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An Inspector Calls Who Is To Blame Essay

An Inspector Calls Who Is To Blame Essay

















































Responsibility for Eva Smith’s Death

An Inspector Calls by J.B Priestly, a play, which was first, performed
in 1945. The play was set in 1912 before World War I. The play
centres’ around the wealthy Birling family. A visit from a mysterious
Inspector Goole becomes a horrifying experience for the Birlings’, as
they learn that they have all played a part in the suicide of a young
girl called Eva Smith. She died by swallowing some strong disinfected
in an infirmary. Priestley’s main aim was to encourage people to take
responsibility for their actions, not to shift the blame on to others.

Although each member of the Birling family and Gerald Croft have had
contact with Eva Smith, none of them were aware of the others´
involvement in the tragedy until the day of the inspector’s visit. He
makes each of them aware of the part they had played that lead to her
tragic end. The characters each reacted differently to the news and
the degree of responsibility contributing to the death varied between
them. They all through their selfishness had shown to contribute to
Eva Smiths’ decision to kill herself.

We must remember it wasn’t a crime. No one should be held responsible.
It’s a moral issue. It was not only people that contributed to Eva
Smith’s death but her position in the world and the way in which her
life worked out.

Mr Birling, a wealthy capitalist man, and a ‘rather portentious man,’
was the first person to be investigated. Mr.Birling didn’t care about
any of his workers, and didn’t know them at all, as he says proudly,
‘I have a couple of hundred workers under me, who keep changing.’ This
clearly showed that there was no personal or business relationship
with Eva Smith.

Mr. Birling told the Inspector that all the workers had just returned
from holiday and had become very restless. They demanded for a pay
rise or would go on strike. She was making trouble as Mr Birling said,
‘She had a lot to say, far too much so she had to go.’ Personally, I
don’t believe that Mr Birling did anything wrong towards Eva Smith. He
only had sacked her from his factory because she had started to cause
trouble by demanding higher wages. Anyone in his position would have
done the same.

Though Mr Birling may sound innocent there is much to judge of his
character. He seems to be a very hard man, and shows no regret for
dismissing Eva Smith, despite knowing, that if he had sacked her she
may still have been alive. The effect of dismissing Eva Smith from her
job, lead to her changing her name to Daisy Renton. This was because
Eva Smith was afraid and ashamed of society.

Mr Birling wanted always to be in control, he always seems to want to
do things his own way. When Mr Birling felt that the Inspector was
asking too many questions he said, ‘Perhaps I ought to warn you that
he is an old friend of mine,’ he was referring to the Chief Constable.

I think Mr Birling`s character had been portrayed to show no guilt
over Eva Smiths’ death, who after all was a person also. We see none
of Mr Birlings’ good character instead we see him as dishonest and

Sheila ‘a pretty girl in her twenties,’ was the second person that the
Inspector questioned. Shelia was jealous of Eva Smith. Sheila
wrongfully used her position as an important customer to turn Eva
Smith out of a job. She even admits, ‘it was my own fault,’ and that
she ‘was in a furious temper.’ She was jealous of Eva Smith describing
her as a ‘very pretty girl too with big dark eyes.’ Shelia naively,
due to being of a younger generation, explains to the Inspector how
she was responsible for Eva Smith losing her job at Milwards. She told
the manager at Milwards that if they didn’t get rid of that girl she’d
never go near the place again and she also would persuade her mother
to close her account with them. This shows that Sheila, like her
father Mr. Birling, was able to abuse her position as a wealthy member
of the community, who could influence others due to her relations.

Sheila is portrayed as being sorrowful and remorse, as she feels
great guilt for the actions that she committed. She agrees with the
Inspector of her pride when he says, ‘You used the power you had, to
punish the girl.’

Sheila was the first to find out that the Inspector had a strange type
of power. His character was portrayed as ‘impression of massiveness,
solidity and purposefulness’. She noted this when Mrs Birling was
arguing with him. Sheila warns Mrs. Birling of the inspector, “You
mustn’t try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl. If
you do, then the inspector will just break it down. And it’ll be all
the worse when he does”.

