In the play An Inspector Calls the Inspector takes the audience on a journey through the life of Eva Smith leading up to her death and the part that each of the other characters played in it. By the end of the play we know that they were all guilty of mistreating someone, even if it wasn’t the same girl. However, if Eva Smith, Daisy Renton and the girl who came to the Brumley women’s council were all the same girl, and she subsequently died because of their actions, which character was most responsible for her death? The Inspector speaks first to Mr Birling, a respected and important member of the Brumley community.
Just moments before he enters, Birling is talking of having to make your own way and look after yourself. This shows his attitude to towards the world; he doesn’t bother about other people unless they can help him. Birling was associated with Eva Smith because she worked at his factory. He tells us she was a good worker and was about to be promoted just before he ‘discharged her’. Mr Birling’s motive for firing Eva Smith was an economic one; Eva was one of the ringleaders of a group of workers who went on strike to get higher wages, twenty five shillings a week instead of twenty two and six.
The strike did not last very long and Mr Birling allowed them to return at the normal rates except for four or five ringleaders, Eva Smith was one of them. Birling says it was his ‘duty to keep labour costs down’. He doesn’t think he did anything wrong in firing Eva Smith because she had ‘far too much to say’ and ‘had to go’, and he does not feel guilt or responsibility for her death. However, he does accept what he did even if he doesn’t think it makes him responsible. Later in the play, Birling is very relieved to find out the inspector was not really a police inspector. This reflects his personality from the beginning.
He is fine if he looks after himself and doesn’t get into trouble because he wants a knighthood. It shows that he hasn’t changed his opinions and does not really feel any regret for his actions, even if they did help towards the death of an innocent girl. I do not think Mr Birling is greatly responsible for the death of Eva Smith because was not unjust to her as an individual – she was simply one of the ringleaders. Also, Birling does not do anything illegal although it seems morally wrong to the audience and some of the other characters, he thought – at the time if not now – that what he did was the right course of action to take.
However, even if he did not know and thought she could find another job easily, Birling started Eva Smith’s run of bad luck by dismissing her because she wanted better wages and took the risk of asking for them; he began the downward spiral. Mr Birling did to Eva Smith what he tries to do to the inspector; he abused his position as her boss and an important member of the community and selfishly fired her to gain profit. The inspector’s next target is Sheila Birling. Sheila is the daughter of Mr Birling and recently engaged to Gerald Croft; it is the celebration of the engagement which brings the group together.
Sheila is described as a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited. At the start of the play she is portrayed as quite naive and this is how Mr Birling treats her, telling the inspector ‘that’s enough of that’ when he tries to tell Sheila about Eva’s death and trying to settle things ‘quietly in a corner’. These comments show Mr Birling as an protective father but they also show that he doesn’t see that his daughter isn’t a little girl any more so he still treats her like one which could shock him when he finds out about Sheila’s involvement in the death.
The audience first works out that Sheila is involved when the inspector asks her to stay but we know the place of her involvement when he mentions Milwards, a shop where Sheila often went. Eva Smith was employed there two months after she left Mr Birling’s factory and the inspector tells us that she enjoyed it very much. Sheila realises her involvement when the inspector tells the group that Eva left Milwards because a customer complained and the Sheila realises that it was her and asks when it was.
She asks more questions to the inspector about Eva Smith until she is shown a photograph, then she runs out of the room after recognising the picture. Here Birling shows again that he is protective of Sheila by calling her a ‘child’. When Sheila re-enters a while later she is ready to admit it was her who got Eva Smith fired from her second job. Sheila’s attitude towards her involvement is very different to her father’s and she seems very guilt stricken and full of remorse. Sheila tells the inspector and the other characters in the room of how she got Eva fired because she saw her exchanging a small smile with another shop assistant.
It was while Sheila was trying a dress on and she had taken it to be mocking her ‘as if to say “doesn’t she look awful”‘, making fun of the way she looked in the dress. Sheila also tells us that she knew she looked bad in the dress so her anger at Eva was probably brought on by the fact that Sheila herself didn’t like how she looked in the dress. Earlier, Sheila saw Eva hold the dress up against herself to show something to the other assistant miss Francis and noticed that Eva looked very pretty in the dress and it suited her so Sheila’s true reason was probably mostly envy.
