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Who is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith?

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Amy Grammer Who is most responsible for the death of Eva Smith? In my essay it will be necessary to look at how each character can be held to blame, the kind of crime committed, the girl herself and, most importantly, why Priestley wants us to think about who is responsible. To answer the question now, I will say briefly, that you cannot exonerate any character, however contrite they may be. I also don't think you can hold any character more responsible than another because I believe that it is the sum of each persons actions which presents the insurmountable obstacles from which there is no way out other that suicide. I don't think Priestley meant for us to hold individuals to different degrees of responsibility but rather hold society collectively responsible. To understand what is happening in the play we firstly have to understand what was happening in 1912. During the Industrial Revolution there were technical and industrial advances, which gave more power to the industrialists. This was taken from the landowners that had previously wielded power through agriculture. Society was much changed. Because of the new power of industrialism, people flocked form the countryside to the cities, creating the new urban working class of which Eva Smith was a member. Their workplaces were notorious for poor safety, inhumane working conditions and low wages. Capitalism was prevalent among the middle and upper classes. Capitalism is the theory of private ownership. The government, allowing owners of businesses, such as Birling's, to make huge profits, adopted a policy of Laissez-faire. ...read more.


Tim Bezant in the introduction of An Inspector calls has some ideas, a few of which I shall now use. In medieval times moral plays would centre on the seven deadly sins, pride, gluttony/greed, envy, lust, covetousness, anger and sloth. Birling's sin is greed. He wants money and power and doesn't seem to mind who he hurts to get it. In Priestley's eyes there is something very wrong with this. It shows no willing to work as a community, which he believes in strongly. Birling is a main victim of the Inspectors wrath. He talks to him "savagely" in his final speech and tells him "he started it", meaning the path to doom. The Inspector holds Birling responsible and his anger with him is heightened by his lack of remorse. Eva Smith seems to recover from this setback when she secures herself a job at Milwards, an upper-class department store. It is not long before another member of the Birling family, Sheila, loses her the job there. Sheila is angry that Eva looked better in a dress than she did so tells her boss that unless Eva is sacked Milwards will lose her family's business. The shop can't afford to lose their business so they sack Eva, admitting her only crime was being too pretty. Sheila displays the maturity of a five-year-old child in her unwarranted attack on Eva. Her sin is envy, and also anger. She acts in a fit of rage, not thinking about what she is doing, unlike Birling. However her reaction to being shown the picture of Eva is quite different from Birling's evasive attitude. She runs out of the room with a scream. ...read more.


The actions of the characters knit together with the issues Priestley wants us to address; community being more important than the individual, misuse of power and that the class system of 1912 was wrong. The pre-war characters examine their consciences with a warning of, "the time will soon come, when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish". This will be very relevant to the generation that has been through two world wars. Priestley never meant for us to examine the degrees of responsibility each character must bear but instead blame society as a whole. It must be realised that we are responsible for each other and we are all to blame, equally, if another is to kill herself. He wants to demonstrate that everyone is responsible for everyone else in society, regardless of the factors that make us selfish as individuals. He sought to teach the audiences the same lesson the characters learn. They are lucky only to witness it rather that experience it. In this essay I have shown that it is impossible to quantify responsibility so it is therefore impossible for us to hold one character more responsible for the death of Eva smith than another. I have also shown how Priestley never meant us to hold each individual responsible but rather society as a whole. This play is relevant to a modern audience because it makes us examine our consciences in the way the Birling are forced to do. Are we no better than the Birlings? It is still important for us to understand that our actions have consequences and we are all responsible for each other. As the poet John Donne once said, "No man is an island" (Meditation XVII). ...read more.

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