An Inspector Calls By J.B Priestley Analyse and discuss the technique the Inspector uses to elect an admission of guilty involvement in Eva Smith's tragedy from each member of the Birling family. Discuss the message of the play An Inspector Calls is set in 1912, two years before the outbreak of the First World War. It is a time shortly after the industrial revolution and much of the work is done in factories. This creates two classes of people. One is the factory owner; these are all rich and consider themselves above poorer people. The other people are the factory workers. They are paid very low wages for what they do and live in poor conditions. The Birlings fell into the richer category and own their own factory.
J.B Priestly wrote An Inspector Calls in 1945 and was written in one week, and its first performance was in Russia in 1945 and then it was shown in London in 1946.
Priestly was a father and a teacher, living in a middle class home in Bradford. Priestly came from a socialist background, but his view of socialism was based on compassion and caring.
Although the Birlings look down on poorer people, they still see themselves as inferior to people with even more money or social stature such as the Crofts. The Birlings are happy about the marriage of their daughter, Shelia, to Gerald Croft, as they think it shall combine the two rivalled companies, to increase profits and cut labour costs, or as it would be the case, to cut workers wages.
The whole play takes place inside the Birling family's house, in Brumley. The entire family is there, Mr. Birling, Mrs. Birling, Shelia and Eric, and so is the maid and Gerald Croft, his parents away and therefore not being able to make it. They are there to celebrate the engagement of Gerald and Shelia and are having a dinner party. As the Birlings had reasonably high social status, there would have been champagne and champagne glasses at the table and also showing the social status, the ladies retire to the sitting room, while the men talk about business and drink port in the dinning room. Also the social status is shown by the expensive evening clothes they would have been wearing.
The story starts with the five main characters, excluding the Inspector. Mr Birling, Mrs Birling, Shelia, Eric and Gerald are sitting down to dinner at the beginning of the play. Mr Birling makes a speech about how glad he is that Gerald is to become part of the family and later, after Gerald gives Shelia the engagement ring, makes a speech about how perfect the world is becoming because of technology. In bitter irony (purposely by Priestly) he comments on how the "unsinkable" Titanic is to set sail for the first time the next week, the audience would of seen the irony as they knew that the Titanic sunk on its madden voyage. Also Mr. Birling thinks he knows everything, but is often proven wrong.
After this, Eric and the girls leave the others to go to the drawing room. When Mr Birling is alone with Gerald, he tells him that he knows about Lady Croft not thinking of the marriage is such a high light as the Birlings do because of their lower social status. Mr Birling however has some news that he tells Gerald to let his mother know, he thinks that he will be on the Honours List next year because of his past. He is an ex-Lord Mayor and an alderman; he is also good friends with the Chief Police Constable and has greeted royalty on past occasions. On top of all this, he is a successful businessman too. Birling enjoys telling everyone about all these things and brings them up at just about any possible moment, but Mrs. Birling is more social superior to him. Birling is sure that he will make the list, just as long as he and his family don't get into trouble with the police. He is so pompous and conceited, you can almost predict for his downfall.
As Eric enters the room Mr Birling makes another speech about people only looking after themselves and their family and no one else should matter. This acts like a trigger point for the inspector's arrival as after Birling makes this comment, the doorbell rings. Edna the maid answers the door and finds an Inspector at the door. Upon hearing this, Gerald says that Eric might have been up to something, this is only a joke but Eric becomes nervous and unsettled from hearing it, this also is a touch of irony put in by Priestley.
Mr Birling's knowledge of the police force is quite good and is surprised to see a face that he doesn't recognise. The Inspector's name is Goole and he says he is newly transferred. His reason for arriving at the Birling house was to investigate about a young woman named Eva Smith. She had just killed herself by swallowing disinfectant and died in the infirmary. The inspector says that Mr Birling is involved in this because she used to be employed by him. He recognises her from the photo that the inspector has and realises that she worked for him about two years ago. The inspector doesn't allow anyone else to see the photo. Mr Birling refuses to think that the reason she committed suicide was because he fired her all that time ago. The Inspector disagrees with Birlings views that he should not have to take responsibility for this girl and Birling finds this tone of voice rude. This is because Mr Birling looks down on the inspector who is of a lower class than him, despite being his protection against crime.
