An Inspector Calls, by J.B. Priestly, tells the story (in a form of a play), of a young girl, Eva Smith. Who, has a ‘chain’ of unfortunate luck brought on by one family, results in her death.
The story in more depth tells ‘us’, the audience, to think about others, and the way we treat them. And the responsibilities we should take upon ourselves for our actions. In addition, how we can look down on others. With the warning that without thinking of others, and maybe acting too much on impulse, you could do more harm than you once intended.
In my essay, I will try to examine who actually was to blame for the death of Eva Smith.
The story begins when the mysterious Inspector Goole calls on the Birling’s. Once the inspector explains about Eva, the story shatters the foundations of the family and makes us question, individually, their conscience. It is important to remember that no member of the family is legally responsible for Eva’s death, it simply a moral responsibility.
Arthur Birling was the first to be questioned under the inspector. Arthur was Eva’s employer. However, after a dispute about low wages, in which Eva was the leader of the protest, she was fired due to Arthur’s disapproval of this out burst. Arthur seemed put-out and annoyed that the inspector dared to question him. ‘I consider this uncalled-for and officious. I’ve half a mind to report you.’
However, all Arthur cared about was the fact that the families reputation or status would be frowned upon if word got out of this incident. Most important to Arthur was the chance of knighthood would escape from his grip, if word got out. In addition, we can see that our full would blame almost anyone Instead of himself. ‘You’re the one I blame for this.’ (This was said to Eric Birling).
‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with it be awkward.’ Here we see again Arthur trying to escape from the blame. Rather than facing up to the consequences of what happened when he fired Eva Smith.
Sybil Birling is the wife of Arthur Birling; she too like the rest of the family was questioned by the inspector. Sybil is the head of an organisation, which helps distressed women by providing them with financial aid an accommodation. Sybil took a disliking to Eva Smith, after Eva lied, saying her name was Birling. Sybil refused to grant Eva any help. Sybil is reluctant show feelings, or to get herself too involved. And she has her own way of cooperating with the Inspector; it is as if to say I have nothing to be ashamed of. ‘Unlike the other three, I did nothing I am ashamed of or that will not bear investigation….. I did my duty.’
Sybil Seems like she grew up have high standards. As well as that, everyone is lower than she is, and he or she does not have the right to contradict her. ‘I told him quite plainly that I thought I had done no more than my duty.’ She is extremely posh-We can tell by the way she speaks and acts to others, as well as proud and smug. ‘I was the only one who didn’t give in to him.
Shelia Birling was responsible for getting Eva fired. Shelia placed it in placed a complaint after Eva had sniggered at her as she tried on a garment. Shelia It is more emotional when confronted by the inspector as well as when the others are confronted. We see Shelia’s Character changes from a selfish little spoiled child to a more moral figure. ‘These girls aren’t cheap labour- they’re people.’ Moreover, when the guilt really sets in we can see the turning point. ‘If she’d been some miserable plain little creature, I don’t suppose I’d have done it….. I couldn’t be sorry for.’
With these feelings of guilt, she dumps Gerald. This yet again is an act on impulse and could suggest to us, the audience, that she will find it hard to change her ways and stop acting on impulse. And is almost not her fault for acting on impulse, as that is the way she has been bought up.
Shelia is very weary about the inspector. However, at the same time she wants to be involved with the investigations to see who is to blame, and if they are learning from their mistakes. Shelia is probably the most sympathetic member of the group we see how she constantly feel sorry for Eva.
Eric Birling is the son off Sybil and Arthur Birling.
Known to Eric as Daisy Renton, they had a casual affair. They neither loved one another. ‘I wasn’t in love with her or anything- but I liked her-She was pretty and a good sport.’ It was purely a sexual relationship. Unexpectedly she fell pregnant with his child. Eric stole money from his father’s business, where Eva had once worked, to ‘keep her going.’ ‘I was in a hell of a state about it.’
Eric seems to be very nervous when talking to the inspector. He relies on drink to see him through as he confesses. By this, we can see how guilty he feels. Moreover, how he knows he did something wrong. We can see as he confesses and with an outburst at Sybil, how he regrets ‘You lot maybe letting yourselves out nicely, but I can’t. Nor can mother. We did her in alright.’ Like his sister treating Eva the way he did. Not only does he has to confess and demonstrate his guilt and regret but has to face up with the fact that he stole money from his father.
Eric, unlike the others, does seem quite rude by the way that he speaks to his family at the dinner table. He also seems to drink a lot, even before he confesses it is as if it is constantly playing on his mind.
Gerald Croft is the prosperous charming young man, whom is going to marry Shelia Birling.
Gerald met Eva at a bar. They had an affair while he was meant to be courting with Shelia. Eva accepts the relationship has to end. Eva had admitted to Gerald that he had made her happier than anything else had before. ‘I didn’t feel about her as she felt about me.’
Gerald remains calm all the way through the inspector’s interrogation. Gerald is the one who figures out that they had been fooled by the inspector.
The family accepts Gerald. He is well loved. In addition, is like the son they always wanted, instead of Eric who they see as irresponsible.
In conclusion I think it is unfair to put the blame on specific person for the death of Eva Smith. After all there is no legal blame only moral blame. For this I think you can not even blame the whole family or even one person from the family, it is society that the blame should be placed upon. In those times (when the story is set) it was quite normal to treat people the way the Birling’s individually treated Eva.
It is also interesting to see how the younger members of the family (e.g. Eric and Shelia) are willing to admit to the selfish ways they treated Eva. But more importantly how the younger members, of the family, are willing to learn from their mistakes and therefore change. While the older members of the family remain stubborn and unwilling to admit how poorly they treated Eva, and therefore how they will never change and learn from their mistakes. This is because the older members of the family are set in their ways.
I think when we look at Eva and the Birling’s, specifically; they were to blame for her death. This is because the entire incidents caused by the Birling’s did cause a strong chain which built up to the death of Eva. With out the first incident of which Arthur Birling fired Eva no other incidents would have happened. It was almost like fait bought each event on, one after the other.
So specifically I think the Birling’s were to blame for Eva’s death. But it was the affect of society on the Birling’s and on Eva as that is the way different classes were allowed to treat one another. Eva was obviously affected by her unfortunate luck which just so happened to be bought on by one particular family. This unfortunate luck, I think, did drive Eva to suicide. Therefore the moral blame should be placed upon the Birling’s but more so on society.