Mr Birling had her dismissed from his factory for demanding a small increase in wages; Sheila ordered her to be dismissed from her job in a shop simply because of jealousy; Gerald Croft kept her as his mistress before suddenly leaving her; Eric Birling also had an affair with the girl and stole money to keep her living and Mrs Birling used her influence to deny help to Eva Smith when she needed it most, driving her to suicide. “A chain of events” Eric, Gerald and Sheila are the young upper class generation who unlike Mr and Mrs Birling (their parents) have a social conscience.
In the play a number of themes are explored: Lies: The characters in the play lie to each other, to the Inspector and to themselves. For example Mr Birling denies ever having met Eva Smith Love: Several kinds of love are depicted in the play, for example the husband and wife love shown by the Birlings. Pride and status: The play also shows how true it is that pride comes before a fall. Especially the false pride shown by some of the characters. Responsibility: The play points out the need for a sense of personal responsibility for every member of the society.
Responsibility not only for individual actions but also for the way our actions affect others (collective responsibility). The Inspector’s role in the play is a crucial one as he appears in the play to disapprove of the Birlings capitalist views. His role is to play the narrator. When he isn’t piecing Eva’s life story together through questions, he is narrating the gaps in her life through lectures. Goole brings her splintered life together into one cohesive story. The Inspector is also the catalyst for the night; he keeps the flow of the play running, by his intense questioning and lectures.
The Inspector is not at all an ordinary Inspector because he gives himself a moral duty, which makes him behave in certain ways that an ordinary Inspector would not do. He is more concerned with right and wrong than with what is legal. He is a moralist. He sternly tells Birling, for example, “it’s better to ask for the earth (as a worker might do) than to take it (which Birling does)”. He has a peculiar habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking which could suggest that he sees through the person he is addressing and knows their secrets before they even say anything.
Example: when responding to Gerald’s question about him not being able to see the photograph the Inspector replies (coolly, looking hard at him) “there might be. ” Which also tells us that he is very intimidating. He is not afraid to contradict and be rude to his social superiors, powerful and influential men like Birling. In fact the Inspector is threatening Mr Birling in his tone of voice and saying how he’s a suspect in Eva Smith’s suicide. This is shown in act 3 PG 51 when the Inspector says to Mr Birling ” she wanted twenty-five shillings a week instead of twenty-two and sixpence.
You made her pay a heavy price for that. And now she’ll make you pay a heavier price still”. It looks like the Inspector is lecturing the family rather then interrogating them. For example when (act 1) Mr Birling says that him firing Eva Smith has got nothing to do with her suicide the Inspector says “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”. Whereas a normal Inspector would just take notes and not say anything irrelevant to his job.
The Inspector is single minded in pursuing his investigation. He contracts the development of events: who will speak; and when; who may or may not leave; who will or will not see the photograph partly because he recognises that “otherwise, there’s a muddle”(pg 12). Since the inspector is showing the photograph one at a time to the characters it gives an impression to the audience that he might be switching photos around. For example he might be showing Mr Birling one photo and Sheila might be shown a completely different photo. Which raises questions in the audiences’ minds and causes tension.
The Inspector neither changes nor develops his character, he alone is certain of the facts. He speaks with great moral authority, cutting short, interrupting and challenging people. He controls the situation throughout. He does this a lot in Sheila and Eric’s cases. For example (act 2 pg 23) Sheila is telling her part of the story and Gerald says something the Inspector quickly cuts in and says ” never mind about you”. He doesn’t give anyone a chance to say anything about him because he forces each character to say what he wants him or her to say.
Another example of his authorative behaviour is during his conversation with Mr Birling about Eva Smith. Birling: They wanted the rates raised so that they could average about twenty-five shillings a week. I refused, of corse. Inspector: (interrogative) Why? Birling: (surprised) Did you say why? This suggests that the Inspector is questioning the Birling’s integrity and honesty. The Birlings are respected in society and being questioned in such a manner by the inspector is a clear indication that the Inspector repudiates their status in society.
Mr Birling tells the Inspector that he was about to receive a knight hood from the King but the Inspector is unaffected by his achievements and continues to question the Birling’s integrity. At the end of the play when it was confirmed that a dead girl had been brought into the infirmary, this gives the Inspector supernatural characteristics, as he seems to have predicted her death. It looks like the Inspector was here to re-enact what was about to come in the future and to show how easily each one of the Birlings could be accused of the suicide of Eva Smith.
