At the start of “An inspector calls” Mr Arthur Birling the owner of a local factory is faced with the task of dealing with his work force going on strike, as they want a pay rise. His workers demanded a rise from twenty-two and six up to twenty-five shillings a week. Birling refused to meet their demands and offered his workers their jobs back at the previous rate. This was to the majority of the workers but the ringleaders of the strike were dismissed. Miss Eva Smith was said to be one of the ringleaders and despite being a good worker she was released.
The inspector tells the Birling family this information as they are celebrating the engagement of Miss Sheila Birling daughter of Arthur to Mr Gerald Croft whose family own a large company who are in the same industry as the Birlings. The inspector had came to inform the family that Miss Eva Smith had died that night and he had suspicion to believe that Mr Birling started the chain of events that lead to the downfall of Eva Smith.
Mr Birling believed that he had every right to discharge her as she had disrupted his business and asked for wages that were above the standard rate. Birling is a capitalist he is only interested in the making of money. He is only interested in the well being of him and his own family. Capital means money and Birling has money invested in the economy. Mr Birling’s attitude is in a huge contrast to the attitude of the inspector who reflects the opinion of Priestley. The inspector is clearly a socialist and is more interested in caring for society than making money.
Priestley through Eva Smith shows how workers in and around the period of 1912 had little rights and consideration from their employers. A good example of this is when she asked for a pay rise and ended up getting sacked. The attitudes of employers towards their workers were very poor this is shown through the voice of Birling “We were paying the usual rates and if they didn’t like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else. It’s a free country I told them.”
“An inspector calls” is set in 1912 but written in 1945 just after the Second World War had ended because this was the first election won by the labour party. This meant that the country would be run on more socialist morals, which suited socialists such as Priestley. In “An inspector calls” Priestley uses Birling who represents capitalism to mock the previous government and makes Birling look stupid by making him seem pompous and ignorant. In an inspector calls Birling says “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.” When commenting on the titanic which, as Priestley knew sunk on its first journey.
Prior to the inspector’s arrival to the home of the Birlings, Arthur is portrayed as a very pompous man. He makes several long speeches about himself and his business and seems to care more about his moneys welfare than his family. He acts portentously and makes speeches continually. He reflects his capitalist side when he says, “I speak as a hard headed business man”. He comes across very arrogant in some of his speeches for example “just a knighthood” when really it is a major honour to anybody.
He has several unreliable views for example he says, “The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war” ironically just two years later in 1914 the First World War starts. He said the titanic was “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.” And it sunk on its first journey. During these unreliable views that Birling expresses, Priestley uses the technique of dramatic irony making capitalism and Birling look foolish.
During the first section of the book just ahead of the arrival of the inspector, Birling articulates on his feeling towards community and the society he lives in. He says ” community and all that nonsense” he thinks that people should fight for their survival and that means that they should not be helped. This is a typically capitalist comment and makes him sound the pompous and arrogant man that Priestley aimed to portray him as. He also says, “a man should make his own way” when talking to Gerald Croft and his son Eric.
When the inspector first enters the Birlings home, he exposes Arthur’s negative attitude towards his workers and all people that are of a lower class than him. The inspector says “its better top ask for the earth, than to take It.” When they talk about Eva Smith and the workers asking for a salary increase. This comment undermines Birlings authority and is from here on offended by the inspector. When Birling says, “If they didn’t like those rates, they could go and work somewhere else”. Eric then also undermines his father and the inspector once more as he agrees with Eric. The atmosphere and lighting change dramatically when Birling and the inspector have disputes.
Birling does not accept any of the responsibility that is directed towards him over the death of Eva Smith. He defends himself sharply and sounds guilty, as he is desperate to protect his innocence. Birling exclaims, “I can’t accept any responsibility.” This shows he feels no sympathy or regret towards the death of Eva Smith.
He admits that when Eva Smith did work for him she was a very good worker and was ready to be promoted he says “A good worker too ready to promote to leading operator.” He admits that the only reason that she was sacked is that she was one of the leaders of the strike.
Birling expected that Eva Smith became a prostitute when she left his workforce. Birling says, “Get into trouble? Go on the streets” As this is what people thought would happen to a stereotypical young lower classed woman during that period. They were expected to live on the streets and get money through prostitution.
Priestley through the questioning from the inspector shows that Birling shows no remorse towards the poor way he treats his workers.
Birling shows no concern for them when replying to the fact that he did not increase the workers wages he says, “Well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down.” He pays his workers only average wages and shows no concern whether it is enough for them to survive on or not.
When speaking about the actual event of the strike he says “Pitiful affair. Well, we let them all come back – at the old rates. As he continues replying about the refusal to increase wages he claims, “If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the earth.” To which the inspector retorts “But after all its better to ask for the earth than to take it. This indicates that no matter whom Birling knows i.e. inspector colonel Roberts, he will not be intimidated.
The attitude of Mr Gerald Croft is very similar to Birling, as he has been brought up as a capitalist as he works in industry. He also wants to support his to be father in law. Gerald backs up Birling on several points during the investigation for example on the pay strike. After listening to one of Birlings speeches he replies, “You couldn’t of done anything else.” He also backs Birling up in saying, “Not if it was after the holidays. They’d all be broke- if I know them.
Arthur Birlings son Eric does not support his father on many of the disputes. He is part of the younger generation and has not yet learnt to be fully capitalist or socialist and is very influenced by the inspector and agrees with him for the most part. Eric says, “Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages? We try for the highest possible prices.” He also challenges his father by saying, “it isn’t if you cant go and work somewhere else.”
Workers and lower class citizens were treated badly during the early 1900’s and this is shown clearly in “An Inspector Calls”. Mr Birling has no consideration or pity for his workers. He pays them the bare minimum they can survive on. He has no respect for them. He claims their strike was a disgrace and they are not normal respectable citizens by saying ” Pitiful affair. Well, we let them all come back- at the old rates.”
Sheila Birling was the second part of the chain of events and once Eva Smith got a job a Millwards, Sheila went into the shop to buy a hat and the hat looked well on Eva who was working as an assistant. Sheila was enraged, and jealous that Eva was prettier. Eva laughed when she saw the hat on Sheila, so Sheila demanded that Eva was sacked and if she wasn’t that the Birlings would close their account at the shop.
Gerald led on the chain of events when he rescued the unemployed Eva from a local bar, where the local alderman was drunk and trying to exploit Eva. He took Eva back to his apartment and let her stay there for a while. She was happy but they knew that the relationship could not go on so Gerald asked her to leave; at least Eva was happy for a while.
Sybil was the next part and had the best opportunity of saving Eva from her downfall. Eva went to an association, that is designed to help women in need, where Sybil Birling is the chairwoman and requested help. Eva was pregnant and in desperate need of help. She claimed her surname was Birling and Sybil knew she was lying so had an immediate prejudice against her. She refused to give any aid to her.
Eric is the last person for the inspector to investigate and he had a love affair with Eva Smith and gave her money, which is later found to be stolen. He helps her survive but when she realises it is stolen money she refuses it. The events took place prior to Eva requesting help from Mrs Birling association. Eva used the surname Birling as she had just finished her affair with Eric Birling. The reader is led to believe that Eric has made Eva pregnant.
After the book the audience are made to think that socialism is right as opposed to capitalism. This is because socialism is portrayed in a good way and the characters that capitalism are arrogant and ostentatious.