The inspector was not surprised when Sheila felt extremely guilty for
having Eva dismissed. As she says ‘I felt rotten about it at the time
and now I feel a whole lot worse.’ Eva Smith’s second dismissal left
her in a worse state than her first dismissal and she became
despondent. Sheila has been the cause of this further collapse in Eva
Smith’s life, but I feel less inclined to blame her because of her

Gerald Croft, a ‘well-bred, young man-about-town.’ Gerald was the only
person who was not a direct relation to the Birling family, but was
engaged to Sheila. He also had significant involvement with the death
of Eva Smith. Gerald recognises the name Daisy Renton, as soon as he
hears the Inspector say it. He was trying to make Sheila leave the
room for reasons that become more apparent later. He tells the story
of how he met Eva Smith or, as he knew her as Daisy Renton. He
describes her as ‘very pretty, with soft brown hair and big dark

Gerald met Eva Smith in a County Hotel, where he took her away. He let
her stay in his friend’s room, because she had no money. Later, she
became Gerald’s mistress. There relationship didn’t last long. He was
clearly upset to what had happened to her and what he might have done
to affect her. Eva Smith was in love with Gerald and being thrown out
by him left her not only homeless but heartbroken. I feel that he
leaves her in a worse state than either Mr. Birling or Sheila had.
Gerald’s character is further described when he remarks on young women
that they should be ‘protected against unpleasant and disturbing
things’ is rather hypocritical in the light of what he’s done to Eva
Smith. Perhaps he does not feel lower class women need this

Gerald was the only one that tried to help Eva Smith, unlike all the
others who were simply punishing her. Even if Gerald had not been
responsible for the death of Eva Smith, his actions certainly had
consequences as he was engaged to Sheila, who now knows that Gerald
was actively having another relationship while they were together.
This puts their relationship into doubt, something that Mr Birling
would no doubt be displeased about.

Mrs. Birling shows characteristics in some ways, to be very similar to
her husbands’ and denies any responsibility herself. Instead, choosing
to blame others, which later becomes a very bad decision. Mrs Birling
treats the Inspector in a demeaning and threatening way, ‘I realise
you may have to conduct some kind of enquiry but I must say you seem
to be conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner.’ As a
member of the Bromley Women’s Charity Organization, Mrs Birling was
the last member of the family to have had contact with Eva Smith.
Having rejected her also because Eva Smith had used the family name to
claim to the organisation. Mrs Birling ironically tells Eva Smith, ‘to
look for the father of the child. It’s his responsibility.’
Mrs Birling refuses to admit any guilt over Eva Smith’s death, even
though the girl had been trying to protect Eric Birling, the father of
the child because he had been giving her stolen money.

Mrs Birling only later realises the truth, where Eva Smith was trying
to protect Eric. Mrs Birling becomes shocked and upset, as she is the
last to have been in contact with Eva Smith and had the opportunity to
offer help. Her case was not good and what a selfish character she
was. It seems that like her husband, Mrs Birling has only her own view
in thought and is clearly uninterested by the needs of others, no
regret is felt and it seems that she is totally unmoved by the whole
incident, only caring when she discovers that her own son is involved.

Eric Birling under the questioning from the inspector reveals the
extent of his drinking and his relationship with Eva Smith.

Eric had stolen some money from his father’s business in order to
support Eva Smith because she was pregnant. By making her pregnant he
put her in an unbearable position and is very much to blame for her
downfall. The only two things in his favour were that he was sorry for
what he had done and he tried to help her financially, even though it
was money stolen from his father but these came too late for Eva

Although Eric is young and immature he felt guilty and shame about
what he had done. When he discovers that his mother had turned her
away, his guilt and remorse turn to anger. ‘Then you killed her, She
came to you to protect me, my child, your grandchild, you killed them

By the time the Inspector was about to leave, it was quite clear that
each member of the Birling family had contributed to Eva Smith’s
death, one by one the Inspector confronts them ‘Mrs Birling, you
turned her away when she most needed help. You refused her even the
pitiable little bit of organised charity you had in your power to
grant her’. Eric, ‘You just used her for the end of a stupid, drunken
evening, as if she was an animal, a thing, not a person.’ With each
confrontation, the aim was to cause guilt. The Inspector then leaves
and the family are left feeling great guilt.

