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Is Eva Smith a real person?
Eva Smith, also known as Daisy Renton and “Mrs. Birling,” is an amalgamation of women wronged at the hands of the Birling family. It is her death at the beginning of the play that catalyzes the action, but Eva Smith never appears as a character, and it’s unclear whether these names refer to a single woman, several, or none at all. Ultimately, Eva Smith serves as a stand-in for the very real women who have been mistreated by the Birlings, and her death as a result of their various acts of cruelty indicates they are to blame. Even if Eva Smith never existed, the Birlings did each do harm to a real person, raising the question of whether they are culpable even if there are to be no consequences.
Who is responsible for Eva Smith’s death?
Assuming Eva is a real, singular person, the entire Birling family in some way contributed to, and is therefore responsible for, her suicide. Though Arthur claims Eric is the primary perpetrator, Eric retaliates by claiming the entire family is to blame, and Sheila agrees. Arthur and Sheila fired her, Eric and Gerald both had affairs with her, and Sybil refused her aid.
Who is Inspector Goole?
Though he claims to be part of the police department, it’s ultimately revealed that there is no inspector with the police by that name, and his true identity is left intentionally mysterious. The revelation at the end of the play—that a woman really did commit suicide—indicates Goole had knowledge of the suicide beforehand, suggesting perhaps that he knew the woman in question or had knowledge of the Birling family’s various sins and was looking to facilitate their understanding of their complicity. He may be a manifestation of their guilt, or even a ghostly specter come to haunt them for their misdeeds—after all, his name, “Goole,” sounds like ghoul, and his awareness of each sin borders on otherworldly.
Why is the Inspector so committed to getting justice?
Inspector Goole posits the merits of socialism, ideologically opposed to that of the capitalistic Birlings. He believes Eva’s suicide is a response to an uncaring society and that we as people have a duty to avoid harming one another. In calling for the Birlings to take responsibility for their actions, he directly challenges everything they stand for, most notably their belief that families should be left to fend for themselves. That Eva Smith may be an amalgamation of many women wronged by the Birlings speaks to the idea that Goole’s commitment to justice isn’t just about this specific case—rather, he appears to want justice for many Eva Smiths, and believes for the world to change, the capitalism to which Arthur so rigidly adheres must be overhauled.
Was the suicide a hoax?
The play never says explicitly one way or the other, but it’s confirmed at the end that there is indeed a dead girl who swallowed disinfectant at the hospital, which aligns with Inspector Goole’s description of events. That the Inspector seems to have known about this before the police or the hospital may suggest he knew the woman in question or possesses preternatural knowledge. In any case, the Birlings each caused harm to a woman—whether this is Eva Smith or several different women, and whether the woman at the end is Eva Smith or someone else entirely, is unclear. What is clear is that the Birlings are each culpable of wrongdoing, that a woman has committed suicide, and there is about to a very real investigation.