"An Inspector Calls"

Essay by jakkip11 October 2007

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"An Inspector Calls” by JB Priestley is a play which is set in Brumley, an industrial city in the year 1912. A rich and respected family is interrogated by an inspector about the death of a girl called Eva Smith. All the members of the family play a part towards her suicide, by doing petty and nasty things to her. The theme of social responsibility is presented throughout the play, and the problems which can occur if social responsibility is not cared about.

Birling shows the problems which can occur by not paying attention to social responsibility. He is a well respected man, but pompous, snobby and selfish. He only cares about himself and his family and thinks anyone who is not as rich and respected as him is not worth bothering about.

“A man has to make his own way – has to look after his family too of course when he has one – and so long as he does that he wont come to much harm.

But the way some cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we are all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that!”Birling clearly wants nothing to do with a community or society. He will only look out for himself and his family and thinks the idea of a community is silly. The consequence of his foolish attitude was the beginning of Eva Smiths bad life, which lead to her suicide. Birling sacked her from her job, because she wanted a small pay rise. He felt she gave him too much trouble, so he sacked her to get her out the way. He didn’t care about her opinion either –“she’d had a lot to say – far to much so she had to go” shows that Birling thinks he is a lot more important than Eva and he doesn’t care about what she has to say because she is not as respected as him. Birling is selfish and disgraceful, and when they discover that the inspector is not real, he doesn’t even care about what happened and thinks the whole thing with Eva didn’t matter. He learned nothing from the experience and is still the same pompous character at the end of the play. Eva Smith was driven to suicide, and Mr. Birling felt no remorse or wasn’t even sorry for what he did. Mr Birling’s nasty personality and his lack of care towards social responsibility led Eva to a bad life, and she felt the only escape was death. If Birling hadn’t been so pompous and had cared about society, Eva wouldn’t have been driven to kill herself.

Sheila is an interesting character in the play as her personality changes throughout it. At the beginning Sheila is a nasty rich and stuck up. When Eva had lost her first job, due to Mr Birling, she eventually found another job. But Sheila, being a jealous person made her get sacked from that job, simply because of jealousy.

“When I was looking at myself in the mirror I caught sight of her smiling at the assistant and I was furious with her”Just because Sheila thought Eva was laughing at her, she went and got her sacked again. This was very petty. She was jealous of Eva, because she was prettier than her, she thought someone as poor and not respected could not be as pretty as that. As a result of her irresponsible and sick attitude, Eva had now lost her second job and was heading to a terrible life. But when confronted by the fake inspector, we see a change in Sheila. She is sorry and regrets her actions. The older generation was only worried about their reputation but Sheila was genuinely sorry and learned a very valuable lesson that society will only function properly if everyone looks out for each other.

Gerald also highlights social responsibility in the play. Gerald finds Eva in the palace bar. He thinks her name is Daisy Renton. He took her to a hotel and they talked. After that they began having an affair. Gerald found her somewhere to stay and gave her money. It seemed like he was a hero, but really he just took pity on her, and then dumped her.

“Gerald set her up as his mistress and then dropped her when it suited him”This is true, and Eva was in love with him, so it would make her feel even worse when she found out he was already engaged. By the time he dumped her, Eva had already lost two jobs and then gets dumped. This is ashame because she hasn’t got a lot going for her and then Gerald dumps her.

Mrs Birling shows the consequences of social responsibility in the play. She is posh and self centered woman, who has no respect for poor people. Eva was pregnant and extremely poor, so she went to Mrs Birling’s organization for help. But she had changed her name, this time she wasn’t Eva or Daisy, she was Mrs Burling. Mrs Birling took offense at this, and felt disgraced that a tramp that had got her pregnant was using the Birling name, so she turned her away. This was the final straw for Eva, as she had no job and no monkey and she had tried hard to get one but kept getting turned away and sacked. Mrs Birling wouldn’t accept any blame for Eva’s death.

“But I accept n blame for it at all”This shows how selfish and stubborn Mrs Birling is. She only cared about her reputation and doesn’t even think Eva is worth bothering about. She turned Eva away for a petty reason, and that was the last straw, Eva had tried to many times for help, but had finally given up and killed herself. This does not bother Mrs Birling at all, and she learns nothing and is still the same pompous woman at the end of the play as she was at the beginning.

Social responsibility is clearly shown by Eric. He finds Eva in the palace bar, and they both get drunk. Eric takes advantage of her, and forces her into sleeping with him. But Eva gets pregnant, and Eric has to steal from his father’s office to keep her. But Eva wouldn’t accept the money because it was stolen, and she wanted to protect the baby. So she went to Mrs Birling for help but when she refused Eva she killed herself. Eric feels like it is all her fault.

“She came to you to protect me – and you turned her away – yes you killed her – and the child she’d have had too – my child”This shows Eric feels rage towards Mrs Birling and feels like it is all her fault. It isn’t really if he hadn’t got her pregnant then she wouldn’t have needed help from Mrs Birling. But the younger generation regrets what they done, the older not.

Inspector Goole is a reminder of appropriate behaviour in the play. He is an odd sort of inspector, and he seems to no a lot, but then we discover he isn’t really and inspector. Despite that, he still made Sheila and Eric change, but Mr and Mrs Birling didn’t change at all. The inspector gave an important speech at the end of the play.

“But just remember this … their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives … we don’t live alone, we are members of one body, we are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”The inspector reminds us of social responsibility and that we don’t live alone, that we have too look out for everyone. He uses strong words like “fire” and “blood”, which makes his speech more dramatic. The inspector may not be a real one, but it doesn’t really matter, the Birlings still did what they did, and it doesn’t matter who confronted them it wont change their actions.

Overall, “An Inspector calls” is a play about social responsibilities. Every member of the family caused the death of Eva Smith, due to there silly behaviour. I think it is a very interesting play, and I think the writer feels strongly about social responsibility, and the bad things which can happen if it is not cared about.