During the late Victorian era, English women had very different roles and expectations depending on their status in the social hierarchy. Sybil, Mr. Birling’s wife, is a “rather cold woman” who portrays unwavering control in a very uncomfortable situation. She expects Sheila to make the same sacrifices in marriage that she had to; however, there is a significant division between the two generations. Sheila, the daughter of Mrs. Birling is an overall compassionate character, who when confronted with her guilt, takes it upon herself to admit that she was wrong.
She recognizes that her hysterical actions were impudent, and feels empathy towards Eva Smith as she can relate to her because of age and gender. Eva Smith is a “lively, good-looking girl” from the working class. She is attempting to redirect her life after being fired by Mr. Birling from a machine shop as she has “a lot to say”, where she worked for over a year. Unfortunate events continue to haunt her, and as a result she commits suicide with a “strong disinfectant”, that inevitably “[b]urnt her inside out”.
Power division and social structure played an important role in the every day life of the Edwardian era, and is explored throughout Act I. Middle and upper class of the English society often felt superior to the working class, and were treated very differently with many privileges dominating everyday life. Mr. Birling, although familiar with the hard conditions of the working class, is looking for “lower costs and higher price”; hence, the work force suffers whilst the wealthy enjoy the privileges.
The family’s gender roles are very distinctly divided, the women stay at home and merely do what they are told, whereas the men either work or “sew their oats”. Even though Mr. Birling represents higher class and wealth, he does not have the upper hand when interrogated by so-called Inspector Goole, which was a highly uncommon situation, as social status depended entirely on reputation and money. Mr. Birling tries to intimidate Inspector Goole by using social class and introducing Gerald Croft as “the son of Sir George Croft – you know, Crofts Limited.
” Men like Arthur Birling may have come from humble backgrounds but this new wealth allowed them to climb up the social ladder, gaining power and respect. Marriages between factory owners and aristocratic land-owning families helped to secure new social positions. The constant pursuit for justice and morality is an important element in Act I of An Inspector Calls. The Inspector himself acts as an important element, as he is the pathway to truth, he demands justice by interrogating the characters and thereby exposing the truth. The inspector outlines a “chain of events” that may well have led to Eva Smith’s death.
Her suicide, seen in this way, is likely the product not of one person acting alone, but of a group of people acting alone, and it thereby resulted from several causes. Moreover, the characters in the play persistently lie to each other, and it is apparent that they have no regard for the truth as they blatantly lie several times. The lies are a part of who they are, and what they have based their relationships on; however, as the plot develops they begin to recognize that their actions and misinterpretations of the truth were solely based on their own self-indulgence.
Throughout Act I, J. B. Priestley uses several important elements. The characters in the play develop a significant amount in the first act, and continue to grow into complex characters as the play progresses. Priestley uses lighting, foreshadowing, and entrances and exits in order to develop mood and underlying themes. Moreover, he draws attention to human weakness and social injustice through characterization.