Produce an empathic response to character and themes in ‘An Inspector Calls’ basing your response on role-play activities, which demonstrates your understanding of the historical, cultural and social contexts in the play. An Inspector Calls was written post- World War Two around 1945. It is set in 1912, just before World War One started. In the stage production, the play is introduced with some 1940’s dressed children entering the play from a hatch in the visible part of the stage. The stage is strangely curled downwards towards the left of the stage, and a telephone box with smashed windows is leaning inwards towards it. There is a 1940s radio on the right, which a young boy kicks until is begins churning out wartime music. A siren begins ringing, the children run underneath the curtain and the curtain lifts.
On stage is a house on a street, with a street lamp and a smaller version of the house towards the back of the stage. The sky is dark and cloudy, and it is raining. An old woman, Edna the maid, sits near the house on a small chair. The family sit inside the house. The Inspector first enters the play from the auditorium in a ghostly and sinister way and is almost on the stage before the audience register his presence. He enters almost as if he has come from ‘elsewhere’, in an eerie and almost Christ-like way. He hands the boy an orange and the boy runs off. This may signify the irony that the play was written in the mid 1940s (WW2) and set in 1912(WW1), and the scarcity of oranges at both of these times. The family are sat in the small house, eating and drinking merrily.
The family are having a celebratory dinner due to Sheila Birling’s engagement to Gerald Croft. The Inspector makes his presence known and speaks to Arthur Birling first, informing him of a young girls successful suicide attempt. “I’d like some information, if you don’t mind, Mr Birling. Two hours ago a young woman died in the Infirmary. She’d been taken there this afternoon because she’s swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant.” The Inspector shows Arthur a photograph, and Arthur remembers the victim, one of his ex-employees, Eva Smith. Arthur sacked her, as she wanted a pay rise. “They wanted the rates raised so they could average twenty-five shillings a week. I refused, of course.” This passage shows how Arthur has a greedy and selfish side, greed being one of the main themes in the play.
Sheila is next to be interrogated by the Inspector. The Inspector tells her that after she got sacked by Mr Birling, Eva went for a job at Milward’s, one of Sheila’s favourite clothes shops. “She was taken on in a shop-and a good shop too- Milward’s.” He shows Shelia a photograph of Eva and she sobs. Sheila lost Eva her job at Milward’s which helped lead to the suicide. “I caught sight of her smiling at the assistant, and I was furious with her.” ” I went to the manager at Milward’s and I told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again and I’d persuade Mother to close our account with them.” Eva was discharged immediately. These passages show how Sheila was greedy and made Milward’s discard Eva Smith in order to keep her account. It shows how Sheila was jealous and greedy.
The Inspector next talks to Sheila’s fianc Gerald Croft. Eva Smith apparently changed her name to Daisy Renton, and this name Gerald recognises. “Now she had to try something else. So first she changed her name to Daisy Renton.” ” What?” exclaims Gerald. It turns out Gerald had an affair with Eva, which lasted many months until they broke up “in the first week of September”. Eva supposedly took it very well but this event still helped towards her suicide.
After Gerald left her, Eva went to Sybil Birling’s Women’s Organization to seek help. “At first she called herself Mrs Birling”, much to Sybil’s disgust, and later told lies to the committee. They eventually turned her away. Sybil was greedy and refused to help Eva, leaving her on the streets and even more depressed. The Inspector uncovers that Eva was pregnant when she went for refuge at Sybil’s hostel, and the father was Eric.
Eric comes back to the family and admits all. ” I wasn’t in love with her or anything-but I liked her”. “She told me she was going to have a baby”. Eric also admits he stole money to support her ” I got it-from the office-“. Eric was greedy when he stole the money and when he did not stand by Eva. Greed plays a major role in the play, as it is the root of all of the Birling’s mistakes and is categorised as one of the play’s many themes, along with responsibility, good and evil, and collective responsibility.
Eva Smith is seen as a generic character, representing all such people from her social class and especially women in her position, for instance oppressed workers, or women into prostitution. “There are many Eva Smiths”. There are also parallels between Eva and the Everyman character from an early 16th century morality play. This character personifies dispute between good and evil- themes in ‘An Inspector Calls’. She also has parallels with Eve from the Bible- greed was the original sin from the beginning of time and was the beginning of Eva’s problems. Eric, particularly, is not very responsible when he becomes the father of Eva’s baby, and with his drinking habits. He steals money from his father, which shows extreme measures of irresponsibility. When Gerald goes with Eva he is acting irresponsibly as he is due to marry Sheila. Another key theme in ‘An Inspector Calls’ is collective responsibility.