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Who is responsible for the death of Eva Smith? Pay close attention in your response to how Priestley has used language to present this theme for an audience.

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Introduction

Who is responsible for the death of Eva Smith? Pay close attention in your response to how Priestley has used language to present this theme for an audience. J.B. Priestley's play, 'An Inspector Calls', is set in the spring of 1912, in the household of an upper class family in the north of England. The plot of this dramatic play is based around the Birling family's involvement in a young woman's suicide. The Birling family consists of two parents, Arthur and Sybil Birling and their two children, Eric and Sheila. Gerald Croft is soon to become a member of the family as he has recently announced his engagement to Sheila. As the story unfolds, we find that Priestley has intentionally made it impossible to place the blame on one person but instead gives each main character a certain degree of responsibility. During the Second World War, Priestley was very moved by the efforts and the horrific suffering of millions of ordinary people and he used these memories in his plays. His views that he stood so strongly by were influenced by these memories and by his father, who was a socialist. In 'An Inspector Calls', Priestley states that people must not only take responsibility for their actions, but for how their actions may affect others. Although each member of the Birling family and Gerald Croft have had contact with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton during the previous two years, none of them is aware of the others� involvement in the tragedy until the day of the inspectors visit. He makes them aware of the part they have played in her tragic end. The characters each react differently to the news and to the degree of responsibility that they should bear. Arthur Birling's attitude throughout the play was precisely what Priestley was trying to expose as the wrong attitude of the time. Mr Birling opens the play with "You ought to like this port, Gerald. ...read more.

Middle

"She was young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful. I became at once the most important person in her life." " I didn't feel about her as she felt about me." When he finally leaves her, he felt guilt about being only able to offer her temporary help. But the feeling that Priestly wants us to have is sympathy because of Gerald says, "She told me she'd been happier than she'd ever been before." Being rejected by Gerald was probably more hurtful to Daisy than the dismissals inflicted on her by Arthur and Sheila Birling because there were strong emotions involved. Daisy was in love with Gerald and being thrown out by him left her not only homeless but heartbroken. Also she had been cared for by Gerald and enjoyed quite a luxurious lifestyle. She therefore had more to lose than previously. The drain on her emotions would have left her with less fighting spirit so her future looked even bleaker. We gain a lot of respect for Eva during this rejection. She behaves with dignity, and puts Gerald's feelings first. She doesn't create any scenes, plead with him or even cry she just goes quietly to make it easier for him. "She was- very gallant- about it." "She didn't blame me at all. I wish to God she had now. Perhaps I'd feel a little better about it." Gerald's comment that young women should be "protected against unpleasant and disturbing things" is rather hypocritical in the light of what he's done to Daisy. Perhaps he doesn't feel lower class women need this protection, which would be a fairly typical attitude of rich young men of that time. They would have no conscience about 'using� girls like Daisy. It is difficult to decide how much to blame Gerald. On the one hand he cares for Daisy but on the other hand gives her a taste of a lifestyle she loves but cannot have. ...read more.

Conclusion

The only two things in his favour were that he was sorry for what he had done and he tried to help her financially but these came too late for Eva. In my opinion Sybil Birling is the most to blame because she knew Eva was genuinely in need but still turned her away in a callous fashion. As the inspector tells her, "You refused her even the pitiable little bit of organised charity you had in your power to grant her". It is Sybil's uncaring attitude that makes her actions seem even worse. She stubbornly refuses to accept any blame and although she is shocked by Eric's involvement she never shows any genuine remorse. In fact she believes she behaved correctly and "did my duty" in turning away an undeserving claim. She is typical of the sort of women involved in philanthropic societies at the time. Priestley criticises them for sitting on committees merely to ease their own consciences rather than out of a genuine desire to help. Priestley wanted to ensure life after the war was better than before and he hoped that through his writing he could influence people's ideas and change society. Although he wrote an Inspector Calls in 1945 he deliberately set it in 1912 because that time represented the sort of society everybody wanted to leave behind. He was particularly concerned about the living conditions of the lower classes, represented by Eva, and the way the upper classes behaved, represented by the Birling's and Gerald Croft. He believed that we should all help each other, which is the total opposite from what the Birling's believed. He uses the inspector to symbolise the conscience of the nation and through him challenges each of the characters that represent a part of society. He shows that change is more likely to come through the young (Sheila and Eric) rather than through the older generation (Arthur and Sybil) or the upper classes symbolised by Gerald Croft. SALLY ROBERTS 11G 3RD NOVEMBER 2002 ...read more.

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