As we can see each had a role in her Eva Smith’s death, but which one
has the most to do with it. Unlike their parents, Sheila and Eric felt
guilty about what they have done. They wished that they could turn the
clock back and stop it from happening. Both Mr. Croft and Mr Eric
Birling try to help her and take responsibility for what they had
done, but the others didn’t try to help her even though they had the

The mystery of the Inspector’s identity itself is one that the play
never answers. The way the inspector conducts the investigation is
unusual. The way the inspector questions, ‘I’d like some information.’
He never asks questions, only makes statements. This makes the
audience feels as if he already knows the answers. The inspector is
never surprised by anything, even the characters reactions and
responses. The inspector shows photographs to each of the characters
only one at a time. He interposes himself between the photographs and
the other characters. This could show that each character could not be
talking about the same Eva Smith. They could all be different
photographs of different people that each character might have harmed.

J B Priestly in the final act showed that Inspector ‘Goole’ which
means ghost does not exist. The reactions of the family then change to
that of relief for Mr and Mrs Birling, whilst Gerald, Eric and Sheila
still felt guilty and regret what they have done. Eric says, ‘and I
agree with Sheila. It frightens me too. It’s still the same rotten
story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or not.’

It took a real inspectors’ visit to affect Mr and Mrs Birling, ‘they
stare guiltily and dumbfounded’. When they get a phone call and a real
inspector is on his way than only are Mr and Mrs. Birling worried
about their reputation more than Eva Smiths’ death. Eric, Sheila and
Gerald are still in shock. This showed the younger generation learnt
the lesson easily but it took the older generation more time.
Personally, I believe that the creation of the Inspector by Priestly
was to portray a personal message to all the readers That we are all
equal and do not rise above one another. In case of trouble help each
other individually and as a society not ignore.

It would be unfair to blame a single person, as each character
contributed to the death of Eva Smith. No real crime has been
committed and it is consequently a moral issue. The responsibility
should be shared by the family and their future actions affected to
aid others and not just themselves.

I think Priestley’s message of the play was to explain to us that if
we are like the Birling´s then we need to change, and be more
considerate and caring towards others, “We are members of one body, we
are responsible for each other”.

This quote taken from the inspector’s last speech, I think sums up
exactly what Priestley was trying to get across.

Priestly undermines Mr. Birling ‘rather portentous man,’ who believes
his only responsibility is to his family, right at the start of the
play. He is shown as short sighted and wrong. His prediction that,
‘There isn’t a chance of war’ World war within two years, with a
second to follow within the same lifetime.’ And ‘The Titanic:
‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’ SS Titanic sinks on her maiden

This dramatic irony at his expense encourages us to question how many
of his other beliefs are correct. Priestly, as a socialist is not
sympathetic to what the capitalist ‘Mr. Birling’ believes.

Priestly may have experienced difficulties during wartime, this may
have led him to believe that in order to live in a peaceful world man
must consider his responsibility to fellow men.

I think that this play, which was written in 1947 and set in 1912,
would have made an impact on its audience, making dramatic irony and
made them self-conscious.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
«Responsibility for Eva Smith’s Death.» 123HelpMe.com. 04 Oct 2016

This guide is written for teachers and students who are studying J.B. Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls. The guide is written specifically for students in the UK, but I hope it may be helpful to users from other parts of the world. An Inspector Calls is a popular text for assessed work in drama for English and English literature exams. It may also be studied for teacher-assessed coursework in English in Key Stages 3 and 4 (GCSE reading).

If you want to buy An Inspector Calls. click on the relevant link below.