The inspector ergs Mr Birling to continue, so Mr Birling then tells of why Eva Smith was fired. She was one of the ringleaders of a strike that befell Birling's factory. The workers wanted a small raise of two and a half shillings onto their wages. Even in this time, that wasn't a particularly large amount and fairly reasonable. Mr Birling justifies himself by stating that the wages he paid were no lower than any other factory and were perfectly reasonable. When the request for the raise was rejected, they went on strike. Unfortunately, for the workers, they didn't have enough money to live on while the strike was going on so they were forced to abandon it and go back to their jobs or to just starve. They decided to go back to work at the usual wage which Mr Birling allowed, all except for the ring leaders whom he fired. One of these was Eva Smith. Eric, Birling's son, feels it was a harsh thing to do, Gerald on the other hand, completely agrees with Birling, as of his links with his parents business and also agrees as he wants to keep Mr Birling happy with him.
Sheila then enters the room, sent by her mother to see what has been going on. The inspector tells Sheila what has happened and this angers Birling as he feels it has ruined her happy day. His temper cools down a bit though when he learns of the fact that all three of the remaining people in the room know something of the girl. Gerald finds this absurd, as he has never even heard of an Eva Smith; he is calmed though when he learns of her using different names at different times.
The inspector moves on in his enquiries, now moving onto Shelia. Upon showing her a picture of her, which nobody else sees, she runs from the room in floods of tears. The Inspector tells of what happens to Eva next. She lived on her savings, which lasted her two months until they ran out and she had to leave her lodgings and became desperate. Luckily fate prevailed and because of the epidemic sweeping the region and staff shortages it brought with it, she got a job at an upmarket shop called Milwards, where she led a happy life and got paid well. Unfortunately, she lost this job because a customer complained about her. This customer was, of course, none other than Sheila.
When Sheila returned from her refuge, she tells why it was that she got this girl fired. It was to do with the fact that she was in a bad mood to start with. She insisted on trying on a dress that was clearly not one that suited her. When she put it on it was clear that it looked awful on her and this increased her bad mood further. Then to make matters worse, Eva tried on the dress and it suited her wonderfully, it also was made even more a beautiful sight by Eva's good looks. Then Eva looked over to Sheila and smiled. Sheila interpreted this as a mocking smile and decided to get her revenge. She went to the manager and told him that Eva had been a very rude member of staff and that if she was not immediately fired then she and her family would stop shopping at the store. She used her power and influence in this socially based society to get a girl who had done nothing wrong, fired and put on the streets. She says she felt guilty about it then but even more so now. Sheila is the only one involved with Eva Smith's demise that doesn't try to make excuses for what she has done.
The inspector carries on detailing Eva Smith's life and now tells of what happens next. She changes her name to Daisy Renton. Upon hearing this, Gerald gives off a sign that he knows the name; Sheila in particular picks up on this. After this, Birling and the inspector go off to hunt for Eric leaving just Sheila and Gerald in the room together. When this occurs, Sheila confronts Gerald about it. At first he denies anything but he is soon telling Sheila the truth that Daisy was his mistress for several months during the previous summer. Gerald doesn't want the inspector finding out about this and asks Sheila to be quiet about it but she tells him that he already knows. The inspector then returns and says one word, "well,"ÃÂ the act then closes.
Gerald then tries to get Sheila to leave so that she doesn't reveal anything that he doesn't want the inspector knowing. She refuses and the inspector informs Gerald that this is because she needs to hear everyone else's involvement otherwise she will continue to blame herself entirely.
Mrs Birling now enters the room and is warned by Sheila to be not so class cultured to the inspector. When she refuses he insults her way of life and she makes the comment that Eric is not a heavy drinker. It is confirmed by both Sheila and Gerald that this statement is not true.
Next Gerald explains his involvement with the girl. Firstly he admits knowing a Daisy Renton, and then he describes how he met and knew her.
