When Mr Birling makes his speech just prior to the arrival of the Inspector, where he gives advice to Eric and Gerald, he makes several points that Priestley himself disagrees with such as ‘a man should look after himself and his family only’. Priestley uses the Inspector as a medium to make a point to both the Birling family and the audience that we shouldn’t all “Look out for out own” which is how Mr Birling describes it.
According to Mr Birling every man should put himself first, even before his family. This is shown when he says “A man should look out for himself, and his family if he has one”, this shows just how full of self-importance and pompous he actually is. The timing of the Inspector is immediately after Mr Birling had made his speech. Priestley is trying to make Mr Birling look stupid and wrong for making this speech and wants to prove that he is wrong.
J.B Priestley believed a great deal in socialism and believed that many other people needed to be more caring about their community and the people in it. Priestley uses the character of the Inspector to convey his own thoughts, feelings and opinions concerning social issues. However, he also uses other characters particularly Mr Birling, to show the audience how cynical some people can be.
Whilst the Inspector questions each family member the tension in the Birling house begins to increase greatly, the Inspector is pressuring the Birlings’ and Gerald to tell their story of how and when they met Eva Smith. At first they deny any knowledge of the girl, but as the play goes on the Inspector manages to show that they all helped to kill her, he did this by putting them on the spot, asking them questions that they could not answer and intimidating them.
Mr Birling had her dismissed from his factory for demanding a small increase in wages; Sheila orders her to be dismissed from her job in a shop simply because of her pride; Gerald Croft keeps her as his mistress before leaving her suddenly; Eric also has an affair with the girl and steals money to keep her living; and Mrs Birling uses her influence at the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation to deny any help to Eva Smith when she needs it most, driving her to suicide. Therefore the presence of the Inspector causes an effect on the other characters, the way he speaks to them breaks the characters down and forces them to reveal the truth and be aware of their faults causing them to feel guilty and show the audience that the Inspector has more power over the Birlings’ at this point.
The Inspector called himself ‘Goole,’ which could be a pun on the word ‘Ghoul’ which is often referred to as some kind of ghostly being. Towards the end of the play it becomes apparent to the audience that he isn’t an actual Police Inspector. However, Priestley doesn’t actually reveal who, or what the Inspector is, perhaps Priestley’s aim was to leave this matter a complete mystery. This tactic could have been to ensure that his audience continue to think about the issues of socialism and this is something that he was desperate to have happen.
The character of Eva Smith is a dramatic device in itself. Eva is different from everyone in this play. She shows the difference between the lower and upper classes. Her character attracts sympathy from the audience, each of the Birlings’ did something wrong to her to make the audience feel like this. Gerald and Eric just use her then never bother about her again. Mr Birling takes her job for granted and insisted she was to leave after asking for a well deserved pay rise. Mrs Birling doesn’t care about her problems when she comes to talk to her about it, she refuses to help her. The character of Eva Smith shows that the lower class community were often better people that the higher class community. Priestley had made Eva Smith the complete opposite character to Mr Birling to clearly show whom is the better person.
In conclusion I think that the whole family are to blame for the death of Eva Smith. They all had a hand in making Eva’s life a living hell. You could blame Gerald for breaking her heart or you could blame Mrs Birling for giving her the final push or you could even blame Eva herself for thinking there was no other alternatives. Priestley uses methods in this play that would leave his audience thinking for a long time after viewing the play. The way he used dramatic devices to convey his own message and opinions was an excellent way to get his audience thinking. He left open ends to whom the Inspector was, simply because he needed to get his message across and if he did this would leave then to think about the issues of socialism.