Who, in your opinion, is the most responsible for Eva Smith’s death? An Inspector Calls was written by JB Priestley as a means of illustrating the flaws in the society of 1945 and the consequences that these flaws could bear. Priestley exemplifies this message most notably through the characters in the play. For example, although Eva Smith may not necessarily be a ‘real’ character, she is used as a representation of the entire working class community. This is central to the play because it means that how the characters accept responsibility for her suicide is a reflection of their social principles.
In the following paragraphs I will investigate each character’s involvement in Eva Smith’s suicide and conclude by stating where the responsibility for her death lies. The character that, in my opinion, holds the least responsibility for Smith’s death is Gerald Croft.
Although Mr Croft’s involvement in Eva Smith’s life was sizeable, we can establish that she had been ‘happier than ever’ for the months that they were seeing each other.
This can also be backed up by the fact that when Mr Croft had to break the affair up, she was ‘very gallant about it’ and ‘didn’t blame (him) for it’. From when he saved her from the aggressive drunken clutches of Alderman Meggarty in the Palace Bar, to breaking off the affair serenely, Croft maintained a heroic figure throughout. It could be interpreted that dropping her suddenly from a high to a low is more villainous than heroic, however there is evidence in the play to suggest that even after the affair Eva Smith remained affirmative. This was undoubtedly due to the positivity that Croft had offered her during the summer months. Consequently, I believe that he is the least responsible for Eva’s suicide; the reason being the joy he bestowed her during the affair. One of the characters with a more negative effect in Smith’s life is Sheila Birling. After being the cause of her being fired from her job at a department store and finally being able to rebuild her life again, Miss Birling is at fault for her second downfall. Miss Birling admits ‘she went to the manager and told him the girl had been very impertinent’, claiming to have been ‘jealous in a way’ of Miss Smith’s seemingly attractive visual appearance.
One of the reasons why this makes Miss Birling partly responsible is the superfluousness of her actions, stemming from feelings as shallow as jealousy and spite. On the other hand, Miss Birling is ranked as low as fourth most responsible for the suicide because of her acceptance of responsibility in addition to her genuine, regretful, apologetic approach to the situation. She quotes on page 23 that ‘It was (her) own fault’ and that she ‘felt rotten about it’. There is also the implication that she has learnt from the mistake she has made when she says: ‘I’ll never, never do it again to anybody’. This develops the idea that Miss Birling is a reflection of how Priestley intends the audience learn from the play. She also admits that if she was given the opportunity to help Eva Smith now, she would. It is this good nature which means that Miss Birling is the fourth most responsible for Miss Smith’s suicide, despite the bigot she showed her fifteen months beforehand. Ranked in the middle of the scale of responsibility for Eva Smith’s suicide is the reason that the chain of events started in the first place, Mr Birling. He is scrutinised within minutes of the Inspector entering the Birling’s household and his inability to accept responsibility only serves to decrease his popularity with the audience.
The scrutiny that he faces from the Inspector, who clearly believes that Mr Birling is at fault, is ‘surprising’ to Mr Birling and subsequently there is a certain degree of intolerance between the pair, such as when he tells the Inspector, ‘I don’t like that tone’. Inevitably this makes Mr Birling look incredibly guilty and therefore responsible for Eva Smith’s suicide. He considers it preposterous that Miss Smith would ask for a raise from twenty two and six to twenty five shillings a week. Concerning the issue he tells the Inspector ‘I refused, of course’. The fact that he says ‘of course’ shows that Birling has a great amount of pompousness about him and illustrates that he believes it right that he did what he did. This signifies that Birling’s lack of admittance of responsibility holds him with a hefty amount of blame for Eva Smith’s death, and if she had not been fired from this job she would have maintained a steady income meaning that she would not have been in such a financially desperate state.
Of greater responsibility in Eva Smith’s death and arguably one of the main triggers for her to swallow the disinfectant is Mrs Birling’s refusal to help her at the Women’s Charity Organisation in her time of need. When Smith applied for desperate aid two weeks beforehand, Mrs Birling admitted being prejudiced against her case but denied any responsibility in the case, claiming that ‘she had only herself to blame’. What prejudiced her against the case is that Eva Smith applied to the committee with the name ‘Mrs Birling’, unaware it was the ‘real’ Mrs Birling in Brumley that she was stood in front of. Ridiculously, and in spite of the desperation she showed, Mrs Birling denied Miss Smith any service. She quotes on page 44: ‘She’d impertinently made use of our name, though she pretended afterwards that it just happened to be the first she thought of.’ Also on page 43, she says ‘naturally that was one of the things that prejudiced (Mrs Birling) against her case’. The arrogance and absurdity that she showed, as well as the prejudiced dismissal of help, is possibly the main reason why Eva Smith killed herself and as a result is why Mrs Birling holds an enormous amount of responsibility.
Ultimately, the character sustaining the largest amount of responsibility and therefore most to blame for Eva Smith’s death is Eric Birling. The reason being is that if the pregnancy had not befallen, the circumstances would be most likely different and it is what drove Miss Smith suicidal. Although he is very accepting of his responsibility, which bodes well with the audience, the most fault lies with him. He first met Smith ‘one night last November’ in the Palace Bar, where Gerald Croft met her too, but the circumstances were very different because as opposed to rescuing her from an aggressive drunken man, he played the role of the aggressive drunken man himself, admitting that he ‘threatened to make a row’. It has been revealed that the Palace Bar is a ‘favourite haunt of women of the town’, or is a popular social atmosphere among prostitutes; the fact that Eric Birling accidentally met her there two weeks later for a second time presents questions to the audience about both characters, making Smith look desperate and Birling irresponsible.
The love affair that ensued, however, was on his part a bit of immature fun, and there is evidence in the text to suggest that he used her for sex – he quotes that ‘she was pretty and a good sport’. He also reveals that he wasn’t ‘in love with her or anything’. After confessing about this affair, Mr Birling also reveals that he stole his own father’s money – £50 specifically – from the office, and gave it to Miss Smith. Compared to Gerald Croft, who genuinely gave her his own money, this presents Mr Birling as a bit of an oaf to the audience in that he was ingenuine and scandalous. Out of social morality, Smith refused to take the money, leaving her poor and alone. Eric Birling is predominantly responsible for Eva Smith’s self-murder because he entered her life, created a new one and left her with an extra person to take care of with no money or care.
In summary, of all the characters, Eric Birling is the most responsible for the suicide of Eva Smith, simply because the impact he had in her life was the most substantial of all. Although Mrs Birling may have triggered the suicide, her responsibility is not as great as her son’s. Gerald’s responsibility is minimal because he impacted on Smith in a positive way. The reason why Sheila Birling is less responsible than her father is because she is more likeable due to her accepting her own responsibility. In short, Eric is most to blame.
Cite this Responsibility an inspector calls
Responsibility an inspector calls. (2016, Jul 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/responsibility-an-inspector-calls/