The Inspector makes judgements about the characters, which the Birlings feel is unusual in a police Inspector. He seems to be more concerned with what is right than what is wrong, something very unusual for a police Inspector to do. For example when he says “public men Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges” to which Birling replies “… you weren’t asked here to talk to me about my responsibilities”. The Inspector makes the characters confess to things that the Birling’s would prefer were undisclosed.
The Inspector punishes each character in the way that suits each one of the Birling’s and Gerald. Birling fears for his family’s reputation (Birling to Inspector) “What do you mean by saying that? You talk as if we were responsible”; Sheila feels shame for her selfishness;(Sheila says) “… (to Gerald) at least I’m trying to tell the truth. I expect you’ve done things you’re ashamed of”. Gerald has his affair revealed in front of Sheila;” I’m sorry, Sheila. But it was all over and done with last summer… ” says Gerald.
Mrs Birling blames her own son without her even knowing who the father of Eva Smith’s baby was. “I blame the young man who was the father of the child” She has her illusions about the responsibility of her family shattered by Eric and Eric is revealed before his lenient parents as a spoilt and an incapable young man. In each case the punishment is a consequence of the Birling’s own behaviour. The Inspector does not bring punishments from outside but instead very cleverly makes the characters punish each other, that’s why he was very organised in his interactions with the characters.
He interviews each character/characters when he thinks the time is most appropriate, for example when Sheila and Gerald are interviewed together by the Inspector (Sheila said to Gerald) “… You and I aren’t the same people who sat down down to dinner here. ” The consequences were that the engagement between Sheila and Gerald broke as Sheila returned the engagement ring back to Gerald. The Inspector is a strange character he behaves differently from a real Inspector and also from the Birling’s. He is a very mysterious figure, as we have no information as to who he is and where he came from.
His character is more of a mystery than Eva Smith’s. The entrance and exits of the Inspector to the play are also mysterious and timely. He enters the play in the middle of Mr Birling’s speech about “a man has to mind his own business and look after himself” and leaves the play just after Mr and Mrs Birling pretended nothing happened and then they suddenly got a phone call from the infirmary saying a girl named Eva Smith has died and a Inspector will be around shortly. Unlike the other characters he has no history with Eva, as he had never met Eva before apart from the time when he visited her in the infirmary after her death.
The Inspector doesn’t seem to be of this world, let alone of the Brumley police department. This is a strong possibility because the Inspector, not once touched anything solid. When asked for a drink (pg 11) he refused. You can tell that the Inspector is not a member of the police force because Mr Birling says he knows most of the officers in Brumley and when asked ‘ do you get on with the chief constable’ the Inspector replies ‘ I don’t see much of him. ‘ Which reinforces the prediction that he is not a real Inspector but a hoax?
The Inspector is omniscience- he knows everything about the family’s involvement with the girl, before the Birlings reveal their secrets. He constantly repeats, “I haven’t much time” which could suggest that is some kind of spirit whose time on earth is running out. When the Inspector first enters the play Priestley describes the Inspector in terms of ‘massiveness, solidity and purposefulness’ symbolising the fact that he is all over the place, he sees, hears and smells anything anywhere. It symbolises the fact that he is an unstoppable force within the play.
Priestley’s description of the Inspector when he enters the play is describing him in terms of a Super-being and as a reference to god. The Inspector’s name Goole, also has tremendous significance, it is a homonym. Ghoul, another form of the word, has exactly the same sound but its meaning carries a great effect on the play as a Ghoul is a demon that eats dead corpses which could suggest that he ate Eva Smith and could account for the fact that he (the Inspector) knows everything about Eva without ever meeting her. A Ghoul is “an evil spirit” to Birling and his upper class peers as he (Inspector) comes to confront their conscience.
The Inspector affects Sheila and Eric, the younger generation, more then any other characters because that’s what priestly wanted, he wanted to show us that the young generation should/are learning from their own and the mistakes their parents made. Whilst the older members of the family, Arthur and Sybil Birling and Gerald Croft, are to rigid to change and remain as pompous and superior as ever, the younger generation, Eric and Sheila Birling, realize and accept their part in the death of Eva Smith. Mr Birling responding to the Inspectors question I’ve told you all I know and it doesn’t seem to me very important. ”
And Sheila reacting to the comments made by the Inspector “I know I’m to blame and I’m desperately sorry Here you can compare the different thoughts and views each generation has of society within the same class. It shows that the world has changed since the Birlings were thought and bought up to consider themselves superior than others. In act three Eric says “and I say the girl’s dead and we all helped to kill her- and that’s what matters. ” This is Priestleyi?’s way of saying that it is up to the younger generation of society to change because older people are a lot more resistant and attached to their lifestyle.