Gerald met Eva in a bar in a Variety Theatre in Brumley. This particular bar was well known for housing prostitutes and when Gerald first saw Eva he thought she was out of place there. She was being bothered by an alderman who is a friend of Mr and Mrs Birling and they are shocked to here that he is a womaniser and a drunkard, no one else is though suggesting it is a well known fact. To stop the alderman from bothering he tells him that he is needed somewhere else and leaves. Gerald then makes sure that feels alright and then they start talking. After a while they go up to his hotel room and he or orders her some food. Nothing sexual happens but they talk and Gerald gets to know a vague account of Daisy's (Eva's) past. They meet again two days later and again nothing sexual happens. Gerald does however convince Daisy (Eva) to stay in the rooms of his friend that had gone to Canada for six months. She agreed and he gave her money to support herself as well. From time to time he would visit her but had never meant to have anything in return, which he made clear from the beginning. Despite this, they become lovers; neither on actually loved the other though. Daisy was just grateful for the way she had been treated and Gerald was flattered that such a young, pretty girl would admire him so. The relationship between Gerald and Daisy ended sometime at the beginning of September when Gerald had to leave but he gave Daisy the money she needed to live on until the end of the year. They never saw each other again. From the diary that the inspector has, it can be found out that she then spent the money on two months at a seaside resort, thinking and remembering her time with Gerald which was the best she had ever had.
All of this had happened whilst Gerald was Shelia's significant other and Shelia says although she will forgive him, they will have to start their entire relationship again, getting to know each other completely. She also gives him the ring back, not to the surprise of Gerald. After all this, Gerald asks the inspector if he can go for a walk as he is much more distressed than he was letting show. The inspector allows this.
The inspector moves on to Mrs Birling next and shows her a picture of Eva Smith. Mrs Birling says that she doesn't know the person in the picture but the inspector says that that is a lie. Mr Birling, who is very offended by this, demands an apology at once. Shelia, having more sense than her parents, tells her mother to stop denying it as it'll only make it harder when the truth comes out. While this was going on, the front door slams and Mr Birling goes to investigate, when he returns he says that it was probably Eric going for a walk. The inspector says that he will be needed soon and so if he doesn't come back soon shall have to be searched for.
During his absence the inspector questions Mrs Birling about her role in the Brumley Woman's Charity Organisation. It is found out that she is chairwoman of this and attended the meeting two weeks ago. According to the inspector, Eva Smith sought help at the meeting that Mrs Birling was at and was refused help by the entire council due to Mrs Birlings power to change their minds. Mrs Birling tries to justify herself by saying that the girl was being cheeky by calling herself "Mrs Birling". Mr Birling agrees with his wife and thinks that she was fully justified to refuse her. Mrs Birling further justifies herself by saying that Eva had also lied about other things such as when she said she was married and also because she didn't believe that she was a case that truly needed help. This is thrown back in her face when it is revealed by the inspector that the girl was pregnant. This was not from Gerald however. Shelia finds this an awful thing to do and is repulsed by it. Her father thinks it'll be an awful adding to the scandal, which Mrs Birling replies to by saying that she is not the one that fired her from her job. To try and justify herself even more Mrs Birling states that the girl knew who the father was and that she says the only reason why she wasn't taking money from him was that she thought he was stealing it and tat as she had lied about some things, she was justified in refusing her the money. She then tries to blame the whole thing on the father of the child as it is his responsibility and he should have an example made of him, especially as he was stealing money. Shelia yet again tells her mother to stop with her arrogant attitude but fails to stop her as she demands that a public example be made of the father. It is then that Mr Birling asks the inspector whether or not Eric is the father of Eva's baby. The inspector doesn't answer either way but Eric then walks in the room very worried with all eyes on him.
Eric admits to knowing the girl and tells his story of knowing her. He met her in the same bar as Gerald in the November of the previous year. On the night that he did he went home with her and forced her into having sex with him. This was largely because he was drunk though and he didn't remember it after the incident.
The ladies are made to leave by Mr Birling at this point and they do so. Eric then continues his tale.
He met her again on several occasions after that and they have sex again, although it is not forced on these times. After a while, Eva becomes pregnant, this worried them both and although Eric offers, Eva would not marry him as there was no love in their relationship. Although he doesn't marry her, he does give her the money to live off. A total of about fifty pounds which he stole from his fathers office. The female Birling family members are then updated on what has been said. Eric backs up Eva's statement of her not taking the money once she realised that it was stolen and that at this point she stopped seeing him altogether as well. Eric is then told by Shelia about her mother turning down Eva's request for money to support her child. This makes him call his mother a murderer, referring to her own grandchild as well. Once everyone has been given part of the blame for Eva's suicide, the inspector leaves, but not before leaving his message. Everyone is responsible for everyone else as everyone's lives are intertwined with each other.