The play in performance

This is a play that has been very successful in performance: how might the way in which the play is performed draw the audience’s attention to the main ideas in it?

To answer this you should consider such things as:

  • Acting - how the actors should play particular episodes
  • Casting - who would be suited to the various roles
  • Set - what kind of stage set would work best for this play
  • Lighting, sound and music - what effects (FX) of lighting, sound and music would help make the play’s ideas more clear?

This task will work best if you are able to consider the play in at least one version that you have seen, as well as the 1954 film version, directed by Guy Hamilton.

Eva’s letter

The Inspector tells Mr. Birling that Eva Smith/Daisy Renton “left a letter…and a sort of diary”. The letter could be to her nearest relative or to Gerald Croft. Write - as you imagine Eva would have done - the letter and diary entries (between 1910 and 1912) for the key events in her life, from her starting to work for Birling & Co. to her suicide.

Eva’s suicide/the Inspector calls*

(*Dated by Titanic ‘s maiden voyage.) The diary is also mentioned on pages 179 and 193 (Penguin edition).

Eva’s life - the media version

Suppose that Eva’s diary is discovered by a journalist who decides to present an item on her suicide for a Brumley newspaper, or for a local radio or TV broadcast (this is strictly anachronistic but could be done as a modern retrospective account). In a newspaper this could be a single report, or a series over several days (as comments are made by the Birlings, Gerald Croft and their solicitors). A broadcast account would perhaps take longer to prepare - but might still be inaccurate.

Remember that not all of the people involved would tell the truth (or the whole truth) about what happened. Try to obtain interviews/comments from some of the characters in the play and others, such as:

  • Eva’s work-mates at Birling & Co. or Milwards;
  • the “woman” who wanted Eva to go to the Palace bar (clearly a kind of agent for Brumley’s prostitutes),
  • neighbours in her lodgings, and so on.

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Who is to blame?

Who is to blame for Eva’s death? Consider how each of the Birlings and Gerald Croft influences what happens to Eva - what part does each play in the chain of events leading to her death?

Give an account of this chain of events in the order in which each event occurs (see dates above).

  • Say how far each character is at fault for what he or she has done to Eva.
  • Then judge how far each is right or wrong in his or her attitude now to what was done - admitting or denying guilt.
  • In conclusion, try to assess how responsible, and how ready to admit responsibility, each of the five is.
  • Is there any connection between the age of each character and his or her readiness to accept blame?

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The most important theme of the play, it could be argued, is responsibility.

  • See how often the words “responsible” and “responsibility” appear, and in what senses.

At the beginning of the play Mr. Birling gives his (limited) view of responsibility in a long speech. Mr. Birling’s definition of responsibility is immediately followed by the arrival of the Inspector. The Inspector gives his (very wide) explanation of responsibility immediately before he leaves.

  • Comment on these speeches and compare them.

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Consider how Mr. Birling’s comments reveal his views:

  • How do Mr. Birling’s earlier comments on the unlikelihood of war, the probable success of capitalists in eliminating strikes and on the unsinkability of the Titanic affect our view of what he says on responsibility? (The play’s audience, in 1946, would be aware of two world wars, the General Strike and the sinking of the Titanic ).
  • Is Mr. Birling a “hard-headed” businessman, as he claims, or a “hard- hearted ” character?

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In 1912 there was no welfare state in Britain. Poor people often depended on charity. But wealthy people, such as Mrs. Birling, in the play, usually controlled the charity.

  • Does Mrs. Birling, in her work for the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation act out of a sense of responsibility or a desire to be seen to be charitable?
  • Where does she claim the responsibility for Eva Smith and her unborn child lies?
  • How is she shown to be wrong?

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Show how the Inspector demonstrates by bringing out Eva’s dealings with the Birlings and Gerald, that his view, not Birling’s is right.

  • What are the “fire and blood and anguish” he refers to in his final speech?
  • What point is Priestley making by placing this line in a play published in 1946?

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The Inspector’s identity may affect how we view his comments.

