Taking the play from a socialist perspective inevitably focuses on issues of social class. Class is a large factor, indirectly, in the events of the play and Eva Smith’s death. Mrs. Birling, Priestley notes, is her husband’s social superior, just as Gerald will be Sheila’s social superior if they do get married. Priestley also subtly notes that Gerald’s mother, Lady Croft, disapproves of Gerald’s marrying Sheila for precisely this reason. Finally, everyone’s treatment of Eva might be put down (either in part or altogether) to the fact that she is a girl, as Mrs. Birling puts it, “of that class.” Priestley clearly was interested in the class system and how it determines the decisions that people make. Youth and Age
The play implicitly draws out a significant contrast between the older and younger generations of Birlings. While Arthur and Sybil refuse to accept responsibility for their actions toward Eva Smith (Arthur, in particular, is only concerned for his reputation and his potential knighthood), Eric and especially Sheila are shaken by the Inspector’s message and their role in Eva Smith’s suicide. The younger generation is taking more responsibility, perhaps because they are more emotional and idealistic, but perhaps because Priestley is suggesting a more communally responsible socialist future for Britain. Responsibility and Avoiding It
Though responsibility itself is a central theme of the play, the last act of the play provides a fascinating portrait of the way that people can let themselves off the hook. If one message of the play is that we must all care more thoroughly about the general welfare, it is clear that the message is not shared by all. By contrasting the older Birlings and Gerald with Sheila and Eric, Priestley explicitly draws out the difference between those who have accepted their responsibility and those who have not.
Cause and Effect
The Inspector outlines a “chain of events” that may well have led to...
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