It turns out that Arthur Birling sacked Eva Smith from his factory due to his greed. She had asked Mr Birling for a pay rise from 22 shillings and 6 pence to 25 shillings. Then she went on strike with the other workers after he refused. He then sacked her after accusing her of being one of the four or five ringleaders. This shows that he doesn’t think he should be responsible towards his workers and show them a bit of respect.
Then Sheila got her sacked from her next job at a clothes shop called Milwards. Sheila went there one day in January and tried on a dress even though the shop assistants and her mother had suggested it wouldn’t suit her. One of the shop assistants was Eva Smith and the dress suited her not Sheila as she was a pretty girl. When Eva smiled at another shop assistant, Sheila interpreted this as Eva saying: “Doesn’t she look awful.” This put Sheila into: “a furious temper” and she demanded that the girl be sacked. Despite this, Sheila feels guilty and is overcome by grief once the Inspector describes Eva’s death.
Sheila and Eric are on the side of Eva Smith when they here about her gruesome death. This is unlike their mother, father and Gerald, who show no sympathy whatsoever. Eric says Eva shouldn’t have been sacked for showing a bit of: “spirit” and asking for higher wages. Sheila agrees with Eric that: “these girls aren’t cheap labour, they’re people.” After Eva Smith got sacked from Milwards she changed her name to: “Daisy Renton”. Gerald is: “startled” when the inspector mentions it, and he has to pull himself together as he recognises the name.
Arthur then leaves the room and the Inspector goes out looking for him with Eric, leaving Sheila alone with Gerald. Sheila then question Gerald about the girl and whether he was seeing Daisy last summer when he told Sheila he was busy at work. Gerald doesn’t answer but his guilty look tells her everything. Sheila knows: “Yes, of course you were.” Gerald then confesses and tells her: “It was all over and done with last summer”. He also says that they should keep this from the inspector but Sheila isn’t impressed by this and says: “Why, you fool, he knows. Of course he knows.” Then the Inspector opens the door and says: “Well?” then the first act ends. The audience realise then that Gerald knew Daisy Renton very well indeed.
Act 2 is more complex then Act 1 as more secrets are revealed. The Inspector instigates Gerald in this scene and the audience discovers that he helped Daisy Renton by finding her a place to live. After that she then became his: “mistress” as the inspector says bluntly. At this point Sheila breaks off the engagement between her and Gerald. Gerald then feels guilty about what he did and he was a cause of Daisy Renton’s death. Birling loses his power and control when Gerald becomes upset and asks the Inspector for permission to go for a walk instead of Birling: “I’d like to be alone for a while – I’d be glad if you’d let me go” this shows that the Inspector is in control now, not Birling, the Inspector has the power. Then Mrs Birling enters and does exactly what Mr Birling did and the beginning of act 1.
She tries to make her husband seem powerful exactly as he did at the start and she also tries to make the Inspector see how important her family is, so she demands respect from the Inspector. But it all comes to nothing. When the Inspector shows her the photo of Daisy Renton she lies and pretends that she doesn’t recognize the photograph, but the Inspector knows she’s lying and he forces her to tell the truth with help from Sheila. She’s the head of a local charity which helps women in need. Daisy Renton went to the charity to ask for help because she was pregnant and she didn’t have any money.
But Mrs Birling convinced the committee to turn down her request because she claimed her name was Birling which Mrs Birling thought was: “a piece of gross impertinence”. Mrs Birling said that she should make the father responsible. But Daisy said she couldn’t marry him, and wouldn’t take any more money of him because he was young, he didn’t love her and the money he gave her was stolen. Mrs Birling thought the story sounded: “ridiculous” she said no girl of: “that sort” would refuse money so she persuaded her committee to deny Eva’s request for money.
Mrs Birling blames the father of the child because he was involved with a girl of a different class from himself and because he was a drunkard. At this point Mrs Birling doesn’t have any sympathy at all for the father. She thinks: he ought to be dealt with: “very severely”, that It’s the Inspector’s duty to find the young man and that the Inspector should make him: “confess in public his responsibility”. This shows that she also like Mr Birling wants to pin the blame on somebody else other than herself.
Mrs Birling is so stubborn and reluctant to learn, she is making things much worse for herself. She walks straight into one of the Inspector’s clever traps. Sheila sees that the Inspector may now be able to turn on Eric. “Mother – stop – stop!” Sheila shouts: “with sudden alarm”. Mrs Birling freezes in horror when she thinks who this good-for-nothing father could be. Then Eric walks in extremely pale and distressed (he left in act one and left the house in act two). The Act then ends with Eric saying: “you know don’t you”. This leaves the audience in suspense waiting to hear Eric’s confession.
Act 3 is the final scene in the play and this is where everything comes to a climax. This act starts with the Inspector beginning to interrogate Eric and unlike everybody else he answers all the questions honestly and directly. Eric is calm at first but when he discovers what his mother did he threatens her and almost attacks her. At the same time Mrs Birling breaks down into tears when she finds out that her actions led to the death of her own grandchild.
The audience don’t sympathise with her though because she has been uncaring and cold-hearted throughout the play. The audience is informed of her loss of control by her sudden departure from the room after she realises she was the cause of two deaths. The Inspector makes a speech clearly stating that each of them: “helped to kill her”. Then he goes on to remind them of what they each did to Eva Smith and how much they are to blame. He then leaves as abruptly as he arrived, leaving the family with plenty to think about. Arthur Birling however regrets nothing, he says he’s: “learnt plenty”, but not about how and why he’s been wrong but about how Eric and Sheila really behave and think and he doesn’t like it.
Mrs Birling is just as bad as her husband, she cannot understand the behaviour of her children, and she pleads with Eric when he curses her: “Damn you, Damn you”, she says: “I didn’t know – I didn’t understand.” She’s ashamed of what Eric did but not of what she did she doesn’t feel any guilt whatsoever neither does Mr Birling. She also stops Sheila telling Gerald of what he has missed, to protect the family honour.
Sheila doesn’t agree with her parents, she accuses them of having learnt nothing, and of being: “childish” for not facing the facts. She is also frightened by: “the way they talk”. They want to go on: “in the same old way”. They haven’t learnt. Eric says he’s: “Ashamed of his parents”, he tells his father he’s: “not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble”. He also has a real go at his mother: “you killed her – and the child she’d have had too – my child – your own grandchild.” And he tells her she doesn’t understand anything.
When Gerald returns they start to wonder whether the Inspector was real because Gerald asked a policeman, who didn’t know the Inspector, they also wondered if the pictures shown to each of them individually were the same or different pictures altogether. They find out that the Inspector doesn’t exist by telephoning the police station and they phone the infirmary and it turns out that no girl died that night. But then the police ring. A girl has just died after swallowing some disinfectant. An Inspector is on his way…
At the start of the play it appears to be a normal detective story but as the Inspector arrives about a suicide, the audience get to know the characters better and the story increases in complexity. As the Inspector interrogates each family member the story draws you in and it becomes more and more interesting with the Inspector slowly making the atmosphere more tense and full of suspense using responsibility and guilt.
Priestley skilfully includes the themes of responsibility and guilt in the play; he does it in a manner that clearly informs the audience of his beliefs and cleverly tries to convert the audience to his way of thinking. He clearly does this in the Inspector’s last speech: “the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire, blood and anguish.” Here Priestley refers to World War 1. He is trying to convey the point that we all work together and help each other to try and make the world a better happier place.