What is the significance of Eva Smith's name in 'An Inspector Calls'?

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As is often the case in tackling English questions, there is no right or wrong answer, the key is in choosing a few strong ideas which you can support with evidence from the text and which you can communicate clearly. Always remember, for most students the approach of writing a lot about a little, not a little about a lot, is most successful, because it enables you to show the full scope of your skills to the examiner instead of skipping from one idea to the next. 

Successful ideas may include: The name Eva comes from the root of the name Eve,  often associated with the Eve of the Garden of Eden who is believed by many to be the first ever female. Therefore, perhaps Eva Smith may be intended as a character representative of womankind as a whole and of how they were treated during the early 20th century. This can be supported by Eva's protests that she (and the other striking factory girls) would not be treated so poorly, or paid so poorly, if they were men. 

The name Eva also means 'life giving' or 'living', which is ironic within the context of the play, since 'An Inspector Calls' centres around the investigation into her death. At this point you may want to reflect on John Priestly's use of irony throughout the play, alongside the use of opposites. Perhaps you could mention the way that the Birlings' ideas of responsibility are opposite of the truth, so Eva can be seen as 'life giving' in the way that she brings people to the truth. Beware of the potential to go off on a tangent here though, the examiners want you to answer the question set!

On the other hand, you could also respond to Eva's surname - Smith - which is particularly common. The name Smith may remind the audience of the placeholder name John Smith, who is representative of mankind as a whole. Thus, Eva Smith can equally be seen to be a generic character who is not to be understood as merely an indivual but as a figure present in all cultures and societies. 

Of course the potential answers to this question are not limited to those given above and I'd certainly be interested in hearing your responses and ideas. The key to success is conveying your ideas eloquently and supporting what you are saying. Remember: PEEL!

Evelyn H. A Level English Literature tutor, GCSE English Literature t...

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is an online GCSE English Literature tutor with MyTutor studying at Southampton University

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