  • How is our view of the Inspector’s statements affected by his apparently supernatural character?
  • Comment on his claim that “we are members of one body”.

After he leaves, says the Inspector, the Birlings and Gerald can divide responsibility among themselves.

  • How do they apportion blame when he leaves?
  • Is Birling concerned about the same things that worry Sheila and Eric?

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Sheila is worried earlier in the play by her mother’s self-righteous denial of blame. After the Inspector goes she is worried by the attempt to dismiss his visit as a mere practical joke.

  • Consider the idea that the Inspector, by his visit, gives the family a second chance which is lost by the failure of the majority to learn their lesson.
  • How significant in determining the play’s conclusion is Gerald’s eventually siding with the view of the parents (The Inspector has foreseen a suicide about to happen. They may, by a change of heart, prevent it - but the chance is missed and the suicide occurs).

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Who is the Inspector?

Who or what is the Inspector? In the text there are many clues. Examine each of these and try to interpret it. Write an essay, discussing how these clues and the Inspector’s general behaviour contribute to the audience’s idea of who he is and how correct his statements are.

  • The timing of his entry (noted by Eric);
  • His method of working: “one person and one line of enquiry at a time” (A policeman would not insist on this. A real policeman would interview people alone. This Inspector already knows; he wants the others to see what they have done.)
  • His asking Birling why he refused Eva’s request for a pay rise.
  • His statement that it is his duty “to ask questions”.
  • His saying that he never takes offence.
  • His statement that he does not see much of the chief constable.
  • His failure to be alarmed by Birling’s threats.
  • His reply to Birling’s question: “You sure of your facts?” - “Some of them - yes”. Not all, because not all have happened yet: Eva Smith has not yet killed herself, it would seem.
  • His concern for moral law not for criminal law.
  • His statement: “some things are left to me. Inquiries of this sort, for instance”.
  • Sheila’s recognition of his authority and supernatural knowledge - as shown in her warnings to Gerald and to her mother .
  • His statement about the impression he has made on Sheila: “We often do on the young ones”.
  • His impatience to “get on” with his questioning followed by his statement that he hasn’t “much time”. A police officer would take as much time as was needed. It is as if he needs to finish before the moment at which Eva will decide whether or not to end her life.
  • His saying, “I don’t need to know any more”, once he has shown the Birlings and Gerald what each has done.
  • His final speech, which has nothing to do with criminal law, but which is a lecture on social responsibiility and the perils of ignoring it.
  • The Birlings’ discovery that no such officer is on the local police force.
  • The Inspector’s telling Sheila there is “no reason why” she should “understand about” him
  • Eric’s saying “He was our police inspector all right” followed by Sheila’s comment “Well, he inspected us all right”
  • His foreknowledge of Eva’s death.
  • His intimate knowledge of Eva’s life and despite the fact that he never spoke to her
  • His prediction of a massive social catastrophe (“fire and blood and anguish”) which clearly refers (for the Birlings) to the First World War and (for the audience) to both World Wars.

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In the 1954 film of An Inspector Calls. the Inspector does not leave the Birlings’ house as in the play: he is left alone in Mr. Birling’s study; Birling returns to ask him a question, and finds the room empty. Is this too blatant a way of suggesting that the Inspector is some kind of supernatural or angelic being? Some commentators on the play have suggested that his name contains a pun - it sounds like “Ghoul”.

A “ghoul” is an evil demon, which eats the flesh of the dead, or, metaphorically, a person obsessed by, or who profits by, another’s death. After he has gone the Inspector is said by Birling to have exploited Eva’s alleged death to frighten the “victims” of his supposed practical joke. Is it more important to know who the Inspector is, or what he has to say? Should Priestley (the playwright) have made him more obviously spooky?

Write an essay discussing the character of the Inspector, his method of discovering the truth, the effect he has on each of the other characters, both while he is with them and after he has gone. Give your view of who (or what) he is, and why you think this.

What next?

At the end of the play there are many possibilities, and we cannot say with certainty what might happen.

