Who is to blame for the death of Eva Smith?
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Who is to blame for the death of Eva Smith? "An Inspector Calls" written by J.B Priestley is set in 1912, a time when society was divided into three sections; working class, middle class and upper class. The Birlings' are a typical upper class family. Mr. Arthur Birling owns and runs a major business and has worked and married his way into the upper class. Mrs. Birling was born into the upper class, and there are times when she reminds Mr. Birling of this.Tthey have two children; Sheila and Eric. Eric is an alcoholic but his parents are unaware of this, and Sheila is engaged to a certain Gerald Croft. Eva Smith is the character used by Inspector Goole to teach this typical upper class family about the consequences of their actions on other people. Mr. Birling is lecturing Eric and Gerald after a quiet family dinner when Inspector Goole enters with the announcement that Eva Smith has committed suicide by drinking disinfectant. Eric and Gerald are shocked and horrified by this, because of the effect drinking disinfectant has: " Burnt her inside out, of course." Mr. Birling seems unconcerned about this though, and is only wondering who Eva Smith is, and what this has to do with him: " Horrid business. But I don't understand why you should come here, Inspector" After some questioning, Mr. Birling realises who Eva Smith is - an ex employee.
Gerald accepts what he has done and we as the reader feel he is genuinely sorry about what he did, like Sheila, but doesn't regret doing what he did, like Mr. Birling. Gerald is in fact a cross between Sheila and Mr. Birling with the way he reacts after being told the extent of his involvement with the death of Eva Smith. Mrs. Birling was the chair of the Brumley Women's Charity Organisation. This organisation is an organisation 'to which women in distress can appeal for help in various forms'. Eva Smith applied to his organisation, but as Mrs. Birling. Mrs. Birling being of an upper class society, saw this attempt at impersonating her and this impersonation coming from an member of the lower class society, left her fuming and biased against Eva Smith's case. The case presented to Mrs. Birling, was that Eva Smith was left pregnant by a young man who had given her stolen money in order to support her. Mrs. Birling told her to marry the young man as that was expected of that period in time, but Eva Smith refused. Mrs. Birling pushed Eva Smith even further out into the cold world than she already was, all alone and with no money. Like Mr. Birling, Mrs. Birling refuses to accept responsibility for any involvement in the death of Eva Smith. Mrs. Birling, just like Mr. Birling, claims she was only doing her job.
So in actual fact, the question is addressing the death of every person. And the answer that the Inspector is trying to instil, is that society is to blame. If we were to look out for one another and think about the effect of our actions, then our consideration would lead to less suffering. Until we realise this then we will always be looking for a scapegoat. Different people will answer this question, mentally, in different ways. Those who believe in individualism, will try and shift the blame, those who don't, will accept their responsibility and blame society and themselves. These people will learn from their mistakes and this can only mean that they will try not to repeat it. As a result of the action not being repeated, the consequence will be avoided. My own view is that this question can be interpreted in many different ways. The interpretation will depend on your personality or attitude. If the general view is to accept the excuses that some of the characters give and feel that they are justified in not accepting responsibility, then we live in a society that is more concerned about oneself. The other position is to accept responsibility for our actions and understand that they can have consequences on other people. This is a more caring society. My view is that the author believed that the generation of the elder Birlings belonged to a more selfish society and that the younger Birlings were part of a more caring society. In this way, he believes that there is hope for the future. .
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