On page 9, when Mr Birling, Gerald and Eric are talking about women’s clothes, Eric says, “(eagerly) yes I remember – (but he checks himself)”. This is a dramatic device because it gives the audience the impression that Eric knows something about a girl, as he remembers about a girl he knew who liked clothes, and then he stops himself talking. It could also suggest that he holds an important secret. Another example of a dramatic device is when Eric ‘guffaws’ after Gerald says that he’ll be careful when he goes away for, ‘work’. This gives the audience the impression that Eric knows a secret of Gerald’s. However, this could also be that Eric is drunk. Eric’s father, Mr. Birling, does not approve of Eric. He seems to treat Gerald better than his own son, as Mr. Birling says to Gerald, “You’re just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted”. Mrs. Birling cannot see Eric’s faults, one of which is a drink problem.
When the inspector arrives and makes his early speech about a young girl dying in the infirmary, immediately, Eric is clearly very shocked as he says, “(involuntarily) My God!” And as the inspector is talking to them, Eric later bursts out again saying, “Well, I think it’s a dam’ shame.” He is defending the girl, as Mr. Birling has no sympathy for her, just in getting himself out of trouble. Eric says, “Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages”, and “I don’t see why she should have been sacked just because she’d a bit more spirit than the others”.
Here, Priestley is giving his views on socialism and he thinks that people should at least try for higher wages, and they shouldn’t be sacked, especially if they are a good worker. Since Eric has said this, the audience’s impression of him has grown, and instead of him being seen as a cocky and arrogant young man, he is now looked at as more sympathetic and compassionate. I also feel this way about my views of Eric, and I now see him as an opposite to his capitalist parents, and he is now starting to see things from the perspective of the working class.
Whilst the inspector is talking to Gerald and Mr. Birling, Eric suddenly bursts out with, “Look here, I’ve had enough of this.” This could be because the inspector says that everyone will have an opportunity to talk to him. The inspector then says, “(dryly): I dare say.” Eric then replies, “(uneasily): I’m sorry – but you see – we were having a little party – and I’ve had a few drinks, including rather a lot of champagne – and I’ve got a headache – and as I’m only in the way here – I think I’d better turn in.” When Eric says this, we immediately think that he is trying to get out of the situation by saying that he wants to go because of his headache, and that he is only in the way.
He also slips in the fact that they were having a party, and that they were drinking champagne, which is often associated with celebrations. This could be that he is trying to get rid of the inspector by dropping in, that he is interrupting their celebration with accusations and bad news. This gives the impression Eric knows something about the girl and was in some way involved with her. Later on, Eric is said to be in an excitable silly mood, and then the inspector asks why. Mrs. Birling replies, “I’m afraid he may have had rather too much to drink tonight. We were having a little celebration here-“, and the inspector replies, “Isn’t he used to drinking?” Since the inspector says this, it makes us think that Eric may be an alcoholic, or used to be. And because the inspector says it, it is though this may be a factor in the death of Eva.
Once they find out that a ‘drunken young idler’ made Eva pregnant and was stealing money to provide for her, Mrs. Birling tells the inspector that, “He should make sure that he’s compelled to confess in public his responsibility.” Since Eric is the culprit, he would be the one to confess and expose the Birlings. If Eric is exposed, it ruins the chance of Eric’s father being knighted, as Mr. Birling tells Gerald that, “I gather there’s a very good chance of a knighthood – so long as we behave ourselves.”
When Mrs. Birling asks the inspector to leave, and he replies, “I’m waiting – To do my duty”. It finally sinks in to Mrs. Birling that the drunken boy was her son Eric. Eric then enters, pale and distressed, and says, “You know don’t you?” This tells us that Eric was greatly involved with the death of Eva Smith and that he was the father of the unborn child. Eric was not in the room as this conversation was going on, but once Mrs. Birling realised Eric was the father, he entered and said, “You know, don’t you.”. This entrance was important because it confirmed to everyone that Eric was actually the person involoved.
When Eric is explaining how he met Eva, he says he went back to her lodging and insisted that he was going to go in, against her will. “I insisted – it seems.” This also tells us Eric is a rather aggressive or insistive person when he is drunk. He then says, “Afterwards she told me she didn’t want me to go in but that – well, i was in a state when a chap easily turns nasty.” This confirms the idea about Eric, once he has drank a few too many. Eric didn’t turn to his parents for help, as his father does not seem to get along with him as he prefers Gerald over him. And his mother doesn’t seem to care, or to pay any attention. He tells his mother, “You don’t understand anything. You never did. You never even tried.”
Once the inspector has left, straight away, Mr. Birling says to Eric, “You’re the one i blame for this”, and Eric just replies, “I’ll bet I am.” Eric seems to take responsibility for his actions, and when his mum says, “I’m ashamed of you”, Eric replies, “Well, I don’t blame you.” But once he tells his mother and father he is ashamed of them, they just seem to wriggle out of it and say that there’s every excuse for what they did, but they were just unfortunate. It seems Eric is now completely different to his parents now. Sheila also says, “I behaved badly too”, which tells us that she and Eric are similar, and that maybe it is that the different generations think differently.
Sheila says that she didn’t think that he was a real inspector. But then she says, “It doesn’t make any real difference”, and Mrs. Birling replies, “Of course it does”, and then Eric says, “No, Sheila’s right. It doesn’t.” Mr. Birling then disagrees with Eric. Which again shows that the generations are different. After a long time of Eric and Sheila defending the dead girl, and Mr. and Mrs. Birling getting themselves out of trouble, Eric ends up shouting what really matters, “(shouting) And i say the girls dead and we all helped to kill her – and thats what matters – “.
Once Gerald has the idea that it wasn’t a real inspector, all eric seems to do, is defend the girl. He is constantly saying it doesn’t matter, and that it doesn’t alter the fact that the girl is dead, while Gerald and Mr. and Mrs. Birling are all trying to prove that it was a hoax. Once they phone up the infirmary and police station, they lighten up and find it amusing that they’ve been fooled. They think that nothing that happened matters, and they are all pretending that nothing even happened, all apart from Eric and Sheila. Then the phone rings, saying that an inspector is on his way, as a young girl has just died in the infirmary.
This happens because Gerald, Mr. Birling and Mrs. Birling are all trying to carry on, as middle class, pretending nothing even happened, so Priestley is using the telephone call as a message to say, hang on, didn’t i teach you anything? Eric represents a younger generation who have different views to capitalists, because they don’t beleive in different social classes, but in thoughtfulness, compassion and responsibility. I expect that Priestley hopes, that if Eric was a factory boss, then he would treat his workers fair, and well.