In 1912, women were not treated as equal to men, although they were the ones who were doing most of the hard labour. They didn’t get as much pay or respect and this was the case with Eva Smith. The working class and ‘upper class’ treated each other very differently. The first thing we discover about Eva Smith in J. B. Priestley’s play ‘An Inspector Calls’ is that she is dead, ‘Two hours ago a young woman died in the infirmary she’d been taken there this afternoon because she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant’, (p11).
Eva Smith was a good-looking working-class woman who was very unsuccessful in many cases in her life, which lead to her death. In this essay I will be discussing that not only was Eva Smith disadvantaged by her status in society but also by the fact that she was a women. At first I will discuss how Eva Smith was treated at ‘Birling and Company’ where she worked. The owner, Mr Birling was an arrogant and self-proud person who treated his women workers like machines, ‘ its my duty to keep labour costs down’, (p14) and insisted that his workers worked for long hours but in return he decided to pay them very poorly.
Eva’s status meant that she was forced to work there in the beginning as she was in desperate required money in order to survive. She had been working there for over a year and following the return of her holiday Eva Smith and some other girls requested a pay rise. The main reason for this was because the factory girls couldn’t even pay their rents with the amount that Mr Birling had been paying them. He did not take them seriously because they were women and so the factory girls decided to go on strike.
When Mr Birling said, ‘he couldn’t consider’ the pay rise, (p15) it explained to us that he took women for granted and that he didn’t realise how vital they were to the running of his company. Large families to support and no money coming in resulted in the strike being abandoned very quickly and soon Mr Birling told the few main strike causers to ‘to clear out’, (p15) and so Eva Smith was sacked from her job at ‘Birling and Company’.
Social status was more significant to Mr Birling than the correct moral decision and we observe this when he says, ‘… make us look a bit ashamed of ourselves in public’, (p60). He also used that belief in this case and he was prepared to sack one of his best workers just so a strike similar to this one would never occur again. Eva Smith’s status meant that she was very poor and was left with no job and no money to support her self, but lady luck shone on her 2 months later and she found another better-paid job at Milwards, a local fashion store.
Sheila Birling was a regular customer at Milwards and an incident occurred one day when she arrived into the fashion shop looking for a dress. However when she tried it on, she caught Eva smiling at the assistant and so Sheila began accusing her of being, ‘impertinent’, (p24) and making a mockery of how she looked in the dress. Sheila complained to the manager and demanded that if Eva wasn’t sacked from her job, then she would get Mrs Birling to close their account with them. Sheila used her high status to put down Eva, as she was part of the ‘working class’.
By doing this the character of Sheila shows that she believed that it was acceptable to do this and in society, the ‘high status’ people really ruled over the ‘lower class’ and they believed that they could use their high status to their own advantage. Eva Smith was sacked in her job at Milwards because a ‘higher class’ woman was jealous of Eva’s good looks and so intentionally got her sacked from her job. After another unfavourable incident, Eva Smith was now poor and had nowhere to live.
She had become in a very bad condition and her usual hangout had become the Palace Bar. This was the place where she met Eric Birling and he was given the impression that she was a prostitute searching for money because Eva was a woman who looked like she was part of a ‘lower class’. Eric Birling treated Eva like a sex object and took her back to ‘her lodgings’, (p51) and raped her. Eva Smith stayed with Eric because she had no money and no place to live but what Eric was looking for in his part of the deal was sex.