  • Will the Birlings try to persuade their children to conceal the truth from the real Inspector who is coming?
  • Will Sheila and Eric insist on openness?
  • Where will Gerald stand now? (After his clever theory has been disproved - will he realise that Daisy Renton told him of her two sackings? He knew that at least Mr. Birling, Sheila and himself had all influenced the same girl!)

Continue the story either as a play-script or as a third-person narrative with conversation. You may, if you wish, continue beyond the arrival of the real police officer. He or she, of course, is not likely to exert the same power over the Birlings and Gerald as the Inspector of the play has.

1912 and 1946

This task is suitable for treatment as a written or spoken response. You should consider the question of why a play first performed in 1946 should be set in 1912. Why does Priestley choose this particular time?

In order to answer this you should consider the following points:

The play opens with a scene of great luxury: a wealthy family is celebrating an engagement in a very lavish fashion. This will be obvious to an audience that has spent the years of the Second World War without the luxuries that the Birlings are so abundantly enjoying (rationing of many luxury - and basic - goods continued into the 1950s). Although Churchill (a Conservative) is seen as a war hero for leading the fight against Nazism (he led a coalition government of Labour, Conservative and Liberal elements) a Socialist government has won a landslide victory in the 1945 General Election. Priestley was a supporter of the Labour party, and made many broadcasts on radio in which he tried to persuade people of the merits of socialism.

In order to do this, Priestley sets the play in a time before there was a welfare state in the United Kingdom, and when employers had great power over their workers.

Lower costs and higher prices

  • What is the playwright’s view of Mr, Birling’s enthusiasm for joining the two wealthy families of Croft and Birling, and his hope that they can work together for “lower costs and higher prices”?
  • Lower costs are mostly achieved by paying the workers less. Would the audience see this as a good thing?
  • How would ordinary people feel about higher prices?

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The Crofts and the Birlings

  • Are the two families exactly alike? What differences can you find between Mr. Birling and the Crofts?
  • Why are the Crofts not present at the celebration?
  • Comment on the telegram that Sir George and Lady Croft have sent to the Birlings.

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Mr. Birling’s idea of progress

  • What is Mr. Birling’s view of the likely results of technological change (see his comments on cars and aeroplanes)?
  • Is he right to link scientific advances with progress in politics and international relations? Why does he believe that there will be no war? How far do we trust his judgement? What do we know that he does not about the future? Consider his comment that the Titanic is unsinkable.

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Being above the law (or playing golf with the Chief Constable)

  • How does the time in which the play is set enable Priestley to portray Mr. Birling as a man who can use his influence to stop the Inspector from continuing with his investigation?
  • How would an audience view the idea that the rules that apply to ordinary people do not apply to the Birlings of this world?
  • Do you know of anyone like Mr. Birling (in your own world, in the past, or in fiction), who believes he or she is above the law?

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Charity and the welfare state

Because this is 1912, there is no system of benefit payments for impoverished people; Eva has to approach a committee of which Mrs. Birling is the chairman, but is refused help.

  • Show how Mrs. Birling exploits her position to make her feel self-important, while denying help to those who really need it.
  • Do you think she does this for genuinely charitable reasons, or for other motives?
  • What might these be?
  • Mrs. Birling claims that her organization has done a lot of good work in deserving cases: is a deserving case, in her opinion, one of genuine need, or one where the applicant pleases her?

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Young men and wild oats

This play depicts a common situation from the early years of the 20th century - young women from the middle classes would not be sexually active before marriage. This has nothing to do with virtue — but much to do with securing a good match. (After marrying, or even becoming widowed or divorced, middle-class and wealthy women could be more active if they chose.) But poorer women could sometimes be seduced in return for material rewards (that would not be so attractive to those with wealth of their own).

