Describe and explain the different responses of the characters to the Inspector’s visit; and explore Priestley’s reasons for showing a difference between the older and younger generations The characters respond to the Inspector’s news in very different ways. You get the impression that Arthur Birling doesn’t care about the situation that has occurred with Eva Smith. ‘And I don’t see where I come into this.’
This suggests that he thinks that he cannot do wrong but we find out that he is the one that sacked Eva Smith for wanting a pay rise. This started the sequence of events that led to her eventual death. Arthur Birling is moved to anger. He implies that he is a friend of the Chief Constable Colonel Roberts and that the Inspector cannot talk to him in such a way. He considers the talk as ‘uncalled for and officious’. Arthur tries to belittle the Inspector and is very hostile towards him. He reacts like this because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputation and blames the Inspector for the interruption of the celebration of Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. Arthur’s social position makes him react as he does. He thinks that he is superior and only looks after himself. Birling is presented to us as a character that thinks he is right and won’t be tolerant
Birling’s daughter Sheila on the other hand is co-operative with the Inspector. She notes that no one told him anything that he did not already know. She is moved to tears of shock and guilt: the Inspector is successful in making her see the consequences of her actions. When she realises that she is the person that got Eva Smith sacked she thinks that she is responsible for her death. Sheila is more supportive to the enquiry.
This shows that she is understanding and shows that she cares about the whole Eva Smith situation, unlike her father Mr Birling. Here we can start to see the different attitude that the younger and older characters play. Arthur Birling keeps insisting that Sheila should not be brought into this matter. Mrs Birling says to Sheila ‘I think you ought to go to bed’. She is trying to control Sheila and treats her like a child. Mrs Birling thinks that she is superior ‘Girls of that class -‘it is as though she is looking down on the girls. Regardless of the fact that Gerald, Mr Birling and Mrs Birling try to protect Sheila; she is the one that can actually face the truth.
When the Inspector says that Eva Smith was also known as Daisy Renton, Gerald tries to hide his reaction because he played a part in Daisy Renton’s life. He is distressed by his realisation in Eva Smith’s/Daisy Renton’s life and death. Sheila tells him to tell the Inspector, implying that the Inspector knows the truth already. Gerald asks Sheila to leave the room because he doesn’t want to expose any more unpleasantness. Gerald tries to justify that he is a hero when he says: ‘I became at once the most important person in her life…’ whereas he is also anxious that he has a shameful link to Eva Smith’s death.
Mrs Birling remains entirely untouched by the Inspector’s questioning. ‘I did nothing that I’m ashamed of or that won’t bear investigation.’ She feels no shame because she refuses to see how Eva Smith’s death can have followed as a consequence of her actions. Mrs Birling believes that a working class girl deserves all that she gets. She reveals her assumptions about people ‘make sure that he’s compelled to confess in public his responsibility’.
She thinks this is the right thing to do but at the end she doesn’t do the right thing. When the inspector confronts Eric, he reacts similarly to his sister, realising that he has done wrong. Eric is a complicated character. At the start of the play he is really immature. He believes that women are just there to be sexually used. When he gets Eva pregnant he tries to do the decent thing by giving her money. He steals the money from Birling’s office.