“An Inspector Calls is full of lies and deceit; write fully about how Priestly exposes weakness and wickedness, not only in the characters on stage but also in society.” In order to look at the essay question properly we have to look at literature as part of wider society. The story takes place during the early 20th century. Its author JB Priestly doesn’t just examine an introverted Edwardian family, the Birlings, but uses them to represent the microcosmic world of upper class Edwardian society.
Thus using them to reveal the social injustice that occurred in Edwardian society. So any comment made about the Birling family by Priestly refers to the whole of Edwardian upper class society. During the Edwardian period, society was split into two halves. Either you were a rich industrialist like, Mr Birling, or a poor factory worker like Eva Smith, but for the Birlings it was an era in which they had total power and control over the deprived.
The story is set in the pleasant house of the Birlings, who are a typical Edwardian family. The unravelling of the plot begins with a police inspector, Goole, and his investigation of the Birlings. He investigates each member of the family’s involvement in the suicide of Eva Smith and the dignified and respectable reputations of the Birling family household are consequently revealed as overstatements. This causes the audience to question the morale standing of the rest of Edwardian society. Lets now begin by looking at the characters, not only in isolation, but as how they represent social types.
Looking first at Eric Birling we can see that Priestly portrays him as a half shy, half assertive person, leaving him with a contradictive personality. He represents a figure of young Edwardian men, set in the future to take over their father’s businesses, which was the tradition at this time. Unfortunately Eric is different; he has his own views on society and disagrees with his father’s methods in politics. Eric grows up to be a rather immature young man, in his spare time he likes to get squithy which was the term used for getting drunk. Perhaps Eric’s drunken behaviour can be explained as his way of expressing his carefree and poor liability in life. In reference to the essay question, Eric’s wickedness is shown when he impregnates Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.
He is the last link in the chain of events leading to Eva’s suicide. The night of Eric’s casual affaire with Miss Smith is perceived to him as a mistake on the end of a drunken evening. His weakness is shown when, in an attempt to act responsible he steals (not having any money) from his father’s account, offering support to Miss Smith and her baby. Eva Smith rejects Eric after discovering how he got the money. Eric is sorry for his actions and accepts responsibility as the last link in the chain of events which lead to Miss Smith’s death. Eric has to deal with this himself as he hasn’t got a close bond with the rest of the family.
Sheila Birling is another member of the Birling household. She represents a stereotypical Edwardian spoilt child. Priestly portrays her as sort of a daddy’s girl’ melodramatic and selfish. She shows these “qualities” when she influences the dismissal of Eva smith, who at this point was employed in a shop where Miss Birling was considered a valued costumer, a perfect example of the wickedness in Edwardian society.
The reason; simply because Eva Smith appeared better any a dress which had intrigued Miss Birling. Situations such as the one between Eva Smith and Sheila went on all over Edwardian society. To the rich appearance was everything. The inspector reveals to the audience another side of Sheila Birling a more sympathetic side. Perhaps Sheila Birling can be distinguished from the rest of the family as being one of the characters, along with Eric who accepted responsibility for their actions. Not many people can redeem themselves after committing such a shallow crime as the one Sheila committed against Eva Smith, certainly not anyone from Edwardian upper class society. But Miss Birling was able to. She becomes of age during the remainder of the play, sharing the inspectors views on society.
Gerald Croft, Sheila’s husband to be is, represents a man in his late twenties and is about to reach the high point of his manhood. The inspectors questioning of Gerald Croft reveals him to be man far from deserving his respectable reputation. The inspector unveils Gerald’s involvement by revealing him as the third link in a constant chain of events. It was shown that Gerald had an affaire with one Daisy Renton, who as we know was Eva Smith.
The announcement of the name Daisy Renton by the inspector was responded with a sudden shock from Gerald. At this point Sheila points out to Gerald that he has given himself away. Gerald is discomforted of knowing that Sheila is present as the inspector questions him. I an attempt to prevent Miss Birling from hearing the explicit details of his affaire and to protect himself he requests for Miss Birling to be excused. “I think Ms Birling ought to be excused from anymore questioning, this maybe too disturbing and unpleasant.”