  • How does Gerald’s relationship with Eva reflect the moral atttiudes of his class at this time?
  • Do you think that it is right for Gerald to begin his affair with Eva, when he has no real commitment to her, and would not consider marrying her?
  • Why can Gerald not marry Eva, and why is he quite ready to marry Sheila Birling, when it is obvious that he does not really love her?
  • What do we learn from the various references in the play to the Palace Theatre, “women of the town” and the woman who wanted Eva to go to the Theatre bar?
  • How does Eric’s relationship with Eva reinforce the idea that women of Eva’s class can be used as playthings by the wealthy, and then discarded?

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The customer is always right

Sheila is able to have Eva sacked from Millwards’ shop by threatening the manager that her family will close its account there unless Eva goes.

  • How does this reflect the class system of the time, by showing the enormous influence that a few wealthy people could exercise?
  • Could the manager have refused?

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Silver spoons and spoilt brats

Eric and Sheila have great faults, of which they become ashamed when the Inspector tells them of Eva’s fate.

  • How far are these faults not so much in the children’s nature, as the result of the way they have been brought up?
  • What do we learn about Eric’s education, and why might this explain his lack of responsibility?

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The honours system

At the start of the play, Mr. Birling hints to Gerald, that he will soon be knighted (become Sir Arthur Birling) in return for his work in the Conservative Party.

  • What is the importance in the play of Mr. Birling’s knighthood?
  • Mr. Birling is concerned when he learns of Eva’s death — is he more concerned for Eva’s suffering or for his knighthood? What does this tell you?
  • Do you think it right that Mr. Birling should be given a knighthood in return for his active support of a political party?

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When you have looked at all of these ideas, you should consider the question in a more general sense:

  • The Inspector, in his final speech, tries to show how both the First World War, and the Second, which had just ended when Priestley wrote the play, were the result of attitudes and behaviour such as those of powerful and wealthy families like the Birlings.
  • This may explain why all the worst features of such families seem to be present in the Birlings: they represent the worst qualities of their class.
  • Do you think Priestley has made the play’s argument more convincing by the inclusion in it of such people, or are they too awful to be believable?
  • This play is set in 1912. In what ways might you argue that it has a relevance, not only to the Britain of 1946, but also to the country as it is today?

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Use of evidence

This is critical. Always give examples or refer to details in the story to support your comments. You may use quotation, too: lots of short quotation (where the point of quoting is obvious) is better than very lengthy quotations of less obvious relevance. When you quote, introduce with a comma or colon (. or. ), and enclose what you quote in inverted commas.

Some parts of this guide I wrote originally in conjunction with my friend, Graham Payne. Please acknowledge our authorship by giving the URL of any pages you use, and/or include the © copyright symbol. Suggestions for improvement are welcome. Thank you.

© Andrew Moore and Graham Payne, 2002; Contact me

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An Inspector Calls Quotes and Analysis

A friend of mine went over this new liner last week — the Titanic — she sails next week — forty-six thousand eight hundred tons — forty-six thousand eight hundred tons — New York in five days — and every luxury — and unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.

Priestley's love of dramatic irony is biting here, and his irony is never more satirical than in these comments of Birling's, which, to his original audience in 1946, must have seemed more controversial than they do today because the sinking of the ship was within people's memory. Symbolically, just as the Titanic is destined to sink, so too is Birling's political ideology, under the Inspector's interrogation. The ship was a titan of the seas, and its imminent failure "next week" suggests the dangers of capitalistic hubris, illustrating the risk of the entrepreneur.

GERALD [laughs]: You seem to be a nice well-behaved family -

BIRLING: We think we are -

Coming early in the play, these lines also exemplify Priestley's love of dramatic irony: the last thing the Birlings have been is well-behaved. These lines also suggest the alliance between Gerald and Birling, two men who share the same values, whose bond will become stronger after the Inspector's exit.

But take my word for it, you youngsters — and I've learnt in the good hard school of experience — that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own — and -

We hear the sharp ring of a front door bell.

Birling is taking an individualist, capitalist point of view about personal responsibility, and his lines here provide the general attitude of his speeches since the play began. According to him, experience proves that his point of view is correct, in contrast to the possibly more idealistic "youngsters." Yet, the bell marks the moment at which the Inspector arrives, and it is no accident that the socialist-leaning Inspector arrives at precisely this moment.

what happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide. A chain of events.

