Being a co-founder of the Socialist Commonwealth party, J.B. Priestley felt that his political views on socialism were very important andthese views are prominently displayed throughout the play he wrote – ‘AnInspector Calls’. Socialism is the belief that everyone is part of a community,and we are all responsible for each other.
Priestley bases his play onresponsibility and uses the character of Eva Smith as a mouthpiece todisseminate his views on socialism. The play was set in 1912 but it was writtenin 1945. During this period, post-war England was slowly rebuilding itseconomy.The main message put across in ‘An Inspector Calls’ is thateveryone in society should take responsibility for their actions and look aftereveryone in its community.
This is shown by “She was here alone, friendless,almost penniless, desperate. She needed not only money, but advice, sympathy,friendliness”. This helps show that a death of a susceptible, young girl couldhave been prevented if she had someone to offer some kindness and help. Here,Eva is a dramatic device used to evoke feeling and emotion in the audience. Through the course of the play, she is shown as avulnerable person and although she is physically absent from the play, she ispsychologically dominant. Furthermore, she is continuously a victim dueto the failure of the Birling family not accepting responsibility.
This isportrayed by “A pretty, lively sort of girl, who never did anybody no harm. Butshe died in misery and agony – hating life”. The effect Priestley tries tocreate on the audience here is sympathy. Although, the figure of Eva Smith iscreated by the other character’s experience, her grizzly death would create restlessness.As described, Eva has a violent and painful death so she is presented as amartyr. This shown because she ‘disinfects’ herself from all the harm she hasexperienced as her body has been used and treated with disrespect.
Eva Smith’s strength also helps to persuadethe audience that capitalism has no place in the world. It is shown that bothher parents are dead so she had no loved ones and had to fend for herself. Evawas not from Brumley originally and we know this because Mr Birling states thatshe was “country-bred” which indicates that she was desperate for work amongst thelaissez-faire society due to her being from a closer-knit community. Thissituation leads her to working in the Birling&co. factory, suffering at thehands of an exploitative employer.
However, Priestley criticises the treatmentof women in the Edwardian era because many female workers were used for cheaplabour to “keep labour costs down”. Unlike many others, she is punished forstanding up to her rights in the end by being thrown out of employment due tothe powerlessness she has in her own gender. These actions she takes not onlyleaves the audience in awe but she represents a model figure which everyoneshould aim to be, aiding the socialist message.Another key message that Eva helps convey isthat there are many other people suffering through the same problems as shedid. The inspector quotes “One Eva Smith has gone- but there are millions andmillions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still let with us, withtheir lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering, and chance of happiness,all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do “. Here, theInspector shows that she is one of many. Eva Smith is a symbolic name,referring to Christianity, and it is Latin for Eve. In the Bible, Eve was thefirst woman.
Her surname, Smith, is an incredibly common surname. The secondname Daisy Renton is also equally significant as daisies are common as fieldsare often covered in daisies suggesting that she is one of many and “Renton”explains how she had to rent her body as a prostitute at the ‘palace bar’. Inthe Inspector’s last speech, Priestley ensures equality in the play byreferring to both “Eva Smiths and John Smiths”. It is highlighted that equallyboth men and women are suffering from the same kinds of mistreatment; itsupports Priestley’s belief in equality between genders, extending this to showsociety as a whole. Throughout the morality play, Priestly usesconstant repetition of word such as ‘we’. For example, “We don’t live alone. Weare members of one body”.
This use of repetition includes the audience, aidingthem understand the true meaning behind his words. In addition, Priestleycleverly links the play with seven deadly sins. Sheila accepts her sin of envyafter the inspector questioned “You might be said to have been jealous?” As themajority of his audience was Christian at the time and the seven deadly sinswere part of Christian teachings, they would find it easy to relate to theseven deadly sins. Each character is linked with one of the sins. The plot of ‘An Inspector calls’ revolvesaround how several high-class people fail to help Eva and Priestly draws uponthis from the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’. He uses this reference to theparable to try and reproduce the effective methods that Jesus used to tellsociety that they are responsible for vulnerable people, despite theirdifferences. This method would help the wealthy, educated audience understand thestrong correlation between the play and the teaching. A character most who would feel most relatableto Eva is Sheila Birling; she may be considered a counter-balance towards Eva.
Not only is she more socially conscious than the older generation Birlings butshe is the first to feel compassionate towards Eva Smith. However, Gerald’surge to keep Sheila from hearing such things is shown when he states”Inspector, I think Miss Birling ought to be excused from any more of thisquestioning.” This shows that he is trying to bluff his way out and protect hisdignity. He also believes that unlike Eva Smith, Sheila should be protectedbecause she is not of the working class and far more delicate than Eva,emphasizing the clear contrast between the two girls. However, the inspectorcontradicts by asking “And you think that young women ought to be protectedagainst unpleasant things?”. Here, is anexample of dramatic irony which the playwright uses. Another example would bethe irony between the time periods, in which the play was written and set in,as this gives the audience a chance to recognise and learn from past mistakes.
Eva Smith is also shown to be morallyprincipled and selfless as she refuses to accept stolen money from Eric andmarry him despite, her dire financial situation. For instance, “The girldiscovered that the money you were giving was stolen”. Here, she is doing theright thing as she understands that any association or marriage between the twosocial classes would ruin Eric’s future. She obviously cared enough for Eric toleave him this dignity and to protect him from the issues he clearly had withtheft. Her problems, however, could all have been resolved quite easily if shehad only told Mrs Birling that Eric was the father. It says a lot about hercharacter that she refuses to do this even when he was violent towards:sexually abusing her by force and consequently getting her pregnant. Theaudience would have a greater understanding that many other deserving girls arebeing thrown into these problems as the system of society is against them.
Another message that Priestley portrays isthe division between the classes. Sybil Birling criticises Eva for appearingproud and putting on airs and graces, and for being “impertinent” rather thanmeek and grateful towards her social superiors. She was classed as anundeserving poor only because she decided to partially lie about her situation.Mrs. Birling stereotypes her by stating “girls of that class”. Here she makesjudgements on Eva without ever seeing her, at that point in the play, andexpressing how unimportant she is considered by the upper classes.
The audiencewould feel strongly towards her as she is part of the deserving poor in theireyes therefore they will try to make a difference.Eva’s diary is expressed through theinspector, who depicts her views, from the diary. Therefore, she may beconsidered as the key figure in conveying the socialist message. Her beauty iscommented on all through the play.
Gerald states “She looked young and freshand charming and all together out of place down there”. This shows that womenare judges heavily on their looks which are thought to represent them. BothGerald and Eric sexually exploit her for their gains, working against her.However, more traditional women, like Mrs. Birling, feel that she is disruptingthe status quo.Overall, Priestley has a clear message thathe is trying to convey through Eva Smith. She has a key part in showing thedifferences between capitalism and socialism by changing the views of some ofthe Birling family. Eva Smith also creates a lot of emotion in theatre-goers,helping Priestley achieve his target of ‘An Inspector Calls’.
Through thesevarious methods I believe that Priestley has successfully communicated hismessage that we should look out for our community, take responsibility andstrive for equality. He conveys that people’s actions affect everyone and it isimportant to try and make these changes happen