It is obvious throughout the play that people in the working class are treated badly by
those in the higher classes.
MRS BIRLING gives orders to Edna and does not thank her for her work as this is not the right thing to do
socially. She says to her husband "Arthur you're not supposed to say such things" when he thanks Edna.
This implies that the family, and other upper class people, see the working class as people that can just be used.
The view of working class being used is shown by MR BIRLING who sees the working class as cheap labour. He
refuses them a pay rise and seems determined to pay them as little as possible so he can maximise his profits.
When they strike over low pay he sees the strike out as he knows jobs are hard to come by
and that they will eventually return back to work. He can afford to sack the "ringleaders" b/c
he knows there are plenty of other girls to take their place.
GERALD uses Eva. Gerald can act as her "wonderful fairy prince" and this
entertains him and makes him feel good as he is looking after her. Once he is
bored of her he is able to discard her by giving her money to ease his conscience.
ERIC uses Daisy in a worse way then Gerald does. He simply uses her for sex on drunken night
out and then pays further visits to her when the mood takes him. But, unlike Gerald, he is
prepared to break the class division by marrying her once he realises he's gotten her pregnant.
Apart from Edna the maid, the cast of the play doesn't include any lower class characters. We see only the rich
Birlings and the upper class Gerald Croft. Yet we learn a lot about the lower class as we hear of each stage in Eva's
life and we see the attitude the Birlings had for her. Because they do not appear, Priestly tries to show that the
upper class is unaware that the easy lives they lead rest upon hard work from the lower classes.
The main characters of the play are either middle or upper class.
The only working class characters are Edna the maid and Eva.
Class doesn't define your attitude; Sheila and Eric changed at the end and took responsibility
showing that class doesn't define you, individuals can break out and act differently.
The play is set in 1912 in the days before women were valued in society in the way that they
are today. They had not yet been awarded the right to vote. Even upper class women had few
choices. For most, the best they could hope for was to impress a rich man and marry well.
This appears to be the case with Mr and Mrs Birling. As a "cold" woman it is unlikely that
she married him out of love and feels embarrassed by his social errors. For his part, as a
social climber, he will have chosen to marry her to gain entry into the upper classes,
something his money alone would not allow him to do.
Sheila seems to spend a lot of time in 'Milwards' buying clothes. When talking to
Gerald she admits it is "for your benefit" showing she has to put a lot of time
and effort into impressing her upper class husband.
Her parents seem unconcerned whether she is marrying him out of love or not, they are
only concerned about how their marriage will ensure their place in upper class and help
They're prepared to overlook Gerald's affair, with Birling trying to make excuses for him.
He thinks his daughter should accept it if she's going to find the right man socially.
For working class women a job was crucial. There was no state benefits, so without a job they'd
have no money. This is shown through what happens to Eva. When she was working it seemed
everything was working well for her until she was sacked from Milwards. There is irony that
Sheila said "she looked like she could look after herself." when she clearly couldn't.
Eva came close to starvation and Gerald supports this when he said when he met her "she
hadn't eaten that day". This is shocking for the audience to consider that in the most
powerful country at the time, there were young women starving to death.
Like many women it seems that Eva had considered going into prostitution. Both Gerald
and Eric met her in the "Palace Bar" a regular haunt of "women of the town". It is clear
that she does this unwillingly as she looks to Gerald for help in avoiding Joe Meggarty.
When Eric meets her there he mentions that "some woman" had "wanted her to go
there". This woman may have been a 'madam' someone who would run a group of
prostitutes. Once she is pregnant however, she has only one option; suicide.
Priestly deliberately chose the victim of the play to be a woman, highlighting her
vulnerability and inequality at the time and also increasing the audience's sympathy as a
man would've been viewed as better prepared for the situations Eva was in.
Apart from the Inspector, there are only higher/upper class men in the play and they seem to believe that they can use women as they wish.
Eric just uses Eva for sex having found her in a vulnerable position
and doesn't consider the consequences until it's too late.
Although Gerald is kind to Eva, he made himself feel good looking after her and was paid back when she offered
herself sexually. He appears to see nothing wrong with the affair, wishing for her to take the ring back. Being
unmarried in his 30's he probably had many flings when he was younger which was seen to be acceptable for a young
man in his position, showing upper class males get the best opportunities in life.
Mr Birling sees them as cheap labour as
he pays them as little as possible.