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An Inspector Calls is a three-act drama, which takes place on a single night in 1912, and focuses on the Birling family, who live in a wealthy but not particulary homely house in Brumley. The story begins when the mysterious Inspector Goole calls unexpectedly on the prosperous Birling family. The idea of the play, and particularly the role of the inspector, is to try to bring the Birling family to understand that they have a moral responsibility for the death of Eva Smith, if not a legal one.
In Act Three, the Inspector tells the Birling family: “The girl killed herself and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it.” But who was really the most to blame for her death? I believe that they all had their own part to play in her death but am not entirely sure if anyone has more blame than another. So in turn I will go through each of the characters and study their role in the death and hopefully come to some conclusion as to who is the most to blame.
Firstly we come to Mr Birling, the head of the family. He feels that he has to prove himself to others and does this by showing off. For example boasting to Gerald about how it’s been hinted to him that he will be knighted: “… there’s a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours List. Just a knighthood, of course.” A wealthy man who has worked his way up the social ladder and describes himself as a: “hard-headed business man” and thinks that he is a perfect role model for his children. He doesn’t realise that being away from his wife and children, because of work, has a negative effect on his family relationships. He had Eva Smith working for him in his factory and as she was a good worker she was about to be promoted.
However she was dismissed when she came back from her holidays with the other workers because she was the ringleader of a group of workers who went on strike for wanting higher wages. Mr Birling refused and explains why by saying: “Well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down, and if I’d agreed to this demand for a new rate we’d have added about twelve percent to our labour costs.” This shows that he cares more about his business than about the welfare of his workers as the money might have done them good. And when he finds out about Eric he is only worried about what it will do to the family’s reputation saying: “… you don’t realise yet all you’ve done.
Most of this is bound to come out. There’ll be a public scandal.” He could have had a big part in the death of Eva Smith because by dismissing her, he set the whole thing off and it’s possible that everything else that happened, leading up to her death, might not have happened in the same way or at all. However this was only one issue when she wasn’t particulary vulnerable and may not have affected her at all because at that time people were often coming and going from jobs, and just had to get on and seek further employment.
Secondly is Sheila, Mr and Mrs Birling’s daughter, who is engaged to Gerald. She is a young woman who is aware of class and her position but she isn’t hugely fussed about others social status’s. She understands her actions and their consequences. However it appears that, especially when angry, she can become petty and jealous. Her connection with Eva Smith was after she was working for Mr Birling and had a job a Milwards. Sheila and her mother are both regular customers there and Sheila had gone to try something on. Both her mother and the shop assistant had been against it but she insisted.
She says: “As soon as I tried it on, I knew they’d been right. It just didn’t suit me at all.” She goes on to say that when the assistant asked her something about the dress and she answered and she held the dress up, as if she was wearing it, to show them what she meant. When she did this Sheila realised that the dress would have suited her very well which spark her annoyance but is was ignited when she: “…caught sight of this girl smiling at Miss Francis – as if to say: ‘doesn’t she look awful’…”
She then was very rude to them both and went off to tell the manager that Eva had been: “… very impertinent…” and that: “if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near that place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them.” This proves that although Sheila may be one of the better members of the family she isn’t without faults. This was the last stable job that Eva Smith had had and apart from her losing it, it could also have caused a blow to her self-esteem and this was obviously an important link in the chain of events. However, it may have been good for her to go when she did because she was only taken on because of a shortage of staff due to influenza and if she was going to go at some point anyway it was better for her to go sooner rather than later.
Thirdly is Gerald Croft. Gerald is Sheila’s fiancé. He is of a slightly higher class than the Birlings and this could be one of the reasons for their engagement. However it seems that the main reason for their engagement is to do with the combining of Mr Birling’s and Gerald’s father’s businesses. He seems to be a generally decent man but it appears that he his not all he seems to be. Until that night it seemed that they were very much in love. Sheila mentions that last year during the summer, Gerald wouldn’t go near her, saying that he was: “… awfully busy at the works all that time.”
This was partially true, but it then is revealed that he was also having an affair with Eva Smith, who was then using the name ‘Daisy Renton’. It started innocently, when he saw her being harassed by ‘Alderman Joe Meggarty’ and rescued her, but inevitably (so Gerald says) turned into unfortunate love affair. After he rescued her he says that they went for a drink and she told him about her previous employment and her life so far. And she accidentally let it slip how badly she was living so he took pity on her so he arranged for her to have some food a few nights later and set her up in his friend’s house that he was looking after, while he was away.
This is where they began their affair. However when it came to the end of the summer, Gerald broke it off before a business trip and by that time Eva/Daisy knew it was coming to and end. Gerald says that she told him: “… she’d been happier than she’d ever been before -but she knew it couldn’t last – hadn’t expected it to last.” And that: “ She didn’t blame me at all.” They agreed that she move out of the rooms she was staying in as she had lived ‘economically’ on what Gerald had given her over the summer and had some of it saved up. He also gave her a parting gift of enough money to last her until the end of the year. Even though having someone to look after her and care for her, and having the feeling that she was loved, was probably good for her at the time, in the long run it probably did more harm than good because she had the person she loved torn away from her.
