Priestly uses themes and ideas to help the audience relate to, and understand social responsibility and to make them realise how they must be aware of the consequences that other people, possibly with a lower status will have to face as a result of the choices and actions they choose to make. To portray this idea of social responsibility Priestly has written this play ‘An Inspector Calls’ particularly about an upper middle class family called the Birlings. He describes there family home as ‘ a fairly large suburban house’ and its contents as ‘ solid furniture.’ Also to create an image of this upper middle class family he tells us of ‘a parlour maid named Edna, champagne glasses, a cigar box and cigarettes, and that they are all in evening dress’ All these factors create the feel of affluence. These props and stage settings show us a lot about the Birling household and the environment that the inspector is about to walk into.
At the beginning of the play, the Birlings are celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to Gerald Croft the heir to a successful and wealthy business. They are pictured as sitting around a large dining room table; Mr Birling is giving advice to his future son-in-law “I’ll tell you, by that time you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these capital versus Labour agitations” this emphasizes there formality with one another. Everything is seemingly perfect. However, just as they are in mid- celebration and seem to be enjoying themselves Edna the parlour maid informs Mr Birling that an inspector has arrived and wishes to speak with him. It is then revealed that a young girl named Eva Smith has committed suicide and from then on the involvement of each Birling member and Gerald Croft is revealed.
The members of the Birling family are Mr and Mrs Birling their son Eric and daughter Sheila. By using the tactics of guilt and questioning the family the inspector makes each individual tell him of their own involvement with Eva Smith and implicates them into her death. Events soon gather speed and it is not long until we are being informed about Mr. Birling’s involvement with Eva Smith. Mr Birling is questioned first, at the beginning of the Inspectors interrogation he considers some of the questions ‘unnecessary’ but he does in fact answer all of them eventually.
He was a former employer of Eva, who he considered ‘a good worker’ but once she returned after a summer break she among others began to ask for a pay rise. Because Mr.Birling refused to increase her wage not because he was unable to afford it but because he likes ‘lower costs and higher prices’ instead he fired the girl with out the slightest bit of thought to what his action was going to have on her. This is a very good example of where Mr. Birling abuses his social responsibility as an employer and so this is obviously why Priestly chose to use a character like Mr. Birling.
The audience watching a play at this time would probably be of upper middle class or around this region. So when writing and thinking about this play Priestly took into account the target audience and so thought of characters that others may be able to relate to, such as Mr.Birling. The inspector then questions Sheila; unlike her father she is very emotional and her response to the tragedy is one of the few encouraging things to come out of the play, it makes the audience see that you are able to change.
She shows compassion towards the thought of the death of this girl ‘ it’s a rotten shame’. After viewing the picture of Eva Smith, openly Sheila tells the inspector of how she was evolved with the girl, it turns out that Eva had begun work in a well known departmental store Milwards but when Shelia thought she saw Eva looking at her smugly, rushed to the manager feeling jealous and angry. The result of this, Eva lost yet another job. This is an example of a Sheila abusing her family name and being insensitive of others. One thing that she has in common with her father is that she did not think about the consequences Eva would have to face through loosing her job; she abused her social responsibility as a Lady with a successful father and good family name.
Gerald’s involvement with Eva is irresponsible, after meeting her he allows her to fall in love with him encouragingly, giving her false and unrealistic hopes for a relationship the inevitably could never become anything other than a short fling. After having his fun, she is once again abandoned and left to fend for herself. As a person near the top of a social hierarchy he should not have allowed this to happen, and been more responsible for his actions.
The reason for the use of this character is so that members of the audience can see that although at the beginning of such a relationship you feel that it won’t go very far, in the end it could develop into more and therefore the person who is given false intentions, in this case Eva will end up getting hurt. It is easy to imagine how Eva was attracted to Gerald probably the same way that Sheila was, his good looks and charm. He ignored the known fact that the relationship could not develop.