In this fascinating excerpt, the Inspector outlines the nature of the moral crime the Birlings and Gerald have committed against Eva. Each of them is responsible in part for her death, and together they are entirely responsible. This construction is itself a metaphor for Priestley's insistence that we are all bound up together and responsible communally for everyone's survival. Note, too, that the repetition in the Inspector's lines reflect the "chain" he is talking about.

[laughs rather hysterically]

Why — you fool — he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet. You'll see. You'll see. She looks at him almost in triumph .

Sheila, shortly before the end of Act One, crucially understands the importance of the Inspector and the fact that he has more information than he is revealing. She is the first person in the play to really begin to understand the Inspector which, in turn, leads her to see her relationship with Gerald in a more realistic, more cynical way.

Yes, Mr. Croft — in the stalls bar at the Palace Variety Theatre.

I happened to look in, one night, after a rather long dull day, and as the show wasn't very bright, I went down into the bar for a drink. It's a favorite haunt of women of the town -

Women of the town?

Yes, yes. But I see no point in mentioning the subject.

Eva Smith, by the time she encounters Eric in the Palace bar, seems to be working as a prostitute, and indeed, the fact that the Palace bar is a location known for prostitutes looking for business is here partly mentioned but partly suppressed. Moreover, this information points out the streetwise character of Gerald Croft, and it might even lead to questions about precisely what he was doing in that bar, at night, other than just happening to "look in" after a "dull day" and having "a drink."

She kept a rough sort of diary. And she said there that she had to go away and be quiet and remember "just to make it last longer." She felt there'd never be anything as good again for her — so she had to make it last longer.

This is an unusually personal moment from the Inspector, who gives us one of the first insights into Eva Smith's feelings and personality. He claims, of course, that he has found a diary in Eva Smith's room, though many interpretations have argued that the Inspector in fact has a more personal connection to Eva Smith: perhaps he even is her ghost, or a ghoulish embodiment of her dead child? Priestley never tells us, but there is certainly opportunity for the actor in this part to suggest a more personal connection. Note, too, the interest in time on Eva's part, keeping a diary and making a point of remembering the past nostalgically.

You'll apologize at once. I'm a public man -

Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.

Here the Inspector, who by this middle act of the play is gaining in power and control over the situation, "massively" silences Birling with a putdown. It is not the first or last time that Birling is cut off mid-thought. It is also important because Priestley points an extra finger of blame at Birling not just for his actions, but for his failure to see that his public position entails a duty of responsibility to other people. Interestingly, this attitude draws on the traditional notion of the upper classes taking responsibility for the welfare of the lower classes, but in the newer, more democratic life of Britain, the "public men" are not necessarily of higher social class even if they have more public privileges; at any rate, their position of power comes with responsibility.

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. Good night.

The Inspector's final lines, from a longer speech he makes shortly before his exit, are a blistering delivery of Priestley's socialist message. Moreover, his promise of "fire and blood and anguish" also looks forward to the First and Second World Wars, a resonance, which, to Priestley's 1946 audience, must have been quite chilling.

we've been had. it makes all the difference.

I suppose we're all nice people now.

These lines illustrate the mood of this last part of the play, as well as the split between the Birlings and their children. Sheila and Eric realize the importance of the Inspector's lesson, notably that they need to become more socially responsible whether or not the particular scenario was a valid example. In contrast, their parents absolutely fail to learn such a lesson, arguing that the failure of the example invalidates the Inspector's argument. Why still feel guilty and responsible? It also is significant that Gerald Croft takes Birling's side (uncritically) rather than Sheila's.

How To Cite http://www.gradesaver.com/an-inspector-calls/study-guide/quotes in MLA Format

William, Robert. Kissel, Adam ed. «An Inspector Calls Quotes and Analysis». GradeSaver, 10 January 2010 Web. Cite this page

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