An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
Who or what killed Eva Smith?
The short answer to this question is that she killed herself that is if Eva Smith ever existed. Was she just a personification of the poor working class people of the City, abused and taken advantage of by the social hierarchy? Whether or not she was real is irrelevant, the fact of the matter is her life was planned to change the life of a very irresponsible family and the readers’ opinions of the world we live in.
At the beginning of the play we are introduced to a well to do family called the birlings. This family consists of the factory owner and businessman- Mr Birling, his wife Sybil, and their children; Eric and Sheila. They also live with a maid called Edna and at the start of the play the family is having a small celebration of their daughter’s engagement to a businessman called Gerald. But then an inspector pays them a visit, his name is Inspector Goole. On his entrance Priestley writes
“He creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness”
As he is invited to sit down and join the celebration Mr Birling starts telling the inspector about his previous social standing and how he was lord Mayor and that he is still on the bench. The inspector then tells Mr Birling that he is here seeking information and says that-
... was holding meetings with other families, called “multiple family groups”. Eventually, these gave birth to family therapy, which is now ... hesitation. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Long, P. W. (1996). Family therapy. Retrieved June 18, 2009 from http://accg.net/ ... psychoanalysis towards the correlation of psychological problems and family structure and relationships. It began when the psychoanalytical ...
“Two hours ago a young woman died in the infirmary. She’d been taken there this afternoon because she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant”
This shocks the whole family and Mr Birling becomes rather impatient and defensive. Thinking that this will ruin his reputation and he will lose his chance of a knighthood. As Mr Birling believes that his reputation is the most important to him. He remembers her name but cannot really remember who she is. Each character is involved in some way with Eva Smith at different points during the play. Mr Birling is the first of the family to be involved with her. She started out as a worker in Mr Birling’s factory, but after a while she, along with some other workers went on strike over a requested 3 shilling pay rise. Mr Birling refused this because of his political views. He fired her when the strike was over. This could be seen as the trigger which started it all, the first job she lost. This would be very upsetting for her to lose her job for what she believed in. But in a country ruled by capitalism, wealth and power there’s not much a poor working class woman can do to change it.
Mr Birling was a capitalist, he believed that the best way to run the country would be to keep labour costs down and make the most profit possible. Priestley was a socialist so he believed that people should be paid a fair amount and the country shouldn’t be ruled by the social hierarchy. This is why Priestley shows Mr Birling to be a very selfish character in the play and tries to make the readers dislike him. Socialists and Capitalists were complete opposites in their views.
After being fired from Mr Birling’s factory she sought another job. This she found in a dress shop. But before long she met another member of the Birling family. It was Sheila’s turn to sabotage Eva Smith’s life. It is a perfect example of how the upper classes abuse their power against the lower class. Sheila is in a shop and tries on something which her mother and the assistant are both against. But Sheila tries it on anyway and instantly she knows that it doesn’t suit her. She was a little annoyed at this because it was a very nice dress, then she sees Eva tries on the dress and becomes jealous because it looks really nice on her. So she abuses her family’s power and tells the people in Milwards that if they don’t fire Eva then Sheila will get her mother to close the account they have there. This is the second time Eva has been fired from a job because of the Birling family and this would have been very upsetting for her. Yet again the social hierarchy is not in her favour. The only thing that Sheila can say in her defence is-
... find out and they immediately kick out the family. The family moves in with a cousin. Frank gets fed ... the father had lost his job. Conditions start to become worst and the family is kept on welfare and ... young age started working in order to support the family. His dream to go back to America someday ... hunger state in the family. Since frank Malachy was not able to get a job it was quite difficult ...
“Yes, but it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time”
But then Sheila says something which her father would never have said, she takes responsibility for what she has done and admits that she was wrong. She says that if she could help her now, she would.
Now with no job, no family and no-where to go Eva Smith decided to start again and changed her name which led her to another member of the Birling family. She changed her name to Daisy Renton and was in the palace bar music hall contemplating prostitution as a last resort. This is where she met Gerald Croft- A caring businessman who would save her from being harassed by a drunken man. Gerald became quite fond of Daisy and there was some attraction between them and after a short time she became his mistress. But once again the social hierarchy was out to get her and her love with Gerald could not be. Due to the sheer difference of social status Gerald and Daisy could not be together and he already had an upper-class partner in Sheila. So now Daisy/Eva had nothing and she had lost the man she loved, she may have thought that it couldn’t get any worse but then she met another member of the Birling family. She met Eric in the palace bar; he was drunk and forced himself upon her he began to like her he said that
“I began talking to her, and stood her a few drinks. I was rather far gone by the time we had to go”
He forced himself into her lodgings threatening to make a row and two weeks later she told him that she was pregnant. Eric then started stealing money from his father to give her money for food and clothing. She told him to stop this because it was wrong, so she resorted to her last hope and sought help at a local charity. This was her chance to encounter the last member of the Birling family. She met Mrs Birling when she approached the local council for financial support. Mrs Birling had her turned away because when she arrived she claimed that she (Eva/Daisy) was called Mrs Birling. She said that the girl was just being
... shows how the working classes (Eva Smith) were treated ruthlessly by the upper classes (Birling family). While Sheila Birling lived a perfectly satisfactory life ... at the beginning of the play. She uses her wealth and power to lose Eva Smith her job just because she ... the play, Sheila parents, Mr and Mrs Birling, are constantly protecting her. They try to conceal the fact that Gerald deceived ...
