Eva's Death in J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls
JB Priestly wrote 'An Inspector Calls' after the Second World War.
After witnessing the destruction cause by the war he wanted society to
realise everyone has a responsibility to each other and believed if
everyone carried out their responsibility it would ensure a healthier
future for coming generations. He said, 'We are members of one body.
We are responsible for each other. And the time will soon come when if
men will not learn that lesson, they will be taught in fire blood and
anguish.' In this play the Birling family represent society.
Mr Birling, a wealthy manufacturer is holding a family dinner party to
celebrate his daughter's engagement. A police Inspector Goole intrudes
this party to investigate the suicide of a young-working class woman.
Under the pressure of his interrogation, every member of the family
turns out to have a shameful secret which links them with her death.
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 inspector's 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 which they should
The first person to have contact with Eva was Mr Birling. He had
employed her at his works until September 1910. At first when the
inspector had asked him about Eva he couldn't remember her until the
inspector showed him a photograph of her. He then remembered her and
explained about his involvement. Eva had been involved in a dispute
over low wages and because she had been one of the ring leaders in the
strike, he had dismissed her.
When told of the consequences of his actions, that Eva was out of work
for two months and desperate for money, Mr Birling showed no remorse.
He explained that:
"The girl had been causing trouble in the works.
It was quite justified."
He was backed up by Gerald Croft whereas Sheila and Eric disapproved.
Mr Birling resents being challenged by the inspector and especially
resents the suggestion that he just uses girls for cheap labour and
getting rich on this exploitation. To Mr Birling, as to others of his
kind, workers were there to do a job and it was not his responsibility
to look after their welfare. He firmly believed that he was being fair
to his workers by paying them the going rate. Eva was getting "twenty
two and six" which compared well with a bricklayer's labourer who got
eighteen shillings and a police constable who got twenty seven
shillings a week. So in his eyes he was not underpaying his workers by
the standards of 1910. He considered it his duty to keep labour costs