In the play the Inspector conveys Priestly message that everyone should take responsibility instead of pushing it aside. He expresses this clearly when he interrogates each of them. ‘A nice little promising life there, I thought, and a nasty mess somebody’s made of it’. Here the inspector is referring again to our responsibility and hoping to make characters feel guilty. When he says ‘somebody’s’ he is referring to the Birling’s and how their lack of thought has led to the untimely death of Eva Smith. Towards the end of the interrogations he again refers to responsibility.
‘You’ll be able to divide the responsibility between you when I’ve gone’. The inspector has realised that only some of the characters have understood his views and opinions on responsibility. He is therefore saying that they should consider their actions before the real inspector pays them a visit. According to Ouspenksky’s theory of time if the Birling’s do not change their attitude towards responsibility they are destined to face the same situation all over again. Before the real inspector comes they have a chance to think about what they have done.
So the fake Inspector is trying to discover which of the characters has a social conscience. Priestley’s views are that of the inspector, which is why he behaves and acts as he does, this is seen throughout the play and is cleverly incorporated to enhance the theme of responsibility in each character. Mr. Birling is a selfish man who cares only for himself. He refuses to give his workers a pay rise and this leads to a strike. Eva was one of the leaders participating in the strike and Birling eventually sacks her without any care what so ever.
This seen when he says ‘I only did what any employer might have done’. Birling fails to see that he has done anything wrong by sacking her and dismisses any suggestions that he had any influence involved in Eva’s death. It seems as if the inspector was prepared for Birling’s selfish and arrogant attitude. He tries to point out to Birling that it was he who started the downward spiral in Eva Smith’s life. ‘Still I can’t accept responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward wouldn’t it?
‘ Birling is an example of a typical Edwardian Upper class man. He feels because he was within his rights it is not necessary for him to feel any guilt what so ever. He fails to understand the message of responsibility the Inspector is striving to deliver and so when he is interrogated by the real inspector he will not do anything differently and will therefore face another repeated circle of events. Mrs. Birling reacts indifferently to the news about the death. She is the person who denied Eva Smith help when she most needed it.
Mrs Birling runs a charity shop, but denied Eva any help although she was heard to say ‘Yes. We’ve done a great deal of useful work in helping deserving cases’. She overruled her committee and rejected Eva’s cause because at first Eva called herself ‘Miss Birling’. She used this name because she was carrying Eric’s child. But Mrs. Birling does not know this and fails to see and understand what has happened. She is unwilling to accept any responsibility for Eva’s death. The inspector asks Mrs Birling who she blames, she replies ‘First, the girl herself’.
This is rather ironic considering it was her and her family’s interferences with her that resulted in her death. But she is too preoccupied with her own affairs to see that. ‘Secondly, I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have’. The Inspector allows Mrs. Birling to dig herself into an even bigger hole when she unwittingly blames the father of the child (Eric). She is to blame as much as her husband but she does not learn her lesson either and falls into the same circle as her husband.