The Inspector, therefore comes across as a much more intelligent, serious and thoughtful man. Although we never meet Eva Smith in the play you can’t help but feel sorry for her from the start. Over the course of the play, little by little, Priestley uncovers her story. In doing this you find a flaw in each character in the Birling family and it helps the audience judge their characters, and see the change in certain characters at the end of the play. In terms of Eva Smith, the audience feel more and more sympathy for her and anger towards the Birlings as the play progresses.
Even before the inspector has questioned everybody, the way Birling shows no affection, or sympathy for her, and no responsibility for his actions, heightens our dislike of him. Priestley shows us more about how Birling treats the working class, the coldness displayed when he’s talking about Eva smith shows us that he does not think of the working class as people, more like numbers or cogs in a well oiled machine. Whilst the inspector is interrogating him, Birling experiences a small taste of his own medicine, because the inspector does not see Birling’s point of view no matter what he does or says.
For a man, like Birling, who believes he is always right this is extremely infuriating. At this point in the play we are reminded of Birling’s hypocrisy, because Birling is an industrialist, who probably started from the bottom, like Eva Smith, you feel he should show more compassion for her. Mr Birling and Eric tend to disagree about most things “he could have kept her instead of throwing her out”… “Rubbish! if you don’t come down sharp on some of these people…
” This gives us an insight into Birling and Eric’s relationship, and in 1945, when it was first performed, there had just been a war on, so this sort of behaviour and lack of affection would have come as a great shock because many young men were lost at war, and they considered a son a very precious thing. Priestley used this to heighten the audiences dislike for Birling even more, especially when Eric comes out with some very good points, contradicting Birling’s clouded view of the world: “what about war? ” At the start of the play, the inspector values Eric’s opinion more than Mr Birling does.
“It isn’t if you can’t go and work somewhere else”… “quite so”… “(to Eric) Look you stay out of this” This, not only shows the contrasts between the Inspector and Birling, but also between Eric and Birling. Whilst the Inspector interrogates Eric he doesn’t treat him very harshly because he can see that he is already feeling very guilty: “You know, don’t you? ” Eric already knows that the Inspector is asking about things that they should feel guilty about because he was there when the Inspector was interrogating Mr Birling.
When the inspector said Eric may have to get back up again if he went to bed Eric must have known his actions would come up. Another reason the inspector must have known Eric was already feeling guilty was that Eric was obviously more willing to tell him what he had done than the others, particularly Mrs Birling who stands firmly by her beliefs, that she had done absolutely nothing wrong, all the way through. Eric represents someone with more of a conscience than Birling. Eric can see what he has done to Eva Smith is wrong.
However he is also weak as he does not see these feelings through by helping Eva. Mr Birling treats Sheila more like a child, who is too nai?? ve to hear about these things, than a grown woman in her early twenties: “Well go to bed then. ” He orders her around and, like Eric, doesn’t take her opinions in to account. This is made obvious because of the fact that Mr Birling is infact more naive than Sheila, and seems to live in his own perfect world with no consequences, this is demonstrated by the fact that Sheila is the only one to have noticed Eric’s drinking problems: “-you don’t get drunk-“…
” of course he does. I told you he did. ” Mr Birling seems quite disrespectful towards women as he also treats Sybil in this same way: ” Sheila take your mother to the drawing room… (gentler) go on Sybil. ” This shows he doesn’t want Mrs Birling or Sheila to hear about what Eric’s done, with no regard for their feelings, seeming to forget that he’s Sybil’s son too. Sheila is quite spoilt and child – like in the way she treated Eva. Again she represents someone with a conscience who learns from her mistakes.
The way that Birling treats Sheila would shock the audiences in 1945 because it is a thoroughly old fashioned and outdated way to treat women. In world war two, when nearly all the men had gone to fight in war, women had taken up the jobs men usually occupied. After this women won more respect than Arthur Birling is giving Sheila. Sheila immediately feels sorry for Eva Smith when she hears of her death which makes her feel guiltier for what she did: “but I felt rotten about it at the time and now I feel a lot worse.
” The inspector does not shout at Sheila as much as he did with Birling as she obviously, like Eric, already feels awful about her actions. The inspector is a lot more understanding about Sheila’s feelings than Birling: “I can tell you why Miss Birling wants to stay on and why she says it might be better for her if she did. A girl died tonight… She’ll feel entirely to blame,” The inspector treats Sheila more like an adult, with thoughts of her own, than Birling does. The Inspector leaves after a speech which will make sure that none of them forget what they’ve done.