God to deliver Priestley’s Christian message of responsibility? Before the end of World War 2, Priestley was shutterstock_46561894.jpgprobably the BBC’s most vociferous voice of war and he often reminded society that God was on Britain’s side. Churchill, despite his ropy reputation with the church, relied heavily on religious rhetoric in his speeches. In his first speech to the Commons as Prime Minister on 13 May 1940, he said ‘blood, toil, tears, and sweat’ (sound familiar?) and announced the policy ‘to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us.’ The idea that an angel might warp time and space due to his divine connection to God is perhaps a little more potent than that of a ghost. However, his apparent supernatural ability to appear and disappear is certainly spectral.

Eva Smith

‘Smith’, the most common name in Great Britain, comes from the Middle English period (1150-1470) and derives from someone who works with metal, such as a blacksmith. It is one of the earliest jobs where specialist skills were required, therefore that Priestley has chosen a name synonymous with a working class occupation is no doubt unsurprising. Along with ‘Daisy’, ‘Eva’ was one of the most popular names in the early 20th century which again reveals that as well as being defined as an individual with unique and personal experiences throughout the play, Eva comes to represent the working class as ‘one body’. We can associate the name ‘Eva’ with Eve from the story of creation – she is the first woman on earth and therefore represents all womankind. We know that Eve is blamed for both her and Adam eating the forbidden fruit. Perhaps Eva’s assertive nature and protests against the capitalism that Birling so defiantly promotes could represent her taking a bite from the forbidden fruit (breaking out of definite gender roles) for which she is then punished. Society accepts Eva so long as she plays by the patriarchal rules; if she does not, she is banished, as Eve was from the Garden of Eden.


Daisy Renton

Eva chooses to change her name to ‘Daisy’ to give herself a fresh start. We associate the flower with spring and therefore rebirth. However, a daisy is also trodden underfoot and squashed and most poignantly, the phrase ‘pushing up the daisies’, or as George Macdonald in 1866 wrote about his name, ‘I shall very soon hide it under some daisies’, makes reference to death and decay. Here, Priestley presents an apparently optimistic and renewed image that holds a sinister and dark foreshadowing beneath. The name ‘Renton’ is assertive in its direction of the audience towards ‘rent’. The audience hears, at times vividly, how Daisy was treated by both Eric and Gerald. Both men exchange money or materials for Daisy’s body and although she does not prostitute herself, their treatment of her can arguably amount to this. Priestley appears to be commenting again on the oppressive attitudes towards women that were embedded in society’s young men, particularly within the ruling classes.

Gerald Croft

Gerald’s surname has particular meaning: deriving from the pre-7th century word ‘craeft’, it means craft or skill, but it can also mean cunning or sly. Despite appearances, there are several points in the play where Gerald attempts to evade the Inspector. He takes Sheila aside and asks her to ‘keep’ his affair with Daisy from the Inspector. He is also the character that initiates the attempts to thwart the Inspector and expose him as a fake. At the end of the play, Gerald makes moves to rekindle his connection with Sheila; he does not, like Sheila or Eric, acknowledge his responsibility, nor does he side with the traditionalist Mr and Mrs Birling, therefore, we may assume he is slyly thinking about his future and how he may escape unscathed.shutterstock_561469612.jpg

Thank you for reading.

Categories: English Literature

5 replies »

  1. Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Finding the time and actual effort to generate a really good article… but what can I say… I put things off a whole lot and never manage to get anything done.


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