Being post-war England was slowly rebuilding its economy.

Being a co-founder of the Socialist Commonwealth party, J.
B. Priestley felt that his political views on socialism were very important and
these views are prominently displayed throughout the play he wrote – ‘An
Inspector Calls’. Socialism is the belief that everyone is part of a community,
and we are all responsible for each other. Priestley bases his play on
responsibility and uses the character of Eva Smith as a mouthpiece to
disseminate his views on socialism. The play was set in 1912 but it was written
in 1945. During this period, post-war England was slowly rebuilding its
economy.

The main message put across in ‘An Inspector Calls’ is that
everyone in society should take responsibility for their actions and look after
everyone in its community. This is shown by “She was here alone, friendless,
almost penniless, desperate. She needed not only money, but advice, sympathy,
friendliness”. This helps show that a death of a susceptible, young girl could
have been prevented if she had someone to offer some kindness and help. Here,
Eva is a dramatic device used to evoke feeling and emotion in the audience. Through the course of the play, she is shown as a
vulnerable person and although she is physically absent from the play, she is
psychologically dominant.

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Furthermore, she is continuously a victim due
to the failure of the Birling family not accepting responsibility. This is
portrayed by “A pretty, lively sort of girl, who never did anybody no harm. But
she died in misery and agony – hating life”. The effect Priestley tries to
create on the audience here is sympathy. Although, the figure of Eva Smith is
created by the other character’s experience, her grizzly death would create restlessness.
As described, Eva has a violent and painful death so she is presented as a
martyr. This shown because she ‘disinfects’ herself from all the harm she has
experienced as her body has been used and treated with disrespect.

Eva Smith’s strength also helps to persuade
the audience that capitalism has no place in the world. It is shown that both
her parents are dead so she had no loved ones and had to fend for herself. Eva
was not from Brumley originally and we know this because Mr Birling states that
she was “country-bred” which indicates that she was desperate for work amongst the
laissez-faire society due to her being from a closer-knit community. This
situation leads her to working in the Birling&co. factory, suffering at the
hands of an exploitative employer. However, Priestley criticises the treatment
of women in the Edwardian era because many female workers were used for cheap
labour to “keep labour costs down”. Unlike many others, she is punished for
standing up to her rights in the end by being thrown out of employment due to
the powerlessness she has in her own gender. These actions she takes not only
leaves the audience in awe but she represents a model figure which everyone
should aim to be, aiding the socialist message.

Another key message that Eva helps convey is
that there are many other people suffering through the same problems as she
did. The inspector quotes “One Eva Smith has gone- but there are millions and
millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still let with us, with
their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering, and chance of happiness,
all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do “. Here, the
Inspector shows that she is one of many. Eva Smith is a symbolic name,
referring to Christianity, and it is Latin for Eve. In the Bible, Eve was the
first woman. Her surname, Smith, is an incredibly common surname. The second
name Daisy Renton is also equally significant as daisies are common as fields
are often covered in daisies suggesting that she is one of many and “Renton”
explains how she had to rent her body as a prostitute at the ‘palace bar’. In
the Inspector’s last speech, Priestley ensures equality in the play by
referring to both “Eva Smiths and John Smiths”. It is highlighted that equally
both men and women are suffering from the same kinds of mistreatment; it
supports Priestley’s belief in equality between genders, extending this to show
society as a whole.

Throughout the morality play, Priestly uses
constant repetition of word such as ‘we’. For example, “We don’t live alone. We
are members of one body”. This use of repetition includes the audience, aiding
them understand the true meaning behind his words. In addition, Priestley
cleverly links the play with seven deadly sins. Sheila accepts her sin of envy
after the inspector questioned “You might be said to have been jealous?” As the
majority of his audience was Christian at the time and the seven deadly sins
were part of Christian teachings, they would find it easy to relate to the
seven deadly sins. Each character is linked with one of the sins.  The plot of ‘An Inspector calls’ revolves
around how several high-class people fail to help Eva and Priestly draws upon
this from the parable of ‘The Good Samaritan’. He uses this reference to the
parable to try and reproduce the effective methods that Jesus used to tell
society that they are responsible for vulnerable people, despite their
differences. This method would help the wealthy, educated audience understand the
strong correlation between the play and the teaching.

A character most who would feel most relatable
to Eva is Sheila Birling; she may be considered a counter-balance towards Eva.
Not only is she more socially conscious than the older generation Birlings but
she is the first to feel compassionate towards Eva Smith. However, Gerald’s
urge to keep Sheila from hearing such things is shown when he states
“Inspector, I think Miss Birling ought to be excused from any more of this
questioning.” This shows that he is trying to bluff his way out and protect his
dignity. He also believes that unlike Eva Smith, Sheila should be protected
because she is not of the working class and far more delicate than Eva,
emphasizing the clear contrast between the two girls. However, the inspector
contradicts by asking “And you think that young women ought to be protected
against unpleasant things?”.  Here, is an
example of dramatic irony which the playwright uses. Another example would be
the irony between the time periods, in which the play was written and set in,
as this gives the audience a chance to recognise and learn from past mistakes.

Eva Smith is also shown to be morally
principled and selfless as she refuses to accept stolen money from Eric and
marry him despite, her dire financial situation. For instance, “The girl
discovered that the money you were giving was stolen”. Here, she is doing the
right thing as she understands that any association or marriage between the two
social classes would ruin Eric’s future. She obviously cared enough for Eric to
leave him this dignity and to protect him from the issues he clearly had with
theft. Her problems, however, could all have been resolved quite easily if she
had only told Mrs Birling that Eric was the father. It says a lot about her
character that she refuses to do this even when he was violent towards:
sexually abusing her by force and consequently getting her pregnant. The
audience would have a greater understanding that many other deserving girls are
being thrown into these problems as the system of society is against them.

Another message that Priestley portrays is
the division between the classes. Sybil Birling criticises Eva for appearing
proud and putting on airs and graces, and for being “impertinent” rather than
meek and grateful towards her social superiors. She was classed as an
undeserving poor only because she decided to partially lie about her situation.
Mrs. Birling stereotypes her by stating “girls of that class”. Here she makes
judgements on Eva without ever seeing her, at that point in the play, and
expressing how unimportant she is considered by the upper classes. The audience
would feel strongly towards her as she is part of the deserving poor in their
eyes therefore they will try to make a difference.

Eva’s diary is expressed through the
inspector, who depicts her views, from the diary. Therefore, she may be
considered as the key figure in conveying the socialist message. Her beauty is
commented on all through the play. Gerald states “She looked young and fresh
and charming and all together out of place down there”. This shows that women
are judges heavily on their looks which are thought to represent them. Both
Gerald and Eric sexually exploit her for their gains, working against her.
However, more traditional women, like Mrs. Birling, feel that she is disrupting
the status quo.

Overall, Priestley has a clear message that
he is trying to convey through Eva Smith. She has a key part in showing the
differences between capitalism and socialism by changing the views of some of
the Birling family. Eva Smith also creates a lot of emotion in theatre-goers,
helping Priestley achieve his target of ‘An Inspector Calls’. Through these
various methods I believe that Priestley has successfully communicated his
message that we should look out for our community, take responsibility and
strive for equality. He conveys that people’s actions affect everyone and it is
important to try and make these changes happen

 

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