John Boynton Priestley



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She believes in the concept that the woman should be left at home and not question their husbands. She tries to impress this on Sheila by saying, “When you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business”. This gives us a negative impression of her values, which are traditional; she is set in her ways. Mrs. Birling is more upper-class than her husband, and always tries to teach him the way he should behave, ‘Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things’. Mrs.

Birling seems to always put up an act around people who are not members of the family. She pretends that she knows everything about her children, and that her family is just perfect, but in real truth, she is quite oblivious to her surroundings. Her constant nagging and putting other down at the start of the play creates a disliking for this character already. She is snobbish and polite in such a way, that it’s rude. When Mrs. Birling encounters the Inspector, she starts off ‘all wrong’. She’s smiling and very over confident. Mrs. Birling is a very hypocritical woman, and we will find the extreme extent to her hypocrite.

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She begins by building a ‘wall’ between herself and ‘girls of that class’, as she refers to Eva. She feels that it was all Eva’s fault that she was in the situations the Birlings’ put her through. Mrs. Birling lacks empathy and cannot understand Eva because of her class. Whilst being questioned by the inspector, she puts on airs, and pretends to not know Eva. We can already tell that she is involved and that unlike Sheila, Mrs. Birling will not be swayed so easily. We find out that she gave Eva the ‘final push’ which led her to her suicide. Eva Smith had been to see Mrs. Birling’s charity which helps women in need only two weeks earlier.

Eva was pregnant, almost penniless and Mrs. Birling, being prejudiced even before Eva began her story, turned her down for help and money. Mrs. Birling thinks that she was justified in doing so, and instead of accepting the blame, she places it on the father of the child. ‘In the circumstances I think I was justified’. She continues to blame the father, saying that he should at least marry her, or at least support her. And then, she goes to even harsher punishments: ‘he should be made an example of’, ‘he ought to be dealt with very severely’, he should ‘confess in public’.

Once she finds out that the ‘young idler’ is in fact her own son, she regrets those words. She assumed that the baby’s father was a man who belonged to Eva’s class, but once she understands that it is her own child, she becomes very hypocritical and denies the facts. She ‘won’t believe’ that her own child is a drunk and a thief. This shows that she doesn’t really know her own children and has double standards. In act two, Mrs. Birling’s stage directions include: ‘smiling, social’, ‘great surprise’, ‘annoyed’, ‘haughtily’, ‘rebuking’, ‘very sharply’, ‘staggered’, ‘bitterly’, ‘alarmed’ and so on.

These are all negatively said, (except for the first ones, when she entered too over confident) and give the impression that she is indeed a ‘stern woman’. She has had the same attitude all along, being surprised, arrogant, snobbish and bitter. But during the questioning of Mrs. Birling, there are no stage directions for the woman. This could be to make her seem as though she is trying to hide her emotions, or that she is really cold hearted and feels no sympathy. Once the inquiring is over, and the family finds out that the inspector is a fake, she, like her husband, is relieved to find out that no one will ever know the family’s secrets.

They can all just pretend nothing had happened, and resume their normal, self-centred ways. She has not learnt anything from the inspector’s message, save the desire to lock everything away. Unlike Sheila, Mrs. Birling does not take any responsibility, and it is probably her belief that responsibility is for only those who are lesser than herself. She leaves all the blame and responsibility to the children. I think Priestley did not like this character. Mrs. Birling represents everything that Priestley disliked in a society – selfishness, ignorance and class.

She doesn’t believe that we should repent for our wrong doings whereas Priestley is trying to show us that we should. We should learn from our mistakes and acknowledge the need for change, rather than hide and try to cover up. I think the audience will respond negatively towards this character. People can relate to someone like Sheila as she has changed, after acknowledging her mistakes, but as Mrs. Birling does not, we feel that she is too cold. We never see Eva in the play, nor do we hear her. The only thing that keeps this significant character alive is the memories of her from the Birlings’, and the words of the inspector.

Despite the absence of this character, we relate, feel sympathy for and understand Eva Smith, perhaps even more than the other characters. The first words that we hear about her are of her terrible fate. The inspector tells Mr. Birling, Gerald and Eric about the young woman who died in the infirmary after swallowing a lot of strong disinfectant. ‘Burnt her inside out’. The use of this strong language immediately makes us wonder why she wanted to end her life so horribly. We then find out that Mr. Birling began the chains of event which led to a dead end.

Eva Smith worked for Mr. Birling’s company in 1910, where she was sacked for asking for higher wages – from ‘twenty-two and six’ to twenty-five shillings a week. That is about from i?? 1. 12 per week, to a raise of i?? 1. 25 per week. It’s not much and Mr. Birling could have afforded the new price, but he refused and Eva was sacked. Mr. Birling describes Eva in a very positive way, which makes us feel that he was in the wrong, whereas she was in the right. He identifies Eva as a ‘lively good-looking girl’ and we can already picture a smile on her face and innocent eyes.

