An Inspector Calls

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Eva Smith Symbol Analysis

Eva Smith Symbol Icon
The symbol of Eva Smith is the character that the Inspector constructs by explaining that she has changed her name multiple times, was injured by each of the Birlings in turn, and consequently commits suicide. In fact, the Inspector seems to have created her as an amalgam of several women, each of them separately harmed by the different Birlings. As a combination of many working class women affected by the Birlings, Eva Smith represents the working class, the Labor side of the Labor vs. Capital agitations, who get squashed by the powerful upper class, such as the Birlings.

Eva Smith Quotes in An Inspector Calls

The An Inspector Calls quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eva Smith. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. edition of An Inspector Calls published in 1998.
Act 1 Quotes

Birling: It’s a free country, I told them.
Eric: It isn’t if you can’t go and work somewhere else.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker), Eric (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

Arthur Birling proceeds to tell the Inspector more about his relationship with Eva Smith. Smith, we learn, was something of a union organizer; she wanted to mobilize the people who worked for Birling to ensure that they'd get better wages and fairer hours. When Smith demanded that Birling pay his employees more, Birling responded in classic capitalist fashion: he told Birling that she was "free" to work somewhere else if she didn't like her wages.

Birling's response to Eva Smith illustrates the flaws in the free market. It's all very well for someone like Birling to preach sanctimoniously about freedom to run one's own business--but at the end of the day, his "philosophy" is just an excuse for his own greediness. As Eric points out, a country isn't truly free if people like Eva can't find a good place to work. Birling's smug definition of freedom, then, is sorely lacking in substance.


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I can’t help thinking about this girl—destroying herself so horribly—and I’ve been so happy tonight.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote, made by Sheila, in Act I. Sheila is far more sympathetic about Eva Smith's fate than her father is. Unlike Arthur, Sheila believes that workers should be treated well and paid fairly. Moreover, Sheila feels guilty about being so happy with her own life, at a time when millions of people like Eva Smith are suffering.

However, while Sheila's sympathy for Eva seems sincere, she's not necessarily a better person than her father is. In fact, the quote subtly suggests that Sheila's sympathy for Eva at this point is a kind of "bad faith" -- the state of mind in which one says one thing and yet believes another, perhaps even lying to oneself in the process. First, Sheila displays a level of condescension toward Eva by referring to her as "this girl." Second, while Sheila pities Eva, she also describes Eva's situation as "destroying herself so horribly," which implies that despite her pity Sheila considers Eva's fate to be at least to some extent her own fault. Even Sheila's seeming shame at feeling so happy herself while Eva was suffering comes across as somewhat callous, as Sheila focuses on her own shame rather than Eva's more dreadful suffering. So while Sheila makes a show of supporting Eva -- and may even believe that she does support Eva -- she never actually does anything about it. She's all talk. And, ultimately, Sheila's show of sympathy for Eva seems more a way for Sheila to make herself feel better rather than anything meant to actually help Eva.

Inspector: There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence, Miss Birling, in every city and big town in this country.
Sheila: But these girls aren’t cheap labor. They’re people.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Inspector Goole (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila continues to voice her support for Eva Smith and Eva's fellow workers. Unlike her father, who considers all his workers mere "objects," to be manipulated and changed as he sees fit, Sheila thinks that workers are human beings, too.

The passage is significant because Inspector Goole hints at the scale of the tragedy involved in Eva's suicide. Eva is just one woman, but she's indicative of a much broader trend in European society. In a country where there's lots of money concentrated in a few people's pockets, millions like Eva are forced to live hard lives, sometimes even ending with suicide. Although the play focuses on only one such worker, Goole makes it clear that "Eva Smith" could refer to any number of different people--a point that will come back to haunt the Birling family in Act III of the play.

Act 2 Quotes

Miss Birling has just been made to understand what she did to this girl. She feels responsible. And if she leaves us now, and doesn’t hear any more, then she’ll feel she’s entirely to blame, she’ll be alone with her responsibility.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Sheila, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gerald tries to get Sheila, hisfiancé, to leave the room. Gerald pretends that he's doing so in order to "spare" Sheila from tragic information. But it's perfectly obvious that he's trying to get Sheila out of earshot so that she doesn't hear anything more about his marital infidelities. Inspector Goole calmly replies that the "right" thing to do would be to keep Sheila in the room--if she were to leave now, she'd get the wrong idea and assume that she was solely responsible for a woman's death.

