The play takes place in the dining room of the Birlings’ house in Brumley, an industrial town in the North Midlands. It is an evening in spring, 1912. Arthur Birling, a prosperous manufacturer, is holding a family dinner party to celebrate his daughter’s engagement. Into this cosy scene intrudes the harsh figure of a Police inspector investigating the suicide of a young working class woman, Eva Smith. Under the pressure of his interrogation, every member of the family turns out to have a shameful secret, which links them with her death.
The Inspector is first introduced into the play under the attitude of fear and importance, as Priestley describes his presence under the clothing and looks which the Inspector prevails over his suspects. …”dressed in a plain darkish suit of the period”… …”Has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking”… This description of character of the Inspector would create an atmospheric, fearful impression on the audience, as the audience would see the visual impact on which the Inspector has on his line of enquiry.Order now
The point at which the Inspector entered the household of the Birlings’, is a Dramatic quality within the play, as Arthur Birling was conversing the fact that Eric might have been up to something, which is why the Inspector has come to their household. This comment alarms Eric, as Eric knows that he has been in contact with Eva Smith, he starts to feel paranoid with the comment made by his Father. This un-easy attitude expressed from Eric, creates tension within the audience, as his spontaneous action portrays a man hiding his feelings, which will be linked to the Inspector’s investigation.
…”Here, what do you mean?”… This reaction from Eric creates Drama, as the audience links the visit from the Inspector, to the worry expressed by his action. This creates a starting point for the blame of Eva Smith’s death, as Eric’s worry would convey to the audience that he is to blame for the death at a later stage of the play, but all characters, Mr. Birling, Sheila, Eric, Gerald Croft and Mrs.Birling, are all linked to the death of this women, but each character contributes into the enquiry, realising the consequences of their own actions.
Mr. Birling is the first character to be interrogated by the Inspector, which Birling believes is about a Police matter, due to his hierarchy in the field of Police work. The Inspector addresses Mr. Birling and the other characters in the room, with the situation of the young women ( Eva Smith) committing suicide in the act of drinking disinfectant, which he has seen in the Infirmary ward. This comment made by the Inspector, creates an impatience within Birlings attitude, as the death of a young women has nothing to do with his worries, his main worry and thought was of a business arrangement between himself and his future son-in-law Gerald Croft, which was his main ambition of greed and wealth within his line of thought.
…”Yes. Yes. Horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector-“… This conveys to the audience that Birling has no sense of grief or worry for fellow people in his town; he is self-centred, around money and future prospects. The Inspector continues, with the fact that Eva Smith had previously worked at his works, but Birling does not sum up that this involvement is anything to do with Eva Smith’s death. The Inspector produces a photograph of the women, which he only shows Mr. Birling, creating a dramatic quality within the play, due to the Inspector’s effort to conceal the photograph between Birling and himself.
…”The Inspector interposes himself between them and the photograph”… This explains to the audience that Birling could be an important figure for the death of Eva Smith, as the Inspector has used the photograph as a barrier between Eric and Gerald, a barrier which only concerns the line of enquiry with Birling. Birling recognises the women in the photograph, and finally converses with the characters in the room about his experiences with Eva Smith at his works. He adapts the revelation of Eva Smith’s time at his works, by explaining he sacked her due to her disturbance and attitude towards pay rises, Eva wanted a larger pay rise than what Mr. Birling was willing to pay.
This disturbance in Mr.Birling’s business, is linked to the historical context of the play, as Priestley wrote the play in the year of 1946, where the attitudes towards class and rights for women where of a better standard, due to pay increases and women’s rights formed from the suffragette movement. The play is set in the year of 1912, Priestley is reflecting on the fact that women had no rights at this time, suggesting Birling had a justified reason. Mr. Birling, I believe used his power as an influential figure to sack Eva Smith, as image and status was an important factor for an upper-classed person; he could use his power any way he liked, due to his wealth and greed.
…”Well, Inspector, I don’t see that it’s any concern of yours how I choose to run my business. Is it now?”… This reaction from the Inspector’s line of enquiry, expresses to the audience that Birling, with the use of the rhetorical question, is feeling pressurised with the Inspector’s questions, but he feels that he has not committed a crime, he only sacked Eva Smith due to his concern for his business.
Shelia was the next character to be interrogated, as she entered the room to find out the disturbing news of a girl committing suicide, in the act of drinking disinfectant. This news shocked Sheila, as she found out that her father had sacked Eva from his works, leading Eva to take her own life. Sheila believed that the action, which her father used against Eva, was the wrong action to take, as she describes the sacking of Eva Smith as a turning point for her suicide, as she had no job or family to support her. Sheila does not realise that the women involved in this suicide, is the same person, which she forced the Manager of Milwards to sack, due to an argument of self-appearance and vanity. Sheila explains the sacking of Eva Smith, with points to suggest that it was the wrong action to take, contradicting her own selfless actions, which caused Eva Smith to be sacked from Milwards.
…”But these girls aren’t cheap labour-they’re people”… This response from Sheila, explains to the audience that Sheila feels strongly for lower-classed women’s rights, she feels that her father has used his power for the wrong reasons, even though she used this same power for the sacking of Eva from Milwards. Sheila used her power as a daughter of an influential business man, to seek revenge through jealousy, as Eva Smith’s self appearance was far more fitting, for a dress Sheila wanted to purchase. This factor created Low-Self- Esteem for Sheila, as she explained that the dress looked far more effective on Eva Smith,
…”She was the right type for it, just as I was the wrong type”… This explains to the reader that Sheila is feeling low confidence for herself, which produced the spite for the sacking of Eva Smith. The audience feels sympathy for Sheila, as Sheila realises her consequences of her actions, she realises her spite and jealousy has caused a young women’s death. Sheila feels guilty about her revelation in the young women’s death, she wishes she could help the poor victim, which is in direct context to Birling’s attitude.