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“An Inspector Calls” – What do Eva Smith and Edna represent?

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‘An Inspector Calls’, written by J.B.Priestley is a play that includes the characters of Eva Smith, who appears to have committed suicide, and Edna, the housekeeper of the Birling family.

Both Eva Smith, and Edna represent women, who suffer at the hands of poverty and neglect, and both characters are the epitome victims of the unjust nature of the social order. To those better off than them, they are invisible.

Edna seems to be, a possible suicide victim, and there is even a link between the two names Eva and Edna, which begin with the same letter.

Eva smith is the reason for the on-stage investigation;

‘Two hours ago, a young woman died in the infirmary…’ (Act One),

And Edna is therefore another potentially vulnerable young woman.

Throughout the play, Eva Smith, to the audience appears to be a real person; ‘I told the girl to clear out, and she went’ (Act One) however, as the play draws to a close, it may seem that Eva smith is not, and never was a real person at all; ‘And how do we know she was really Eva Smith or Daisy Renton?’ (Act Three), but just a representation, a symbolic idea, or a political view.

Priestley uses dramatic irony in this play, as the audience seem to know a great deal about Eva Smith who never appears on stage, but very little about the mysterious character of Edna, who does appear on stage during the play. Edna is quite literally a person who does not exist to the other characters on stage. ‘All right Edna, show him in here. Give us some more light’ (Act One)

Edna is ordered around on stage, and never given any gratitude by her employees. When Edna is spoken to, she is not important enough to the rest of the family, to be spoken to with any manners.

Eva Smith does not appear on stage at all throughout the play; as her character appears to have been ‘killed off’;

‘They did everything they could for her, but she died. Suicide of course’ (Act One), therefore the audience only hear about her through other characters in the play. The audience can therefore come to the conclusion that she was an attractive young girl;

‘She was a lively good looking girl…’ (Act One), who was orphaned as a child, but who was taken advantage of by those around her. This links directly to Edna’s who the Birling family seem to take for granted. The family, mainly Mr and Mrs Birling give the impression that they would not much care if Edna were to disappear, and they would only replace her, with no sympathy, anxiousness, or sadness.

Eva Smith appears to have been realistic about her status and situation, and even though it seems she may have felt something genuine for Gerald, even love, she never attempted to hold on to him. Eva Smith is portrayed as a very self-respecting, and dignified character. She also refused to accept stolen money from Eric;

‘Yes, that was the worst of it all. She wouldn’t take any more’ (Act Three), showing her honesty, and a sense of moral duty. Eva Smith was a genuine person, who seems to have committed suicide as an act of complete desperation and misery.

The name Eva Smith can be interpreted, as anonymous, as the name Smith is often used when people prefer to remain unidentified. This could mean that Eva Smith was an unknown, a girl who nobody cared for, and presently nobody mourned for.

In the play, Priestley changes Eva Smiths name to Daisy Renton, after she was dismissed from her employment at Milwards. Her name is once again allegorical, as the plant daisy, is a pretty weed, with bright colours, nonetheless it is disposed of as soon as possible, as people do not want them around. Her surname; Renton also implies that she had to turn to prostitution to survive. She ‘rented’ her body, for money that would just about feed her.

In a way, Edna is responsible for bringing the Inspector into the Birlings’ lives, as she opened the door, and brought him in. Edna is not recognised by the family, and is only seen as a functionary. She is dispensable to the family, as of course was Eva Smith. In the play, Edna has no personality, and she of no importance to anybody. The audience can assume that Edna has no family ties or friends, and the Birling family are likely to be her only associates. Edna is a character who is extremely easy to ignore, both in terms of the audience, and the Birling family.

During this play, both Edna and Eva Smith represent the anonymous people that the inspector talks about in his final speech;

‘There are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us’ (Act Three) and both characters however scarcely they appear, have a meaning far beyond the entertainment value of the play. Their importance in the play is to add to Priestley’s beliefs, which he considers to be a very important issue as he speaks to the audience through the Inspector. Priestley believes that all actions have consequences, and everybody has a responsibility for future events;

‘And I tell you 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.’ (Act Three)

He wants the audience to reflect on their pasts and change, so that the world can become a more comforting, and safer place for all.

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