An Inspector Calls

by J. B. Priestley

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How is Gerald Croft portrayed in J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls?

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Priestley presents Gerald Croft as the epitome of all that's wrong with the English upper-classes. Superficially charming, but somewhat shallow and spoiled, he is the perfect representative of a social class that is decadent and morally degenerate. Though partly responsible for Eva Smith's suicide, he refuses to face up to the part he played in her tragic demise. He fails to see how anything he could've done could possibly have led to her taking her own life. So selfish and lacking in basic self-awareness is he that he simply cannot join the dots.

And yet Gerald holds out the prospect—which remains sadly unfulfilled—that he will eventually change, and in doing so accept his share of responsibility for what's happened. He admits that Eva's death is making him rather more upset than he thought it would. This explains why Inspector Goole isn't as hard on him as on the others; at least Gerald had some affection for Eva and made her happy for a time.

But when Gerald returns from his walk, his discovery that Goole is an impostor has banished all trace of humility or remorse. Now he's determined to expose this fake police officer, thus getting himself and his family off the hook. Gerald's self-serving behavior is a none too subtle reminder that, according to Priestley, the English upper-classes are chronically incapable of changing their ways.

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Gerald Croft is presented as being much the same as the Birling's - self-centred, selfish, conceited, privileged and spoilt. Eva Smith has been as much a victim with him as she has been with the Birlings. He manipulates and uses her and when he has had enough of her, discards her. He believes that his money and privilege entitles him to do as he pleases with her and he tries to whitewash his guilt by providing her with money and a temporary home.  

In Act One, we find that Gerald shares the same kind of perspective about things as his future father in law. They especially agree about their position and the accumulation of wealth. When Mr. Birling states the following, he agrees wholeheartedly: 

We employers at last are coming together to see that our interests – and the interests of capital – are properly protected. And we're in for a time of steadily increasing prosperity. 

He comes across as a sycophant, agreeing with practically everything Mr. Birling says, no matter how illogical or unreasonable it may sound. He and Mr. Birlng are of one voice when they discuss employees, for example. They both expose their uncaring nature and the ends to which they would go to maintain their profits, even if it means dismissing employees and literally throwing them out onto the street. He also adopts Mr. Birling's attitude to the inspector and criticizes him for being meddlesome and harsh.

When the inspector confronts him and speaks about his relationship with Eva Smith, when she called herself Daisy Renton, he attempts to create the impression that he was her knight in shining armor who saved her from abuse because he felt sorry for her when, in fact, he was abusing her vulnerability and preying on her.

Although Gerald tries to sound sincere about the fact that he had no choice about having to break up with Eva, it is quite clear that he had grown bored of the affair or that he felt it was too risky, or even that he had realized that having an intimate relationship with a girl from a lower class would compromise his position. The fact is, he definitely did not want to pursue their relationship any further. He was cold-hearted and uncaring. Eva then went away and spent time getting over the affair since she had obviously fallen in love with him.

It also becomes apparent later in the play that Gerald is quite sneaky, for he went to enquire about inspector Goole. He later, on his return, gleefully announced his findings:

Yes. I met a police sergeant I know down the road. I asked him about this Inspector Goole and described the chap carefully to him. He swore there wasn't any Inspector Goole or anybody like him on the force here.

Gerald is also the one who persists in stating that they had been the victims of a hoax and who questions Inspector Goole's purpose. He goes out of his way to denounce the inspector. His actions quite clearly suggest that he wants to avoid taking responsibility for his complicity in Eva Smith's horrible suicide, just as much as the older Birlings do. It is quite ironic that he does not share Sheila and Eric's sentiments in this regard, for they adopt a much more mature stance and accept the roles they played which culminated in Eva's tragedy

In the end, we are left with the impression of a young man who does not seem to have much integrity. He was prepared to cheat on his future wife and when things became complicated, he decided to dump his victim. At the end of the play, when we learn of an impending investigation into Eva's death, we must hope that he, just as much as the Birlings, will get his just desserts.  

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