When we contrast this image into the one the Inspector impressed on our minds, we fully understand what has happened to the girl, and we can take it in. We feel even more sympathy for Eva now, as we have a beautiful picture of her in our minds, for it only to be destroyed by the knowledge of death. When the Inspector rounds on Gerald, even more sympathy is created for the girl. He supports Mr. Birling’s description of Eva with more features. ‘she was very pretty – soft brown hair and big dark eyes’. We can now imagine her even more. He contrasts her beauty with the other ‘dough-faced women of the town’.

This tells us that she was unique – a one in a million, sort of girl. He meets her at a bar where prostitutes congregate. She had no choice but to turn to this repulsive place, so as to support herself. Gerald saved her from the lecherous Aldermand Meggarty (a supposedly respectable man, according to Mrs. Birling’s reaction) and had taken her up as his mistress. Eva was no doubt in love with Gerald, but she must have always known that it was an unrequited love. When Gerald broke up with Eva, she understood and did not want to force him to make it last longer. She accepted the end of the romance gracefully.

This shows us that she understands the way the classes work, and although it was unfair, she had no power to stop it. Eva could not support herself any longer. She came across Eric, who tried to aid her but refused the money, as she suspected it to be stolen. She has great morals, even more than those of Mrs. Birling’s class. She had to go and beg for money from Mrs. Birling’s organization. It must have been such a hard thing to do, as it was so much easier to just accept the stolen money, but it was against her principles, which are set higher than Mrs. Birling’s. We then find out that she was pregnant.

This is the bombshell the Inspector was waiting to drop, and this one significant state creates shock and horror for the family as well as the audience. Eva Smith had come to the committee for help at a time when ‘no woman could have needed it more’ and Mrs. Birling, being prejudiced from the start, refused her. The Inspector then piles on Eva’s status in a list. ‘alone, friendless almost penniless, desperate’. We are being bombarded by such awful situations for this one girl, and all she needed to avoid such a horrible fate was ‘advice, sympathy, friendliness’. Mrs.

Birling places all the blame on Eric, the baby’s father and Eva, knowing that Mrs. Birling is actually Eric’s mother defends him, and does not expose his true form. Eva says that Eric never truly loved her, and that it would spoil his life to marry him, so she dismisses the easy way out. If Eva’s morals were those of Mrs. Birling, I have no doubt that she would have married Eric, despite the lack of love in the relationship. But Eva’s morals were set a great deal higher than that of Mrs. Birling, and even though it would have made her life so much easier, she did not want to prospect of a loveless marriage.

This shows us that class doesn’t determine morals, as Mrs. Birling’s morals are lower than Eva’s, but she is of a higher class. I think Priestley liked Eva Smith the most. She represents everything good in a society. She is the link between all that is wrong and selfish in a society and she is also the result. J. B. Priestley uses her to show what can happen in the old society, in which the Birlings’ have lived in all their lives. I think he must have a lot of respect for Eva, and created her to be the good contrasting with the bad in Mrs. Birling. I think the audience will respond very positively to Eva Smith.

We can understand her needs and her actions better than anyone else’s in the play even though she never appears. I dislike Mrs. Birling for the way she acts and thinks throughout the play. She shows no remorse for her actions until she hears that it was her grandchild that she had refused and killed. ‘I didn’t understand’ she says, in an attempt to relieve herself of the blame, but that is soon forgotten when she finds out that the inspector wasn’t real. Like Priestley, I believe in a society where everyone should look out for each other, and as Mrs.

Birling believes strongly in the other society, where you look out for only yourself then your family, my feelings towards Mrs. Birling are negative. Eva Smith is my second favourite. Although she was written beautifully into the play, I don’t think that I personally can relate to her much. I understand all of her actions and beliefs, but I think that I can never be that good. She is an innocent moral who stood up for what she believed in. I feel a lot of sympathy to her and her unborn child. I feel that Sheila is my most favourite character as I can relate to her the most.

She is the change in the society, and her response to the queries are perhaps the same as mine would have been. I know that I would have changed my ways after hearing and acknowledging Eva Smith and for this, I appreciate the fact that Sheila Birling was in the play to show us that change. J. B. Priestley’s message (told to us via the Inspector) tells us that we should have collective responsibility, and share our duties equally between us all. Do we really want to live in a world where those of higher class choose our fate, or do we want to choose our own fate?

His message is still relevant today, as I think we still live in a society where those of higher class are those with more power (although it is far less today than it was back then). But even if we did live in a society such as the one Priestly desires, we still need to learn his message, as we need to remember our responsibility for others and ourselves. An Inspector Calls – J. B. Priestley Lena Tran 10A Page 1 of 7 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE J. B. Priestley section.

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