This is one of the key passages in the play, because it says a lot about the Inspector's motives. In one sense, Inspector Goole seems to be trying to cause the Birling family as much pain as possible--although he frames his response to Gerald in moral terms, his real motive is punishment, not kindness. And yet Goole does make a fair point: the Birlings are all equally guilty of Eva Smith's death (it's not just Sheila's fault). By now, it's pretty clear that Goole already knows that the other Birlings played a part in Eva's suicide--the only remaining mystery is how. By staying in the room, Sheila mitigates her sense of guilt, but also comes to see how immoral her supposedly respectable family really is.

You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Inspector's questions to Mrs. Birling become considerably more pointed and accusatory. It has come out that Mrs. Birling used her influenced position in a charity to deny care and comfort to Eva Smith (now possibly named Daisy Renton) when she came for help. Smith was pregnant, it's revealed: she wanted charity from Mrs. Birling, but Mrs. Birling gave her none.

Inspector Goole's accusations suggest that Mrs. Birling has committed a grave sin: she refused help, not only to a grown woman but also to a child. Mrs. Birling claims that the woman should have known better, but such an explanation simply isn't satisfactory. While Mrs. Birling objects to Eva Smith for having gotten pregnant without being married, her refusal to help Eva Smith punishes an innocent child for its parents' supposed mistakes. Goole phrases his indictment of Mrs. Birling in highly gendered language: it's particularly bad for Mrs. Birling to deny Eva help, he claims, because Mrs. Birling herself has been a mother. Mrs. Birling refused to listen to one of the most basic instincts in her body--a mother's instinct to help other mothers--because of her narrow morality and her petty emphasis on appearances and class.

Act 3 Quotes

This girl killed herself—and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. But then I don’t think you ever will.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

The Inspector comes to the conclusion he's been anticipating this entire time. He's shown the Birling family that they caused the death of Eva Smith: in various ways, each Birling (and Gerald) has ruined Smith's life and pushed her to kill herself. Goole predicts that the Birlings will never be able to forget their sins.

Why, exactly, did Goole come to visit the Birlings? His visit seems far different from that of a typical police officer: he seems more philosophical, and more concerned with morality than with solving a crime. It's as if Goole just wants to teach the Birlings a lesson about the importance of personal responsibility. While Arthur Birling wants to believe that it's "every man for himself," Goole has endeavored to prove the opposite point of view.

There are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Inspector proceeds with his indictment of the Birling family, he gives a kind of "moral" for the investigation. The Birlings have tried to pretend that they're all alone in the world, responsible for each other, but nobody else. The truth, Goole insists, is that all people are responsible for other people. The only way to lead a moral life, then, is to care about strangers, and to treat all people with respect. This relatively personal lesson is then a clear analogy to the class politics Priestley has been alluding to throughout--in pure capitalism, the wealthy only look out for themselves at the expense of all others, while in socialism (the ideology Priestley espoused) everyone supports everyone else.

The passage is also critical because it shows that Goole's motives for visiting the Birling family weren't just moral or criminal punishment. Instead of ruining the Birlings' reputations, he wanted to teach them to be better people. While certain members of the Birling family seem not to have understood Goole's point (Arthur Birling, for example), others, such as Sheila, seem to have gotten the message--perhaps Sheila will try to be a better person from now on.

Whoever that chap was, the fact remains that I did what I did. And Mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her. It’s still the same rotten story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or to somebody else.

Related Characters: Eric (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Inspector Goole
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila isn't the only one who's learned a valuable lesson from Inspector Goole. Eric, Sheila's sister, agrees that it doesn't matter whether or not Inspector Goole was a "real" police officer or not. Goole's credentials don't change the fact that Eric did what Goole said he did: he impregnated an unmarried woman and then abandoned her.

The passage reinforces the possibility that some of the characters will choose to learn from their mistakes. Eric probably won't face any actual punishment from society for his actions, and yet it seems that he'll try to be more morally upright in the future, never again hypocritically claiming to be a "good" man when he's not.

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Eva Smith Symbol Timeline in An Inspector Calls

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eva Smith appears in An Inspector Calls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 3
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...any more, and reminds the family that each member is responsible for the death of Eva Smith . He tells them to never forget it. Mr. Birling offers the Inspector a bribe... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
The Inspector deduces a moral from the investigation—though Eva Smith has gone, there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths still alive, who have hopes... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald proposes that the one fact that Eric and Sheila are assigning great significance—that Eva Smith is dead—may not even be a fact after all. He asks the Birlings how they... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...what happened after he’d left. Mrs. Birling recounts that the Inspector accused her of seeing Eva Smith only two weeks previous, and that she had assented even though the girl hadn’t called... (full context)