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“each of You Helped to Kill Her.” Says the Inspector.Show Exactly What Part Each Member of the Birling Family (and Gerald Croft).Played in the Death of Eva Smith.Do You Think That Some Characters Are More Guilty Than Others?

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“Each of you helped to kill her.” Says the Inspector. Show exactly what part each member of the Birling family (and Gerald Croft). Played in the death of Eva Smith. Do you think that some characters are more guilty than others?

‘An Inspector Calls’ is a play written by J.B Priestley. It is set in pre-World War One Britain, but was written in 1945, which enabled Priestley to use dramatic irony as a way of highlighting the ignorance of the Birling family. The play itself is as much a political (and social) statement as a form of entertainment and Priestley’s strong left-wing views manifest themselves in the character of Inspector Goole. It is a strong and morally stimulating piece which uses climax and cliff-hangers to sustain the audience’s interest.

Set in 1912 in the fictional town of Brumley, the play describes the suicide of a working class girl and how each member of the upper-middle class Birling family (and Gerald Croft) had a part to play in her death. I will be describing in detail the connection each member of the family had to Eva Smith and their level of culpability.

After analysing and evaluating each character’s effect on Eva Smith, I will conclude who, I feel, was most responsible for her death.

Before the Inspector arrives, the Birling family and Gerald Croft are enjoying a small celebration for the engagement of Gerald and Sheila. Although the scene is mostly relaxed (in total contrast to the end of the play) there are small undertones of tension and conflict, such as when Sheila snaps at her brother Eric:

(Severely) “Now-what’s the joke?”, and the interchanges between Sheila and her husband to be,

(half-playful half-serious) “Yes- except for all last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you.”

The characters in the scene are all well-dressed and well spoken in a typically upper-middle class way, and the house is furnished in a fashion to display that they are a wealthy family with social status. Arthur Birling is the epitome of a middle-class business man, so much in fact, that his description is almost caricature in nature. He has the middle-class habit of using euphemisms when describing something unpleasant, such as when he inquired if Eva Smith “went on the streets,” which means did she become a prostitute? He is a pompous, arrogant man who is never wrong (in his opinion) and whose only aim in life is to climb the social ladder; he only cares about himself and to a lesser extent his family. His views on the workers in his factory, and perhaps the working class as a whole, are exposed when he refers to them as “labour costs” and says, “Businessmen are finally coming together to work for lower costs and higher prices”. In an overbearing manner Arthur Birling gives this advice to Gerald: “A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.” He also proceeds to make a number of predictions of what is to come in the future, which is Priestley’s first use of dramatic irony. The audience knows that war is declared, the miners do go on strike and the Titanic sinks. This illustrates the ignorance of Arthur Birling and demonstrates how out of touch he is to reality and how abysmally poor his judgment is.

Just before the Inspector arrives yet another note of tension is introduced as Eric reacts badly to a joke, which could, from the audience’s point of view, be due to a guilty conscience,

ERIC (who is uneasy, sharply) “Here, what do you mean?” and (still uneasy) “Well I don’t think it’s very funny.”

The reaction of Arthur to the Inspector shows his impatience and annoyance in dealing with anything that could even remotely connect him to a scandal, as he is very abrupt with the Inspector, and has no qualms about reminding him of his station. “I thought you must be, I was alderman for years- and lord mayor two years ago- and I’m still on the bench- so I know the Brumley police force quite well- and I thought I’d never seen you before” he says. Birling also shows a very callous and uncaring attitude towards Eva Smith’s death “Yes, yes, horrid business. But I don’t understand why you had to come here Inspector…” When questioned about his involvement with Eva Smith it comes to light that he sacked her from his factory two years previously for heading a strike for better wages. Even at this point Arthur accepts no responsibility: (somewhat impatiently) “look- there’s nothing mysterious- or scandalous- about this business- it is a perfectly straightforward case, and as it happened more than eighteen months ago- nearly two years- it obviously had nothing to do with the wretched girls suicide, eh, Inspector?” This pretty much sums up his reaction to the affair throughout

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