Sheila got Eva Smith fired from her job at Milwards by using her power like her father. She had economic power anfd social status in the community and she used this by telling the shop manager she would withdraw her account if he did not dismiss Eva Smith. Throughout Sheila’s story she is very defensive, towards Gerald especially, trying to show him that she is not a bad person because she obviously doesn’t want to ruin their relationship over something that happened a while ago and that she regrets now.
I do think Sheila treated Eva unfairly and she should not have abused her position like that but she is sorry for her actions and shows this throughout the play. Although Sheila did act with envy and this was wrong, she does tell us that she was in a bad mood on the day and I think this means the audience can sympathise with her. We all have bad days and Sheila is just unlucky that her temper caused her more problems than most. At the end she is one of the few people still feeling guilty instead of relieved when they work out it might not have been the same girl.
Sheila really learns the lesson which the inspector is trying to teach; she realises that we are ‘all members of one body’ and ‘responsible for each other’. She is crying quietly as the inspector leaves and I think that Sheila is possibly the best person as she didn’t do very much but she still pays the heavy price. She feels guilty even after they find out the inspector is not real and that the girl might not have died and shows regret for her actions and compassion for the girl throughout. The inspector’s next target is Gerald Croft.
Gerald is again an important member of the Brumley community; he is the son of a lord and lady who own another large business in the town and he is recently engaged to Sheila Birling. This is a match which his mother even considers below him, as we know from earlier in the play, so when the time comes for Gerald to be questioned, the audience already know he is quite a prominent figure in the town and also well off. We also know he is quite a dominating character, as he seems to scare Sheila by simply looking at her when she tells her story. Gerald’s role in Eva’s life was when she had changed her name to Daisy Renton.
He gives this away as soon as this name is mentioned. Sheila knows from this point because she has already picked up that they will all be involved and she notices immediately Gerald’s expression when he sees the photograph. So, when the inspector leaves them alone, Sheila is ready to start some questioning of her own. We find out in the short time that they are alone that Gerald was with Eva (Daisy) last spring and summer when we already know he did not see much of Sheila. We also see Gerald in denial of his involvement and Sheila not accepting his attempts to ‘protect’ her from what he did; perhaps Sheila should be the inspector.
When the inspector returns, we find out more about Gerald’s involvement in Eva’s life and death. However, before this we see him trying to convince the inspector to send Sheila away and then talking to Sheila herself, accusing her of wanting to ‘see someone else be put through it’. This shows a feature of Gerald’s personality; that he tries to protect himself first and then he gets to the facts about his relationship with Daisy/Eva. Gerald first met Eva in the Stalls bar of the palace music hall. This does not seem like a reputable establishment and certainly not a place where a man of Gerald’s position would be expected to be.
Nevertheless, he was there and Sheila tells us that the bar is a ‘favourite haunt of the women of the town’ which brings the question of why Eva was there. Gerald tells us that when he first saw Eva she was ‘wedged into a corner’ by the ‘fat carcass’ of old Joe Meggarty, a man who was drunk and a notorious womaniser. The other young people know this but Mrs Birling seems shocked, showing the generation gap that is often quite obvious in the play. Gerald went over and rescued the girl from Meggarty after she gave him ‘a glance that was nothing less than a cry for help’.
He took her to a hotel for a drink and, finding out she was hungry, something to eat. He discovered later that she was going to be turned out of her flat and so insisted she moved into a set of rooms belonging to a friend which had been left in his care while his friend was in Canada. He tells us that he didn’t offer her the rooms because he wanted to keep her as his mistress but that he just felt sorry for her and didn’t ask for anything in return. He says that Eva becoming his mistress was ‘inevitable’ because she was young, pretty, warm-hearted and intensely grateful. (But was this true, perhaps for someone with Gerald’s morals!
