The narrative is focused around morality and the consequences of decisions that the Birling family have made in the past, mainly revolving around one girl – Eva Smith. As the play continues the audience learn a lot about the relationships between characters, as well as the different personalities that make up this complex family. The play is set in the home of the Birlings, the family are celebrating the engagement of Sheila (their daughter) and Gerald (the son of the family’s main business competitor) when a Detective Inspector arrives at the door regarding a woman called Eva Smith. Eva’s body has been found after she drink disinfectant and subsequently died. The Inspector begins to poke and prod into the pasts of the characters, the decisions they have made and each character’s connection to Eva that contributed towards her death.
The play often makes references to war and prosperity as it is seen to foreshadow the First World War as set in 1914 England. However, the play was first performed in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. At the time of writing Priestley injected elements of foreshadowing and pathetic fallacy into the play, creating an atmosphere of dramatic irony due to the naive attitude that the characters have when speaking of peace, prosperity and a gleaming future, whereas the audience know the bitter truth to the actual future – i.e we know of impending war and the characters do not.
This play is an easy read, but also keeps you guessing as to what may happen next. The play isn’t very long and is perfect if you’re looking for some light reading to keep you entertained but also intrigued during summer.