In the first half of Act One, the Birlings are seen to be solidly prosperous- nothing seems to be able to shake them- self righteous. As the play proceeds the basis for this prosperity is not well founded. Priestly gives clear signals that the cosiness is going to be undermined. Birling says there is not going to be a war, that the Titanic is unsinkable and everything is going to progress triumphantly. His optimism is stupid. Priestley is saying that Birling and his class’s prosperity is won at the expense of other groups- progress will be achieved by exercising authority over the workers. Priestley shows us that this is wrong. Birling must learn that he. Like all of us, has a social responsibility and that we need to help each other. Both Birling and Sheila have ruined Eva Smith materially.Order now
Follows the same pattern as that set in Act One. Two more characters, Gerald Croft and Mrs. Birling, come under scrutiny. Also as in Act One, one is receptive to what the Inspector is saying and the other isn’t. Gerald appears the less blameworthy in this act because he shows care towards Eva Smith and rescued her from the drunken man- he claims it was only through pity that he provided her with a flat, no other motive. Gerald is the first character to offer kindness to her, not coldness and rejection. Her response to Gerald arises from loneliness and gratitude which is pathetic because she keeps a diary just to make it longer.
Mrs B is a contrast. Even after admitting to turning the girl away she turns defensive. She turned the girl away because she’s snobby about girls of Eva’s class and because she used her name. She believed that the father should be compelled to take responsibility- irony (dramatic effect). She condemns herself out of her own mouth. Charity for her is an ironic misnomer (applying wrong name to something). She also shuts out the girls who would have been carrying her grandchild. In turning her away, she inadvertently is killing her grandchild. Eva is displaying “finer feelings” than Mrs Birling herself. So far Mr and Mrs Birling are the least sympathetic members. The younger members (Sheila and Gerald) have a more sympathetic approach towards Eva Smith.
The Inspector acts as the mouthpiece for Priestley and the other characters as different opinion of the time. Act One deals with the material ruin of Eva Smith but the remaining two acts deal with the emotional ruin of her. Her moral ruin is at the hands of the Birlings and such like families who uphold themselves as the pillars of society. Sexual Hypocrisy This is also obvious. The men have double standards. The women within the family and their social class are treated differently but the women outside the family, especially of lower class, are treated in a different way. Priestley is arguing for equality.
Act Three The final act and a change of mood. Confession from Eric completes the pattern of involvement with Eva Smith. His behaviour is presented as selfish, immature, unscrupulous (lacking sense of right and wrong). Eva Smith is shown as having finer feelings and greater moral responsibility than those who dragged her down. She’s presented as the innocent, highly-principled victim of the Birling’s selfish abuse. Her good qualities make her death more shocking and show up more sharply the hypocrisy of her persecutors (particularly the Birlings). The Inspectors recapitulation (summing up) of the charges against the family makes the guilt both individual and communal guilt.
Mrs Birling: Individual- Turned away the girl who was pregnant with her own grandchild Communal- She is a member of the higher classes and a charity which looks down on those lower with no social responsibility. Eric:Individual- He simply used Eva Smith for sex Communal- Didn’t help her Sheila: Individual- She got Eva Smith sacked from her job Communal- She abused her position Birling: Individual- Sacked her from her job Communal- Abused his position Gerald seemed to be fond of Eva- least blameworthy. It was the continuous chain of events which lead to Eva Smiths suicide.
What they have learnt Mrs Birling is least affected- she said she would do it again. Birling is mostly concerned about his knighthood, publicity and money lost. Sheila is very affected- has a real guilt and this has altered her life forever. Eric’s life has been altered somewhat but not to the extent of Sheila’s. Gerald may change depending on whether or not Sheila takes him back. Twists in this Act We suspect that the Inspector is probably a fake. For the older Birlings they feel as if they’ve been let of- free to go as if nothing has happened. The younger Birlings feel that they have done what they’ve done regardless of whether or not the Inspector was real.
The family try to find a way out- explore the ideas that it might have been several girls that were involved. After the call to the Infirmary they feel relieved. The final twist is the closing moment. The telephone call announces the imminent arrival of a police Inspector. They are thrown back into guilt and confusion, making us as the audience review our understanding of Inspector Goole because we have gone through the stage too. At first the Inspector appeared genuine, unusual character but then we find out it’s a scam making it more sinister. The audience are left thinking and talking about it. It also completes the play, and finishes more or less where it began.