What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?
In the previous lesson, students finished reading An Inspector Calls and participated in a mock court trial that saw each character ‘put on trial’ for their role in the death of Eva Smith. This process enabled students not only to engage with the content of the play, but also to develop their understanding of the power of justice and of social responsibility.
However, there is one voice that was missing from the trial and from the play as a whole, and that is the voice of Eva Smith. In this lesson, students will explore the character of Eva Smith, looking at how she has been depicted throughout the play and considering the symbolism of Priestley’s choice to create a character who only appears in the narrative second-hand. It is important for students to consider her character and explicitly acknowledge her voice as absent as it can help them reflect on the fact that many people lack the ability to speak out in cases of injustice, and, conversely, on the power of having a voice. Such reflections are important if they are to stand up to injustice in the world beyond school and are to view themselves as individuals with agency.
Finally, students will have an opportunity to adopt Eva Smith’s perspective in a creative writing task for homework, which will help bring the character and her experiences to life.
Alignment with the GCSE Specification
- Creative Writing (Lang-AO5, Lang-AO6)
- Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
- Critical Thinking (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
- Knowledge of Content (Lit-AO1/AO3)
- Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)
- Summarising and Synthesising Skills (Lang-AO1)
After considering what it means to be voiceless and its ramifications for society, students examine Priestley’s portrayal of Eva Smith, working in ‘expert’ groups and rereading an assigned section of the play to identify significant quotations that can be analysed in depth. This reading process strengthens their knowledge of the play’s content and develops their critical reading skills. Students then share their findings in ‘teaching’ groups, developing their spoken language skills whilst summarising and synthesising their ideas. Additionally, students reconsider the notion of voicelessness, employing critical thought to consider how it is relevant to Priestley’s portrayal of Eva Smith and what she symbolises. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to develop and verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.
Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification.
- Reflect on Having a Voice
- Explain to students that today they will be exploring the character of Eva Smith, considering Priestley’s representation of her and what it symbolises. First, they will consider what it means to feel voiceless.
- Ask students to journal on the following prompts:
- Have you ever felt voiceless, like you had no say in a matter or your needs were not being considered? If so, what happened to make you feel this way? What were the consequences?
- Are you aware of people in your community or society not having a voice? If so, what is making them voiceless? What are the consequences?
- Before having students apply the Think, Pair, Share strategy with a partner, acknowledge that it can be hard to share our ideas with others, and then model risk-taking by sharing something from your journal reflection with the class. Then lead a short class discussion in which students share their ideas about what it means to be voiceless.
- Assess the Portrayal of Eva Smith
- In this part of this activity, you will be using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Explain to students that they will be divided into groups and will be allocated a different section of the text to explore in relation to Eva Smith.
- Begin by dividing the class into five ‘expert’ groups and assign each group one of the following sections of the play:
- Group One: Focus on the section of the text that runs from ‘The Inspector enters’ (top of p. 11) to the Inspector, ‘dingy little back bedrooms’ (top of p. 20).
- Group Two: Focus on the section of the text that runs from Sheila, ‘Yes, I expect it would’ (top of p. 20) to ‘Now Mrs Birling enters, briskly and self-confidently’ (mid p. 29).
- Group Three: Focus on the section of the text that runs from ‘Mrs Birling enters, briskly and self-confidently’ (mid p. 29) to ‘We hear the front door slam’ (bottom of p. 40).
- Group Four: Focus on the section of the text that runs from ‘We hear the front door slam’ (bottom of p. 40) to the end of Act Two (p. 49).
- Group Five: Focus on the section of the text that runs from the start of Act Three (top of p. 50) to ‘there is a ring at the front door’ (top of p. 61).
- Then, explain to students that they will have five minutes to review their assigned section of the play before responding to a series of prompts that you will project. As they review their section, they should mark or take note of moments where characters refer to Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.
- Next, project the following prompts and tell students that they have ten minutes for this part of the task:
- Review all the quotations that refer to Eva Smith in your section of the text and choose two rich and significant ones that help you understand her character – her personality, values, choices, and/or feelings.
- Discuss what each of the two quotations suggests about Eva Smith’s:
- Place in society
- Choose one key quotation you will share with others in the ‘teaching’ groups and discuss what it reveals about Eva Smith’s gender and/or social class. Note this information in your book to share with your ‘teaching’ group.
- Describe in 1–2 sentences how Priestley portrays Eva Smith in this section of the play. Note this information in your book to share with your ‘teaching’ group.
- Then, divide the class into new ‘teaching’ groups. All of the members of each ‘teaching’ group should have read a different reading in their ‘expert’ groups.
- Instruct each student to briefly summarise their ‘expert’ group’s findings about how Priestley portrays Eva Smith in this section of the play for the ‘teaching’ group. If time allows, ask the ‘experts’ to share one of their key quotations.
- Next, project the following questions for students to discuss in their ‘teaching’ groups:
- What new, different, or deeper understanding have you gained of Eva Smith?
- How, if at all, did Eva Smith exhibit the roles of perpetrator, victim, bystander, and upstander in the play? What internal and external factors impacted her being forced into or choosing one or more of these roles?
- Why do you think Priestley chose to keep Eva Smith’s voice and perspective missing from the narrative?
- Why is it important to take time to focus on Eva Smith’s story?
- Who in society today might lack the power to have their voices heard? What do you think can be done to help those who are ‘voiceless’ in society have their voices heard?
- Reflect on the Significance of Eva Smith
- Ask students to journal on the following prompts to reflect on the lesson and what they have learnt:
- What can be done to help those who are ‘voiceless’ in society have their voices heard?
- Why is it an important thing to do?
- Is there anything that would make you feel like you had more of a ‘voice’ in society?
Write a Monologue
For homework or for an additional activity in class, ask students to write a monologue from the point of view of Eva Smith to give her character a voice. They can write it linked to a point in her life discussed in the narrative, or something which they imagine themselves. If needed, give students these possible options:
- Eva after she has been dismissed from Birling & Company
- Eva after she has been dismissed from Milwards
- Eva after Gerald has broken up with her
- Eva after Eric stayed having ‘threatened to make a row’
- Eva after she discovered Eric’s money was stolen
- Eva after she was turned away by Mrs Birling
- Eva when she decides that she is going to buy and drink disinfectant
- Eva’s ghost appearing from the grave after death
Encourage students to write in the first person, to base their pieces on ideas from the text and to consider these questions as they write:
- How has the incident made you feel?
- What would you change if you could?
- How do you feel about your social status? Why?
- What will you do next?
Consider having students share their monologues with a partner or have volunteers share with the class at the start of the next lesson before collecting or checking them for completion.
Each time that students complete a piece of writing, it is important to review their work, giving them feedback if necessary to ensure that they do not develop inaccurate writing habits. When doing so, consider using the Marking Criteria Codes teaching strategy to give in-depth feedback and to boost student engagement with marking.