This short statement made by the inspector after his primary investigation has taken place is one of the main underlying themes throughout this short play. Perhaps because of agendas that the author J. B. Priestly wants to address. English author J. B. Priestley (1894-1984) clearly saw this 20th-century conundrum when he observed that “ours is an age of deepening inner despair and of appalling catastrophes, an age when society says one thing and then does something entirely different . . . Western man is schizophrenic. ”
Thus, he is confused that the societys that we live in are ‘schizophrenic. Most people have two sides to them, one that believes they are good and just and the other true side which is selfish and cruel to others. How indeed are we an advanced and civilised society when we treat others like we do. This is perhaps why he chose this as his main theme for his play. It becomes apparent as the play progresses and we discover that everything the characters do or have done, no matter how small or insignificant it seems at the time ends up having an effect on others. On this occasion, whether by chance or not they happen to affect the same person.
Each character except the inspector have at some time carelessly and without a passing thought have turned their backs on common humane responsibilities that should be shown to their fellow man such as kindness and compassion. These maltreatments of their responsibilities happened for a variety of reasons that become apparent as the play progresses. Often because of factors of life in Britain in the 1910’s. The gaps in the social and class structures were vast, things we take for granted such as basic equality were often not apparent in society.
These too are addressed in the play the Birlings being upper class and Eva Smith/Daisy Renton being lower class. This main theme of responsibility appears throughout the play, affecting every character, including the Inspector and Daisy Renton. It becomes apparent in five ways:past responsibilities that have been ignored, responsibility to family to help them, lack of responsibility towards others, relying on others to be responsible for you and the responsibility to aid and others and uncover truths.
Throughout the play Priestly offers various examples of lack of responsibilities shown by us to our fellow humans in the past that could have easily been averted had we followed this simple lesson presented by the inspector. In the first act (act1 page 7) Mr. Birling demonstrates the feelings felt by many men in his position at the time. Immersed in what they considered then to be a brilliantly punctual and well working society. He demonstrates the blind inability to ‘see outside the box’ and develop a perspective that is able to see what could (and does) go wrong.
When discussing the Titanic is lead to believe what others have lead him to believe. ‘Unsinkable. ‘ Clearly not the case. Although this doesn’t directly affect what happens in the play it is an exaple made by Priestly of attitudes by all at the time. The authour in this case picking up on many Historical events that occur just after the play that have to do with lack of responsibility towards others in the past. i. e The Titanic’s Captain jeopardised the safety of the passengers by travelling through iceberg filled waters at such speeds.
Then the designers had swapped lifeboats for more deckspace so there wasnt enough room for all and then the upper classes refused to share their boats with the lower classes. Thus causing many to die in the icy waters. He also mentions the war which could have been averted had certain events betraying responsibilities to the sanctity of human life occured on mainland Europe. Apart from Historical events that could have been averted through responsibility Priestly also confronts issues such as sexism by making it apparent in this play.
In the1940’s, where women had more rights and freedom than ever before, Priestley is trying to show that society can change, and becomes all the better for it, given that people show eachother responsibilities. Sheila: ‘What’s this all about? ‘ Birling: ‘Nothing to do with you Sheila, run along. ‘ (Act One, page 17). Birling: ‘… I protest against the way in which my daughter, a young, unmarried girl, is being dragged into this–‘ Inspector: (sharply)’Your daughter isn’t living on the moon. She’s here in Brumley too. ‘ (Act Two, page 37).
Eric: ‘Well, I’m old enough to be married, aren’t I, and I’m not married, and I hate these fat old tarts round the town – ‘ (Act Three, page 52). Inspector: ‘But she became your mistress? ‘Gerald: ‘Yes, I suppose it was inevitable. ‘ (Act Two, page 37). This factor of sexism in the 1910’s was able to be presented to a 1940’s audience and today as sexism has been almost abolished in some areas and even reversed in others the blatant sexism of the play is even more alien to us. As I mentioned before there was a huge gap between the classes is societies in the 1910’s.
Priestly also concentrates on these in the play. There are examples of these throughout the play. For example, when Eric and Gerald are being questioned about their exploits in the Palace Bar and their involvement with ‘women of the town. ‘ Both the men speak of the women and men there cruelly as they are lower classes. ‘Hard-eyed, dough-faced women. ‘ Another aspect of responsibility towards others in this play is the responsibility towards other family mambers shown. As the play begins in the Birling household the four Birlings, Sheila, Eric, Mr. +Mrs. Birling are present, along with Sheila’s fiance Gerald Croft.
Quickly the scene is set and the characters’ characters presented to the audience. The theme of responsibility for self gain is quickly introduced when we discover the relationship between the Crofts and the Birlings goes far beyond the simple virtue of love. We understannd that the engaged couple’s fathers’ work is closely related and many obviously apparent hints by Mr. Birling about how the marriage will benefit both himself and Gerald’s father’s businesses. ‘You’re just the kind of son in law I wanted.
Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now- though crofts limited are both older and bigger than Birling and company- and now you’ve brought us together. ‘ Sheila knows that this is her future, and the men aren’t even attempting to be subtle about the fact that the familes’ relationships are as important as hers. This is an exaple of Sheila’s responsibility to her family. They feel they must protect eachother. Another example is when Gerald is detailing his affair Mrs. B feels the responsibility to protect Sheila.
‘It would be much better if Sheila didn’t listen to this story at all. (act2 p. 34) The main theme of the play is the Lack of responsibility shown to the young girl Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. The main story of the play is Inspector Goole (ghoul? ) who is representing the perfect and just individual that is not in keeping with the character of a police inspector of the time, interrogating the Birling Family about their involvement with Eva Smith’s suicide. He does this by making them admit what they have done so as to not be responsible to her. He does this by slowly feeding them information and letting them fill in gaps.
