The question asked throughout the play is: who is responsible for the suicide of Eva Smith? Who is to blame? The arc of the play follows the gradual spreading of responsibility, from Mr. Birling, to Mr. Birling and Sheila, to Mr. Birling and Sheila and Gerald, and so on and so forth. Each of the characters has different opinions about which of them is most responsible for the girl’s suicide. Mrs. Birling, most extremely, ends up blaming her own son, by suggesting that the person most responsible is the man that impregnated the girl, before realizing that the person in question is Eric.
In the end, the Inspector universalizes the shared responsibility that the Birlings feel for the girl’s death, into a plea for something like Socialism: “We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.” The lesson of the Inspector, and of the play at large, is that our actions have an influence beyond themselves and therefore that we are already responsible for each other so long as we are responsible for ourselves and our own actions. The play contends that Socialism simply recognizes and builds upon this truth, in de-privatizing wealth and power and thus building an economy and politics on the foundation of shared responsibility.
Blame and Responsibility ThemeTracker
Blame and Responsibility Quotes in An Inspector Calls
A man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—and his family, too, of course, when he has one—and so long as he does that he won’t come to much harm. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive.
If we are all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?
I can’t help thinking about this girl—destroying herself so horribly—and I’ve been so happy tonight.
Gerald: We’re respectable citizens and not dangerous criminals.
Inspector: Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think.
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.
If there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt.
We’ve no excuse now for putting on airs.
You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.
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.
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.