And even though she was expecting the affair to come to an end, she probably took yet another blow to her self-esteem and felt even more unwanted than to begin with. So Gerald also had a fairly major role in her death. The inspector mentions that after the and of the affair, Eva went away for a while to the seaside: “… to be alone, to be quiet to remember all that had happened between you.” This and the fact that she kept a diary that said she went away: “… just to make it last longer”, proves that her time with Gerald was very significant to her. However it may have been good for her, in that she realised that someone could love her and would want to care for her so may have done her good because she felt that there was something to live for.
Fourthly is Eric Birling. Eric is the youngest of the Birlings and seems to be a good young son who is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps. Yet no one seems to realise until later on in the play that there are many underlying problems with Eric that have driven him to drink. The main reason is probably that he has not had the love and guidance from his father that he really needed. He first met Eva at the Palace Bar, the same as where she first met Gerald, when he was a bit drunk. He began talking to her and bought her a few drinks. She also got a bit drunk and Eric went back with her to her: “… lodgings.”
She didn’t really want Eric to come in with her but Eric, being in the state he was, threatened to make a row so she let him in. By chance he saw her again a few days later and had a few more drinks but Eric says that that time he wasn’t: “…so bad.” Though they did sleep together again. He says that he wasn’t: “… in love with her or anything – but I liked her – and she was pretty and a good sport…” This shows that he wasn’t looking for a relationship and didn’t particularly care about her, just what he could get from her. The next time he saw her: “… the time after that…” she told him that she was pregnant.
He says that he was: “… in a hell of a state about it.” Eva told him that she did not want to marry, as she knew that Eric didn’t love her. She said that: “… she hadn’t a job – and didn’t feel like trying again for one – and she’d no money left…” So Eric gave her enough money to keep her going until she wouldn’t take anymore. He gave her about fifty pounds altogether, which he stole from his father’s office. She stopped taking it because she found out that it was stolen. He realises what he has done wrong and regrets it a lot but he is also very ashamed of both his parents and when Mrs Birling says that she is: “… absolutely ashamed…” of him, he replies: “Well, I don’t blame you.
But don’t forget I’m ashamed of you as well – yes both of you.” If he hadn’t met her a lot of disaster would have been avoided and she wouldn’t have been in such an awkward situation. Eric did a lot of damage to Eva pyschologically and nothing good came of it. However it could be said that he helped in that by giving her a child and money to live on she had something to live on. However, once the child was born she would have had something else to provide for and no father to help her, which would have been awful for her, especially in that period.
Lastly is Mrs Birling, a cold woman who doesn’t seem the typical motherly type. She is a very class-conscious person and is very aware of how she is perceived by the outer world. She doesn’t seem to think that she has done anything particularly wrong even though she had a major part to play in Eva Smith’s Death. She met Eva when she came to her for help at the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation.
She had no idea that Mrs Birling was Eric’s mother and so it was most unfortunate when she used the name Mrs Birling as her own and deeply offended the real Mrs Birling. Eva first told them that she was married and that her husband had deserted her but the she admitted that this wasn’t true and pretended that ‘Birling’ was just the first name that popped into her head. Mrs Birling didn’t like Eva Smith and thought that she was making the whole thing up, so she used her overriding influence to corrupt the views of the rest of the committee. She says that Eva using her name was: “… simply a piece of gross impertinence – quite deliberate.”
And so naturally that was one of the main things that ‘prejudiced’ her against Eva’s case. She then says that she told her to go and find the father (not knowing that it was Eric) and get him to realise that it was his problem. And before she finds out that Eric was the father, she starts going on about how if Eva’s story were true and the father was giving them stolen money he should be ‘…severely dealt with…’ She had a big part in the death of Eva Smith as she was her last chance to help her and she just coldly turned her away and no good came of what she did.
After working through each and every character, I have come to the decision that Eric and Mrs Birling were most to blame for Eva’s death. Eric because he got her pregnant and caused her a lot of trouble especially by giving her stolen money. If he hadn’t met her she still probably would have survived. Mrs Birling I think is even more to blame than Eric is, because she declined her appeal for help, Eva’s last hope, and last chance.
If she had helped Eva she probably wouldn’t be dead and she may have met her grandchild. Even though she claims it to not be. In a way she killed two people; Eva, and Eva’s child. What’s worse is that she refused to accept responsibility for any of it and doesn’t learn anything from what the inspector tells her. She thinks that she was the only sensible one, not admitting to the inspector what she did wrong. If she had admitted it maybe she would have learned from her actions and thought to take pity on the next troubled young girl who came to her for help.