Would a decent man really have taken advantage of her? ) The affair ended in the first week of September when Gerald had to go away on business. It seems, from Gerald’s description, that Eva knew already that it was coming to an end and was ‘very gallant’ about it. I think that Gerald didn’t really see what she really felt because he was relieved that it was over and she didn’t make a big fuss about it. Gerald did not know what she planned to do afterwards but the inspector says she went away for a while to think about it and remember and that is why I think it was more important to her than to Gerald.
Throughout Gerald’s story of his involvement with Eva Smith Sheila interrupts and I think this influences the audience because you feel a little sympathy for Gerald being interrogated by both the Inspector and Sheila. However, it also brings up points which may have been missed if Sheila did not mention them. For example: ‘you were the wonderful fairy prince. You must have adored it. ‘ Gerald’s disloyalty to Sheila is an issue when it comes to how responsible he is for Eva’s death. If Gerald had not been disloyal to Sheila then would not have been a relationship with Eva to break off and she would not have been upset by it.
However, I do not think Gerald played a very destructive role in the life of Eva Smith as he did make her happy for a short while at least. He gave her a home and money but more importantly, the affection, if not love, which she desperately needed and longed for. He rescued her from Alderman Meggarty and although this didn’t give him the right to sleep with her, he didn’t rescue her to sleep with her and that shows that he isn’t really a bad person. When he broke off his relationship with Eva Smith, Gerald hurt her badly but the language he uses suggests that he hadn’t raised her expectations beforehand so that at least is a good thing.
Gerald seems very upset by the reliving of the story and even says he just realised that she’s dead. After speaking to the inspector Gerald excuses himself and leaves the house to ‘be alone for a while’. Gerald’s attitude at the end of the play is quite different from what I would have expected. He seems to take the view of the older Birlings and thinks that because the Inspector is not real and there was no girl in the infirmary (he even volunteers to phone the infirmary) that everything is fine now and can go back to normal.
This is a rather different attitude from earlier when he takes back Sheila’s engagement ring without protest and acts rather more maturely in my opinion. The next subject of investigation by the inspector is Mrs Birling and although Eric Birling came next chronologically in the life of Eva Smith, I will follow the lead of Inspector Goole and discuss Mrs Birling’s role in the tragic affair which was Eva Smith. Unlike with the other characters, we do not get any forewarning of Mrs Birling’s role except for knowing that she has one because he inspector and Sheila warn us of this.
Mrs Birling’s involvement with Eva Smith was as the chairperson of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization. She met Eva two weeks before her death when she appealed to her organization for help. She admits to being prejudiced towards her case because she firstly called herself Mrs Birling, saying it was the first name which came into her head (we know later that this is because of her involvement with Eric). She also admits that it was due to her influence that the girl was refused help because she ‘didn’t like her manner’.
Mrs Birling describes the girl who came to the committee as impertinent (a word used a little too much by this family – remember Sheila) and says she seemed to her not to be a good case and so used her influence (another family trait) to have it refused. Mrs Birling is the only character who refuses throughout the play that she was responsible for the death and always insists that she did what she should have done considering her position. I think Mrs Birling should accept quite a large proportion of the blame because, as she was the last of the characters to see Eva Smith, she pushed her over the edge as she pushed her out of her life.
She acts like she is above it all from the beginning, implying that ‘girls of that class’ may have many reasons for committing suicide. Mrs Birling never shows any remorse and only shows any emotion when she is reminded that she killed her own grandchild. She considers herself a person of high morals with the right opinion and because Eva was an unmarried pregnant woman that she had low morals. She showed this disapproval not only by refusing her but by convincing others to refuse her also.
Although Eva lied I think it was justified because her situation as an unmarried mother would mean that would be frowned upon by society and therefore unable to get the help which she so desperately needed. Mrs Birling showed Eva Smith none of the charity and sympathy that she needed, instead showing her cold spite and cruelty. Mrs Birling blames the whole affair on the father of the child, which later backfires on her as she finds out just who this father is. I think Mrs Birling’s worst trait is her refusal to accept any criticism, no matter how justified and that this will get her further into trouble if she cannot right her ways.
