‘An Inspector Calls’:  Eva Smith  Character Analysis (animated)

‘An Inspector Calls’: Eva Smith Character Analysis (animated)


How exactly do you analyse a character who
never appears on-stage and has no dialogue in a play? Despite holding a central role in ‘An Inspector
Calls’, the audience never meets Eva Smith. However, Priestley uses Eva’s lack of voice
and presence on stage to symbolise the lack of power held by women and the working class
in Edwardian England. Priestley’s choice of names carries symbolic
significance when it comes to the character of Eva Smith and her alias Daisy Renton. Firstly, the name ‘Eva’ can be seen as
an intertextual Biblical reference to Eve, the first woman, and the person from whom
we are all descended. Combined with the common surname ‘Smith’,
Priestley seems to be suggesting that in Eva Smith, we see a woman who symbolises all women. Inspector Goole suggests as much in his final
speech when he explains ‘there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths’. The name choice makes it clear that Priestley
does not want his audience to feel sorry for one working class woman. Instead, he wants us to consider Eva Smith
as representing all working-class women. Her name is used to provide an important lesson
on how to treat those who suffer the effects of inequality in society. The second name Eva Smith adopts is Daisy
Renton, and this name is also interesting in terms of Priestley’s use of symbolism. A daisy is a common flower, cheap and pretty,
and in this way could be seen as symbolic of Eva Smith: she is repeatedly described
as pretty, but is obviously one of many working-class women. It is quite shocking just how often Eva Smith
is described in terms of her physical appearance. Therefore, the name Daisy, with its connotations
of prettiness, seems quite appropriate as a symbol of how this young woman was judged
largely on her physical appearance. The surname ‘Renton’ could have different
interpretations. On the one hand, the verb ‘rent’ means
to pay for using something for a period of time; as Daisy Renton, Eva rents her body
when she enters a life of prostitution. Alternatively, the noun ‘rent’ is also
a large tear in a piece of fabric. This might symbolise that, at this point in
Eva’s life, her spirit has been broken. She has left respectable society, and is now
trying to exist in the underworld of crime. In both name choices, Priestley therefore
uses symbolism. Priestley uses descriptions of Eva’s appearance
by others to show how women were objectified in Edwardian England. Firstly, Mr Birling describes Eva Smith as
‘a lively good-looking girl’. Sheila states that Eva was ‘a very pretty
girl too—with big dark eyes’. Gerald’s words echo those of Sheila, as
he describes Eva as being ‘very pretty—soft brown hair and big dark eyes’. Even Inspector Goole says ‘she had been
pretty—very pretty’. These descriptions all focus on Eva’s physical
appearance and beauty, and they highlight the way in which women were objectified. They were regarded as sources of pleasure
for men, rather than as equals. The character of Eva is also used to draw
the attention of the audience to a clear double standard for men and women at the time. It is worth, at this point, pausing to think
about the ‘trouble’ Eva Smith was in. She was pregnant outside of marriage and had
no means of providing for herself financially. Eva lied to the charity committee, saying
she was married, because admitting to having had sex outside of marriage would have made
her unlikely to receive help from the charity. However, the same high moral standards were
not expected of men. At the start of Act 3, when it is revealed
that Eric slept with Eva, impregnated her and stole money from his father’s business,
it is the stolen money that features most heavily in the parental reprimand from Mr
Birling. In fact, Eric excuses the sexual relationship
by telling his father ‘Well, I’m old enough to be married, aren’t I?’. Birling himself earlier admits that he and
his peers in their younger years also ‘broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes’. Gerald, too, excuses his affair, explaining
that ‘I suppose it was inevitable. She was young and pretty’. As so often happens in this play, the Inspector
sums it up perfectly when he explains how Eric treated Eva ‘as if she was an animal,
a thing, not a person’. This quotation summarises the way in which
women were objectified by men as sources of pleasure, not equals. Eva, on the other hand, is a hard worker,
and has strong moral values which see her refuse to accept stolen money. Yet Eva is the one who feels forced to commit
suicide whereas the men of the play seem to have (up until now) suffered no ill consequences
for their actions. These double standards can be seen as relating
to gender or class, and the message is clear: women/the working class cannot get away with
the poor behaviour and actions that men/ the middle and upper class can. Finally, Priestley uses the character of Eva
to convey his message about social responsibility when, in the inspector’s exit speech, he
states ‘One Eva Smith has gone—but there are millions and millions and millions of
Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us’. Priestley’s use of repetition and the rule
of three with the word ‘millions’ develops rhythm and momentum, building up to his point
about the quantity of vulnerable poor still living. It is at this point that the inspector states
that it is not just women who are vulnerable but also working-class men (the name John
is a very common name, like the surname Smith). Women, however, are more open to exploitation
by men like Eric and Gerald. Priestley now positions the inspector to be
the champion of all the poor in society, regardless of gender. Everything I go through in this video series
can be found the second, updated edition of Mr Bruff’s Guide to An Inspector Calls,
and you can pick up a copy through following the links in the description. If you found this video useful please do give
it a thumbs up and subscribe to the channel.

21 thoughts on “‘An Inspector Calls’: Eva Smith Character Analysis (animated)”

  1. Hi sir,
    I just commented on your Christmas Carol 'Top Set Analysis' video about the question you had asked in the video. I wrote my interpretation of it, and it would be great if you could have a look and let me know if it is correct.
    Thank you, sir 🙂

  2. Do you not do Student Exemplars anymore? The last one you have uploaded is 7 months ago: is there any reason behind this, or is it because you have been busy with other videos? It seems like an intrusive question, but i think many people will agree with me when i say they help a lot of us – not just to copy stuff down for homework but for how to answer questions, new things to learn about certain topics and even more.

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