He is strongly against socialism and solely believes that everyone is responsible for themselves and their own. He worked his way up the social ladder, and if he can then why can’t everyone else do the same? Birling’s feelings are summed up in the last sentence he says before the inspector arrives: – “A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own” Through the middle of the dinner there is a knock at the door.
This is where we meet Inspector Goole ready to disapprove Birling’s point. He tells the family that a girl has committed suicide and that in one way or another they are responsible. The Inspector interrogates each of the Birling family in turn; with each of them he makes a point that they have acted selfishly and used Eva Smith. They didn’t think about the effect they would have had on her life. The Inspector challenges us all to examine our consciences.
Arthur Birling is a self made man. Priestly shows him to be a pompous, selfish, complacent man. He is certainly an influential figure within the community, a man that conveys respect. When the Inspector begins to question him, Mr Birling denies any knowledge of the girl. However, when presented with a photograph, remembers: – “She was one of my employees and then I discharged her” Reasons for which later became apparent: – “She had a lot to say – too much – she had to go” Apparently Eva Smith had led a strike at his factory due to poor pay and long hours. Still, after this revelation, Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for her death: – “If we were all responsible for everything that had happened to everybody it would be very awkward”
Birling has a fair point here and it could be argued he was acting as a businessman, as many others would do. However, it is true to say that he was only acting in his own interests and was not particularly keen on aiding others. After accusations from the Inspector, Birling attempts to intimidate the Inspector, although his threats prove weak: – “Now look here Inspector, I consider this uncalled for and officious. I’ve half a mind to report you” The Inspector proves unconcerned as Birling continues to abuse his position as ex-lord mayor and associate of the Chief of Police.
In conclusion to Arthur Birling’s involvement in the death of Eva Smith, it is true to say that he did play a part in her downfall, although how little or how much is debatable as he can be seen as treating her as he would anyone else. What is relevant however, is how little concerned he appears to be, in fact denying that his actions had any consequence. This shows a distinctive trait of his character and emphasises what a single narrow- minded individual he is. Sheila Birling, Arthur’s daughter has a very different set of characteristics. As she recognises the woman in the photo, she runs out of the room as if in disgust of her previous actions, a complete contradiction to her fathers views.
She later returns guiltily: – “You knew it was me all along didn’t you?” Immediately her character is shown to be sympathetic because of this guilt. Sheila then goes onto explain how she was totally responsible for Eva Smith loosing her job at Milwards, after jealousy got the better of her when she tried on a dress that didn’t suit her as much as it did a ‘sly smiling’ Eva: – “I went to the manager at Milwards and I told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again and I’d persuade mother to close our account with them” This shows that Sheila, like her father, abused her position as a wealthy member of the community, who could influence others due to her relations. Sheila does however, feel great guilt for the actions that she committed, she agrees with the Inspector when he says: – “You used the power you had to punish the girl”
Unlike her father, Sheila is full of sorrow and remorse for what she did, the Inspector supports her when stating: – “She feels responsible” Sheila does in fact say that:- “I know I am to blame, and I’m desperately sorry” Shelia is also the first to realise that the Inspector has a strange type of power, when Mrs Birling is arguing with him, Sheila warns her: – “You mustn’t try to build up a king of wall, the Inspector will just break it down and it will be all the worse when he does” This later becomes even more apparent when the plot evolves. Sheila’s character is totally unlike that of her fathers, where she accepts responsibility. Arthur Birling completely refuses to accept liability. It is obvious from what Sheila says that she believes that she is to blame and accepts responsibility. It is also clear to see that her character and views have been altered by the event and the impact of the Inspector.
Gerald Croft, the only person who is not a direct relation to the Birling family, but is engaged to Sheila, also has a significant involvement with the death of Eva Smith. Gerald recognises the name Daisy Renton as soon as he hears the Inspector mention it. After at first trying to make Sheila leave the room, for reasons that become more apparent later, he tells the story of how he met Eva Smith, or as he new her Daisy Renton. He describes her as: – “Very pretty – soft brown hair and big dark eyes” Gerald claims to have rescued her from: – “Horrible old Meggarty” in the County Hotel and set her up in a friend’s set of rooms, where she later inevitably, became his mistress. He is clearly upset by what has happened to her: –
“She knew it couldn’t last, She didn’t blame me at all. I wish to God she had now. Perhaps I’d feel better about it.” A question that must be asked however, is just how genuine is he? Gerald makes out as if he was merely trying to help Eva Smith and only later started a relationship with her, whether or not this is true is unknown. After the explanation, he makes excuses and leaves. Gerald’s involvement with Eva Smith is perhaps the least significant, for Eva Smith anyway, perhaps more for Sheila and Gerald. What is a fact is that Gerald did attempt to help Eva Smith, unlike all the others, who were simply punishing her out of spite.
Or maybe Gerald was simply using her as his mistress for when he desired and he was guilty as the others in terms of responsibility. Even if Gerald had not been responsible for the death of Eva Smith, his actions certainly have a consequence as he is engaged to Sheila, who now knows that Gerald was actively having another relationship while they were together. This puts their relationship into doubt, something that no doubt Mr Birling would be displeased about.
Mrs Birling shows characteristics in some ways, to be very similar to her husband, and denies any responsibility herself, instead choosing to blame others, which later becomes a very bad decision. Mrs Birling treats the Inspector in a patronising, threatening way: – “I realise you may have to conduct some kind of enquiry, but I must say you seem to be conducting it in a rather peculiar and offensive manner. You know of course that my husband was Lord Mayor only two years ago” This shows how highly she thinks of herself and that she is ready to abuse her position, like other members of her family.