In 1812 Britain was in the middle of an industrial revolution.
Men in coal, iron, steel, pottery and textiles became very wealthy and therefore climbed the social ladder. This exactly what Mr Birling did.
Marriages between these newly rich families and aristocratic land owners helped secure these social position. Sheila and Gerald.
Many of these industrialists also received titles which added to their social standing. Mr Birling mentions this in the opening act.
Hierarchy in Birling marriage. Mrs Birling scolds her husband for thanking the cook in front of guests - suggesting she is from a 'better' family background.
Mr Birling is Lord Mayor - an unpaid magistrate. He hopes for a knighthood in return for this. This would make Sheila a better suitor for Gerald.
Mr & Mrs Birling see themselves superior to the inspector as he is public servant.
Workers and Bosses
Labour party had only just been formed in 1893.
The rights of workers were not taken too serious. It was up to the individual factory owner how he treated them.
There was not much job security. You could be sacked without a chance to appeal and there were no unemployment benefits. Eva Smith was a victim of these rules.
Eva Smith was a 'ring-leader' in a protest over wages and was therefore sacked by Mr Birling who wanted 'to keep labour costs down'. No trade unions to organise the strikes.
The same thing happened to Eva Smith when she worked at a dress shop. Sheila claimed she was rude and that was it, she was sacked. This time without good character references she could not find work. This how she ends up at the palace bar - working as a prostitute.
Setting and Place
Set in fictional, industrial town of Brumley.
It has it's own police force and justice system so we know it is relatively big.
Factories provided much needed employment for poor. So the owners were very powerful over their staff.
Play takes place in the Birling's dining room. Which is described in the stage direction as 'substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy.' This shows affluence but little compassion.
- Gerald and Sheila. They appear to be happy and in love at start of play. Then when Gerald admits to sleeping with Eva and Sheila admits to having her suspicions - we wonder how love can exist without trust.
- Mr Birling sees marriage as a convenient arrangement that will help social standing. This makes us wonder if this is all his marriage is based on. Mrs Birling's cold attitude could be due to a loveless marriage.
- The idea of physical attraction rather than love is suggested in Eric and Gerald's relationship's with Eva Smith. They both claim that was all that attracted them to her.
- Unrequited love is also displayed in Eva Smith's sadness when Gerald broke up with her.
- Set two years before war. Performed after war. Shows ignorance of Mr Birling.
- Cycle of life. Inspector gives the family a chance to break their inconsiderate ways. But Mr and Mrs Birling don't so Eva Smith dies.
- Mr Birling - make profit from factory, not look after workers.
- Mrs Birling - chair of Women's Charity Organisation - allows personal prejudice to influence decisions.
- Gerald - saves Eva from palace bar. Takes responsibility for her. Then dumps her.
- Eric does not take responsibility for his child.
- Ideas of community. Sharing guilt. Everyones is equal.
Characters: The Inspector
He makes the Birling's confess to moral crimes they have committed.
'A man of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness.' The inspector is an imposing figure who will dominate the play and achieve his aims.
'One person and one line of enquiry at a otherwise there is a muddle.' He takes control of the situation. Allows Priestly to build the play as chain of events.
'It's my duty to ask questions'. He takes his responsibilities seriously to contrast with The Birling's who haven't.
'He never seemed like any ordinary police inspector.' Suggests the inspector was more than human. A judging god like figure. This is reflected in his name Inspector 'Goole' a ghoul is a supernatural figure with a morbid interest in death.
Head of factory. A keen social climber.
'Heavy-looking, rather portentous man.' Mr Birling's size makes him appear threatening.
'A hard-headed practical man of business.' - He doesn't let sentiment get in the way of making a profit. Eg feeling sorry for his workers.
'Yes, my dear, I know I am talking too much.' He knows he has a tendency to monopolise conversations. But he believes his views are of more importance than others.
'I'm a public man-' He expects respect (and a title) for his role as Lord Mayor.
A woman who married beneath herself. Involved in charity, but relatively cold hearted and obsessed with social protocol.
'a rather cold woman' and 'her husband's social superior' Support the above points.
'Please don't contradict me like that.' To inspector. She is used to being listen to and having her opinions accepted as right.
'It's disgusting to me.' Talking about Gerald's affair. She does not like to be associated with anything embarrassing.
'The most prominent member of the committee.' Shows her influence of the charity she runs.
Sheila accepts responsibility for her actions. She feels guilt. She is engaged to Gerald.
'Oh - how horrible! Was it an accident?' Shows her naivety. How can someone drink disinfectant by mistake? Also shows how she doesn't understand how har life can be for some.
'I wouldn't miss it for the world.' Shows her unusual confidence for a woman. She forces Gerald to explain the affair to her face.
'I had her turned out of her job.' She directly accepts responsibly for Eva's sacking. Whereas Mr Birling would come up with excuses.
"It's you two trying to be childish - trying not to face the facts.' Ironic as throughout the play her parents try to dismiss her and Eric claiming it isn't something they should be bothering with. Patronising. She is angry her parents are glad about avoiding a scandal not that a girl isn't dead.
Drink problem. Father of Daisy Renton (Eva Smith's) unborn child.
'Not quiet at ease, half shy, half assertive.'
'Just keep quiet, Eric, and don't get too excited.' Mr Birling fears his son's intoxicating state may lead him to saying something he should like.. the truth.
'Besides your not the type to get drunk.' Shows his mothers denial about her sons behaviour and alcoholism.'
'Your trouble is you've been spoilt.' Mr believes Eric has had too much of an easy life. Which leads to this excessive behaviour.
Comes form a good family. His mother is lady and possibly looks down on the Birlings. 'Easy, well bred man about town.'
'You're just kind of son in law I always wanted.' Mr Birling says this referencing to the business ties he can form from the matrimony industrially.
'I'm rather more upset by this business than I probably appear to be.' Gerald feels a lot of responsibility for what has happened to Daisy Renton. Also displays typical English pride of not showing emotion.