“She was giving herself ridiculous airs. She was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position”
Eva told the leaders of the charity that she was pregnant with no source of income and begged them to give her money and support. But because of Mrs Birling’s pride she refused her that and told the rest of the leaders to refuse her claim.
So you could argue that it was all of these things combined together that caused the death of Eva Smith. But we also have to argue that the chance of these Eva Smiths being the same person is highly unlikely. The inspector never showed the photograph to more than one person at a time, so we couldn’t be sure that he didn’t show a different picture to each member of the family.
There are two themes that occur very often in the play; these are the themes of responsibility and the seven deadly sins. Each member of the Birling family can be associated with one or more of the seven deadly sins at some point during the play. Mr Birling represents pride, anger and greed because throughout the play the most important thing to him is his social status and wealth this can be shown when he fires Eva Smith over a pay rise of less than three shillings a week. This would make a small difference to his income yet he refuses it because he believes that workers should only be paid minimum wage. To increase the owner’s profit margins. Sheila represents anger and envy because it is this which leads her to get Eva smith fired from her job at Milward’s. Eric represents lust and gluttony; his lust causes his attraction to Eva Smith but it is his gluttony which causes her to take advantage of her- because if he wasn’t drunk then he wouldn’t have forced himself upon her and into her home. Mrs Birling represents pride and anger because she gets too annoyed when she feels something could potentially damage her status. Such as when Eva claims to be called Mrs Birling this angers Sybil Birling and she then stops Eva from receiving aid. Gerald represents pride and lust because he is constantly worried about the status of the company and of his family name. Also it is his lust which leads him to cheat on Sheila with Eva in the first place. Then his pride stops them from being together.
... of the audience, and the Birling family. During this play, both Edna and Eva Smith represent the anonymous people that the ... play that includes the characters of Eva Smith, who appears to have committed suicide, and Edna, the housekeeper of the Birling family. Both Eva Smith, and Edna represent ... She is dispensable to the family, as of course was Eva Smith. In the play, Edna has no personality, ...
There is another tradition which Priestley draws on in his play; this is the theme of morality plays. These were religious play in the middle ages which had characters who were personifications of the seven deadly sins. Also they had a character that would represent either humanity as a whole or as a social class. There is a distinct connection between this and Priestley’s play. They both have characters who are personifications of the seven deadly sins and they have characters representing social classes. The biggest connection between them would be in the Inspector. Almost all morality plays had a character that represented justice and what was right. This is the role of the inspector in the play. To bring justice and responsibility back to the family and the upper classes.
This leads me on to the other major theme of the play which is responsibility because the older generations don’t take responsibility for what they have done but the children do and they repent their sins. Gerald is the only character to be between the two groups’ he acts like an older man but he is not that much older than Sheila. Gerald does what Mr Birling does and tries to shift the blame onto someone else. The world “responsibility” occurs in some form in every few pages of the play. This is what the inspector is there for, to bring responsibility back to the family.
One could argue that Eva Smith was not a real character but a symbol and personification of the poor working class society. And she died for the other Eva Smiths of the world, just wanting to make a difference but being held back by wealth and social status. Throughout the play people very often say things like
“Someone in her position”
I think the point Priestley is trying to make here is that for the poorer people in society, Eva would have just been another person. No-one would have really known or cared much about her. She had no income, nowhere to live and no family. So these people were just thought to be insignificant, doing the jobs that the wealthier classes didn’t want to do. She was just a “pawn” on the chessboard of life, compared to the “knights“such as Mr Birling or the “bishops” such as Gerald’s family. There were many Eva smiths, all “pawns” played and used by the higher classes. In a game of chess it is no real loss to sacrifice a pawn because they are not as important and this is what I think Priestley is trying to illustrate.
... has vocation. She participated in some recitals and plays from school. By 1935 Eva had made up her mind of becoming a ... people were not very fond of it. Eva convinced Peron to help the working class and the government did not like this ... would visit factories, poor neighborhoods and all of the working classes leaving great donations. After her trip to Europe she started ...
In short, Eva Smith committed suicide by swallowing some strong disinfectant. But when we look deeper into the story we see that it was a combined effort from each member of the Birling family and Gerald which led to the death of Eva smith. That is if there was an Eva Smith?