In total the Birling family as a whole are responsible for her downward spiral that ends up with her taking her own life and the life of her unborn child. Over a period of time all of them are cruel and unfair to her in a variety of ways, some more cruelly than others but with just as much affect. The inspector chooses to investigate the Birlings and their responsibilities chronologically, starting with her being fired from Arthur Birling’s factory two years before she commits suicide.
Mr. Birling begins by commenting on how nice a a girl she was ‘a lively good looking girl’ ‘a good worker too. Then we are told for what reason she was fired. Just because she asked for a pay rise, and a small one at that. Just because she was considered one of the ringleaders. If she was such a good worker surely he could have just said no as he did to the other workers. Instead turning her out on the streets, and after working well for him for over a year. He didnt even give her a second chance, an obvious lack of responsibility. This time being cruel and showing no responsibility because he cared for nothing but money and profit.
He sees the girls as cheap labour. The factories and warehouses wouldn’t know where to get cheap labour- ask your father’ (act1 p. 18) Maybe even because of the obvious sexism at the time that I commented on earlier. Mr. Birling then shows a lack of responsibility towards others that is not related to Eva Smith. As he realises he may be in trouble he tries to blame it on anybody he can to relieve himself. As it becomes apparent that everybody is to blame he does nothing to help them. He just sides with the inspector. Often offering up pretences that his questioning methods are unsuitable but obviously relieved that he isn’t solely to blame.
He acts ‘big’, as if head of the family but is cowardly when they need his protection. Next the inspector questions Sheila. Linking her with Eva/Daisy’s expulsion from the clothes shop Millwards mere months after losing her previous job at Mr. B’s factory. After also commenting on how pretty she was Sheila describes trying on a fabulous dress thet when on didn’t suit her at all. She became angry when Eva/Daisy ‘held up the dress as if wearing it. And it just suited her. ‘
Then when Sheila saw her ‘laughing’ when she tried he dress on and it didn’t suit her she told the manager ‘if you dont get rid of her, i’d never go there again. The management felt it neccesary to let her go, though they didn’t want to. This is a sign of extreme cruelty shown to Eva/Daisy by Sheila and a lack of responsibility by leaving her with no work. This is solely because of the jealousy felt by her because of her spoiled attitude. This is also a sort of lack of responsibility shown by the shop Millwards who kick her out just because of wanting profit and their unwillingness to argue and refuse Sheila’s request. Sheila is also showing lack of responsibility because she says that she didn’t give it a second thought, even when she had calmed down.
To her defence Sheila shows a change of character throughout the rest of the play, becoming highly sympathetic towards the fate that Eva/Daisy has suffered. Mr. B:”And you can pay back that money that you stole. ” Sheila:”But that wont bring Eva Smith back to life will it? ” (Act3 p. 65) The Inspector moves on to Gerald and Eric. Both of whom have mistreated her Very badly in the past. ‘Using and Abusing’ her. Both meet up with the same desperate young woman in the Palace Bar and taking advantage of her position.
After losing two jobs the hardships of life are beginning to take their toll on her. Now a ‘woman of the town. ‘ Both take advantage of her and casting aside genuine responsibilities to help a fellow human being, instead taking advantage and using her as a mistress. Both however do show some responsibility when they come to helping her through her hard times. Gerald gives her a place to stay and Eric money. Although neither present responsibility in any great amount that shows they care for her. Eric steals money and Gerald dumping her when he deems neccesary.
The factors that have lead to this behaviour could be many, such as male arrogance or maliciousness. Mrs. Birling’s part in the events that lead to Eva’s suicide take place in the close proximity to the inspector calling, maybe even within a matter of days. Nrs. Birling is perhaps the one that demonstrates the least responsibility out of all the Birlings and Gerald. She shows malice and spite towards this young and OBVIOUSLY pregnant young lady. Eva approaches Mrs. B’s charity council begging for money, just so she can survive. She no longer has food, money or anywhere to stay.
Now she also finds herself eating for two. After being asked for her name she answered Mrs. Birling, not knowing who the woman in front of her was. This is the sole reason presented by mrs. B as to why her case was thrown out and aid refused. ‘Naturally that was one of the things that prejudiced me against her case. ‘ This is an example of an immature woman who cannot get past her own existance to realise the importance of helping someone else. Perhaps even worse still is when she denies that she was wrong for refusing her aid, saying it was the ‘father’s fault.
Turning away a pregnant woman in her situation is unforgivable in any situation, especially when it’s for such weak reasons as a title. The entire family was is some part to blame for Eva Smith’s suicide, but none save Sheila were able to admit wrong doing. Despite the ‘Ghoul’ inspector visiting who was trying to ‘save their souls’ and change them as people by admitting their lack of responsibilities none had changed as the real inspector was due to arrive. Perhaps another way for Priestly to demonstrate the thoughts and feelings of those at the time.
Eva Smith relied on the responsibilities of the Birlings. All failed her. Another theme of responsibility in this play is that of the Inspector. He feels it neccesary to be responsible for uncovering the truth of why Eva Smith commits suicide. He feels it neccesary to complete his work justly and thoroughly, but most of all, to find the truth properly. Not bending his morales to the whims of a class-filled society. ‘It’s my duty to ask questions. ‘ This quote sums up what the inspector represents in the play. And also refers to my main question of morales and responsibility in this play.