In Act I Birling says, “A man has to make his own buisness and look after himself and his own -“. In Act III Inspector Goole tells the family, “We don’t live alone-we are responsible for each other”. Choose two characters and explain how their feelings towards Eva Smith/Daisy Renton develop and change during the Course of the play. How far do the reflect the feelings of the Inspector by the end of act III
When JB Priestly was writing this play he had one clear aim. He wanted to start the audience thinking, he wanted to convey the idea of the selfish society we live in, and how this should be and needs to be changed. This play starts of with a supposedly happy and united family, however as we are led deeper into the plot we find out that none of the family members knows as much about the others as they think they do. Inspector Goole helps them discover hidden facts about each family member as he begins to investigate the death of Eva Smith. All these characters have a past that connects them with Eva’s suicide.
In Act I Arthur Birling tells Eric Birling, his son, and Gerald Croft that a man has to make his own luck and look after himself we find out early on that Birling portrays the selfish citizen that JB Priestley want’s to make the audience aware of. He is a well-respected man of business, he owns a factory called “Birling and Company”. His daughter Sheila Birling is engaged to the son of his business rivals Gerald Croft. Although Arthur Birling cares very much for his family, he can be quite patronising towards his son and daughter, a line that proves this is, “Just let me finish Eric, you’ve got a lot to learn yet”. Mr Birling is also very self-opinionated and, especially in Act I, before the Inspector arrives he is making many speeches. These speeches are full of optimistic remarks, for example, “And I say there isn’t a chance of war. The worlds developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible – The Titanic – unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable!” This is dramatic irony, as we know that in two years time they will be in World War 1 and the Titanic will have sunk.
Mr Birling sacked Eva Smith from his factory as she led a strike to get the employees wages raised by only two and four pence more. Although Mr Birling admits that Eva was a good worker, “In fact the foreman told me he was ready to promote her”, he does not agree that he has done something wrong. He does not hesitate to tell the Inspector his connection to Eva Smith but does not accept any responsibility for her suicide, “Look there’s nothing mysterious or scandalous about this business – at least not as far as I’m concerned – as it happened more than eighteen months ago – nearly two years ago – obviously it has nothing to do with this wretched girls suicide”.
Mr Birling does however care about his public appearance and feels that this has been ruined by his son’s actions, “You! You don’t seem to care about anything. But I care. I was almost certain for a knight-ship in the next honours list”. He lays all the blame of Eva’s death on Eric and does not accept any for himself. Birling also puts up a brilliant pretence with the Inspector, to try and make sure he is not shown as uncaring, he even says that if Eva came back now he would give her as much money as she asked for, “I’d give thousands- yes thousands”.
Birling’s character remains in equilibrium throughout the course of this play as he never feels guilt and does not feel any remorse for sacking Eva Smith, “Drop that there’s every excuse for what you’re mother and I did”. He believes in this even by the last act, when the Inspector is preparing to leave and telling the family that, “The time will soon come when, if men will not learn from their actions they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish”. By saying this the Inspector is predicting that if men, like Mr Birling, still carry on acting on self interest and not caring about the rest of humanity there will be a war.
Sheila Birling is the daughter of Arthur and Sybil Birling. In her early twenty’s she is still very naï¿½ve. At the start of this plot Sheila starts off with a very jokey and excitable attitude which contrasts to the end of the play when she turns more serious as she finds out about her family’s and fiancees hidden pasts. In the beginning JB Priestly gives the audience subtle hints that not everything is happy in Sheila and Gerald’s relationship. We can tell this mainly from the dialogue between Sheila and Gerald, “Yes except for that time last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what happened to you” “And I told you- I was awfully busy at the works all that time” “Yes that’s what you say”.
In the stage direction, “(half serious half playful) we can tell that Sheila, although she is not being completely serious, does not believe everything Gerald told her about last summer. At the very beginning of Act I We can tell Sheila likes material possessions very much from her reaction to the engagement ring, “Oh it’s wonderful- Look Mummy isn’t it a beauty! Oh- Darling”; and when Mr Birling says, “Clothes mean something quite different to a woman. Not just something to wear, and not only something to make ’em look prettier – but – well a sort of sign of their self respect” we are given a clue to Sheila’s connection to Eva.
Two months after Eva was sacked from Mr Birling’s factory she was employed by a very highly respected shop called Millwards. When Sheila hears about this she is very happy for her, and doesn’t yet realise how she has been responsible for Eva’s death until the Inspector tells the family, “All she knew was that a customer complained about her and so she had to go”. The audience still doesn’t know the truth about Sheila’s involvement but as she runs off stage we can tell that she feels she has done something very wrong. We guess that there is a connection between what Sheila did to Eva and Eva getting sacked from Millwards but this isn’t proved until further on in the plot. JB Priestley does this because he wants to keep the audience interested in the dialogue and does this by building up tension.
When Sheila comes back into the dinning room, where this play is set, she starts telling the Inspector what she did straight away. Sheila had become jealous of Eva Smith as a dress she liked in Millwards suited Eva more than her, she then went to the manager and told him that if he didn’t sack this girl she would make sure the family withdrew their account. As the Birling’s are one of Millwards richest family’s and they are highly respected the manager had no choice but to sack her.
Sheila blames her actions on her bad temper, which we get a hint about at the very beginning of the play when Eric says, “She’s got a nasty temper on her sometimes”. However she obviously feels she is to blame and regrets her actions bitterly, “It’s the only time I’ve ever done anything like that, and I’ll never do it again to anybody”. Another moral is released here as Priestley tells us not to pre-judge people. The dialogue Priestley uses for Sheila after she finds out about her own connection tells the audience that she is distraught, contrasting to her father’s behaviour.
In spite of her mother’s and father’s advice to leave the room she stays and listens to the other things her family and fiancee did to Eva which lead subsequently to her death, and she begins to become more wise. The audience starts feeling sorry for her as her character starts to realise the truth about how cold people can be. I think by the end of the plot she has become a more sensible woman where as in the beginning, and certainly when she got Eva sacked from Millwards, she was a spoilt child. As she has learnt a very hard lesson she seems intent that her family should learn it and gets very angry when her parents still have their own selfish reaction to Eva’s death, “If you want to know, it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts”.
She is also the only one that seems determined that whether the police inspector was a police inspector or not doesn’t matter. It’s what her family did that is the important thing, and the lesson that the police inspector tells when he says, “One Eva smith has gone, but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears -all intertwined with our lives”. which is the moral JB Priestley wanted to tell when he wrote this play.