In J. B. Priestley’s polemic play, An Inspector Calls, the character of Eva Smith is presented through, at first, the Inspector, and then, through each individual member of the Birling household. Although the audience does not once encounter Smith’s character, her character is developed through the information elicited from the family, and it is certainly arguable that overall, she is put forth as a victim to the selfishness of the Birling family.
One significant facet of Smith’s character is the fact that her story holds the family accountable for their actions. Each of them, in one way or another, played a part in a sequence of events that led to her eventual demise. The Inspector, who took on a role similar to one of a judge in a courtroom, says she was a “pretty, lively sort of girl, who never did anybody any harm.” Furthermore, he highlights that her promising life was brought to an abrupt halt, given the “nasty mess somebody’s made of it.”
Here, we see that one reason for the significance of Eva Smith’s character was the fact that through her, the Birlings were assigned the blame they were due for the way they acted; blame their social class my have otherwise allowed them to evade. Through the story of Eva Smith, it was made clear that these upstanding citizens had made decisions with terrible consequences, and that now, they would have to suffer the repercussions of those decisions.
Another thing that the character of Eva Smith might have been presented for is to illustrate an idea that may have seemed difficult to swallow at that point in history – that class-based power did not always bring moral integrity with it. The Birlings, as well as Gerald Croft, were seen as being part of the uppermost group of the social hierarchy. They were wealthy, successful businessmen, more educated than most; they had a high status in the community. In spite of