In “An Inspector Calls”, J.B. Priestley uses the characters and attitudes of the Birling family, especially Mr. Birling, to make the audience feel sympathy for Eva Smith. The family is “prosperous” and “comfortable”, and Mr. Birling’s ostentatious posturing emphasizes their good fortune. In the opening lines of the play, he is found discussing port with Gerald, immediately giving the audience a sense of the family’s financial security. When Mr. Birling tells Gerald and Eric that a man should “look after his own”, and not listen to the “cranks” who talk about “community and all that nonsense”, it becomes obvious that he has no interest in the welfare of people like Eva Smith. By making Mr. Birling so arrogant and pompous, JB Priestley renders his character deeply unattractive and encourages the reader to sympathize with his oppressed workforce.
The entry of the Inspector causes a dramatic shift in the play’s atmosphere, drawing attention to his shocking news. He almost immediately announces that Eva Smith has “died in the infirmary” after swallowing “strong disinfectant” that “burnt her inside out”. This language provides a striking contrast to the family’s previous conversation, where things were implied, but never directly stated. The Inspector does not use euphemisms to shield the family from the unpleasant images, but says that Eva died in “great agony”. Especially in juxtaposition with the comfortable atmosphere and obvious wealth displayed earlier in the play, the Inspector’s vivid description of Eva Smith’s suffering captures the attention and pity of the audience.
... knew Eva Smith, and played some part in her suicide.Our first impressions of the Birling family are those of jealousy from the audience ... is joyful until Inspector Goole arrives, and announces the death of a young girl-Eva Smith. This throws the family into disclosure ... later discover has not happened yet. An Inspector Calls focuses around the Birling family, this consists of: Arthur Burling; head of ...
Mr. and Mrs. Birling’s uncooperative responses to the Inspector’s questioning increase both the audience’s feelings of distaste towards the Birlings and their sympathy for Eva Smith. Mr. Birling’s initial response to Eva’s death is an impatient “yes, yes. Horrid business”, and even that is said more out of social convention than any real dismay. He sees the Inspector’s questioning as a rude intrusion on his personal time, and is convinced that there is nothing “scandalous about this business”, as far as he “is concerned”. He seems to think that he is above the law, telling the Inspector that he “doesn’t like” his “tone”. He also repeatedly tells the Inspector that he doesn’t think these events are “any concern” of his. Mr. Birling tries to intimidate the Inspector by telling him about the “close” friendship he shares with the chief constable, and then to “settle it sensibly” – in other words, to try to solve the problem with money. Mrs. Birling also tries to intimidate the Inspector, albeit in a more subtle manner than her husband. Mrs. Birling calls his investigation “absurd”, and says that he is “conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner”. She reminds him of her husband’s powerful position in society, as if this absolves the family from any need to cooperate with the Inspector. Mr and Mrs. Birling’s attitude towards the investigation only increases the audience’s sympathy for Eva Smith. It turns the play into a struggle between their viewpoint, and that of the Inspector. This conflict encourages the audience to side with Eva Smith, and with the working classes in general. The Birling family’s refusal to accept responsibility also gives the audience a glimpse of the abuse that Eva suffered at the hands of those in positions of power.