The final target of inquiry by the inspector is Eric Birling. This young and silly son of the Birlings is quite a heavy drinker as his parents find out in the play and it is this trait which gets him involved with Eva Smith. From the very beginning we get some idea about Eric’s involvement with Eva Smith. Comments like ‘I remember-‘ (when they talk about women); ‘here, what do you mean’ and ‘well I don’t think it’s very funny’ (when Gerald and Mr Birling are talking about getting into trouble) show that he is uneasy about talking about women and getting into trouble as we later know because of his relationship and stealing money.
When the Inspector arrives, Eric is rather more upset than would be expected by someone who did not know Eva Smith, or a girl like that if he did not know her name at the time. Eric first met Eva also in the Palace bar, a place which does not sound like a suitable place for the young men of his status but seems to be somewhere they can go and not risk being recognised by their social peers. Eric was ‘a bit drunk’ when he met Eva and after he had spoken to her and bought her a few drinks and they had to go, he was ‘rather far gone’.
Eva had been told to go there by a woman, probably as a suggestion to make money through prostitution and Eric went home with her that night. Eva had not wanted him to go in but as he ‘insisted’ and was ‘in a state when a chap easily turns nasty’ and ‘threatened to make a row’, Eva let him in. Eric was too drunk to remember afterwards and he says ‘that was the hellish thing’. He met Eva again a few weeks later by chance in the palace bar and they went to her home again.
Eric says he wasn’t in love with her but ‘she was pretty and a good sport’; not really the best reasons for sleeping with someone. He found out the next time they met that Eva thought she was going to have a baby and then she was certain. Eva didn’t even suggest that Eric married her because he was too young and didn’t love her, in a way she treated him like a child because that was what he really was inside. He gave Eva money until she wouldn’t take any more. Altogether he gave her fifty pounds, money which he embezzled from his father’s company.
When Eva found out about the money she refused to take any more and that is why she came to Mrs Birling’s committee. Eric does accept his responsibility to Eva after she has died and he feels extreme guilt about the situation, even if he does try to reflect the cause of her death on to Mrs Birling (‘you killed them both – damn you, damn you’). However, the fact still remains that he ‘used her for the end of a stupid drunken evening’ and he had no motive for getting involved except that he wanted a bit of fun.
He was irresponsible for sleeping with her and getting her pregnant but he does feel regret afterwards so that is one good point about Eric’s personality. He is also one of the few at the end who still feels bad even if the Inspector wasn’t real and there were different girls but he has good reason to do so. He gave Eva money but it was stolen which almost cancels out that point in his favour. He also didn’t give her any affection or make her happy even for a little while unlike Gerald who had a similar relationship in many ways.
Finally, once again Eric was a Birling who used his influence (this time his physical influence) to get what he wants. I think Eric should shoulder quite a large proportion of the blame for Eva’s suicide as he had possibly the largest influence on her life and was one of those who treated her the worst (‘as if she were an animal, a thing, not a person’ – Inspector) In conclusion I agree with the Inspector that the person with the least blame should be Gerald Croft as he gave her happiness for a while and some love and affection.
I think that a small amount of blame should be placed upon Mr Birling as he treated Eva badly but it was a few years ago and although he started it all, he does feel some regret throughout the play, though perhaps less at the end when he thinks he is off the hook. I think Sheila should be next as she shows deep regret for her actions and her involvement was just bad luck that she was caught on a day when she was in a bad mood.
She felt guilty about the incident even before the Inspector called, showing that she is really a good person, probably just influenced by her parents. I think Mrs Birling should have quite a large amount of blame placed on her as she never shows any regret or guilt for her actions and insists throughout that she did nothing wrong when it is obvious to the audience that she did. Also because she was cruel in a position when she needed to be kind and abused her position.
Finally, I think Eric should be found most responsible for the death of Eva Smith because he never did the right thing concerning her and he got her pregnant which is why she went to Mrs Birling’ committee so without Eric, Mrs Birling would not be involved. Really, it did not really matter who was most responsible because the outcome was the same; Eva Smith died and if this wasn’t just a play we would all be very concerned about it. Thank God it is only a play.