Part of our series of posts that focus on a key character from exam set texts. Offering alternative interpretations and insights, these are ideal for sharing with students as they revise and prepare for their English Literature exams.
‘Everything’s all right now, Sheila.’
For me, Gerald Croft is in many ways the most interesting character in An Inspector Calls. His name is well-chosen – the word ‘croft’ suggests something homely and cosy but also working class – a direct contrast with the kind of place his family actually occupy in society. Unlike the Birlings, he is genetically rich and privileged; he is a member of the elite aristocracy Mr Birling so aspires to impress. His first name, Gerald, means ‘ruler’ and perhaps this is no coincidence either.
Reactions to him are nearly always mixed: we cannot help seeing him, in part, as the ‘Fairy prince’ (Sheila Act 2). He claims to have rescued Eva – somewhat ironically – from the ‘notorious womanizer’ Meggarty; he ‘insisted’ she move into the rooms at Morgan Terrace and he ‘insisted’ on leaving her with a ‘parting gift’ of money to help her out for a couple of months. It seems that Gerald is very good at insisting on helping out and doling out a degree of generosity. Somehow, the character of Gerald taps into our love of the fairy prince, the knight in shining armour, the rescuer. And we are also seduced by his admissions that he has behaved badly and that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Easily said, after the event.
In truth, he is exploitative, untrustworthy and careless with the feelings of others. He provides the evidence that women in society simply had to accept the way they were treated by men – he takes advantage of Eva who can do nothing when he chooses to drop her and he abuses his relationship with Shelia who even takes the blame on herself for his actions, ‘it was my fault really that she was so desperate when you first met her.’ (Act 2). It is a giveaway when Gerald says, ‘I didn’t install her there [Morgan Terrace] so that I could make love to her.’ The words ‘install her there’ reflect his dominant attitude to women in general and it is clear that he did indeed intend to make her his mistress. He presents himself as the rescuer, responding gallantly to Eva’s ‘cry for help’ in the Palace Bar. He says he ‘told the girl … she’d better let me take her out of there.’ Again, his use of language reveals his character – he is used to telling people what to do and the phrase ‘the girl’ seems disdainful given his relationship with her. He goes on to claim that she was ‘intensely grateful’ to him – Priestley wants us to see that vulnerable, working class women had little recourse to anything other than charity for which they were supposed to be thankful. Gerald believes his largesse somehow justifies his exploitative behaviour even though he would have known full well that he would be unable to sustain the relationship for long.
It is when Gerald excuses himself, claiming to ‘rather more – upset – by this business than I probably appear to be’ that we see he is definitely not all he appears to be. Despite being ‘upset’ and wanting time alone, he manages to find out that the Inspector isn’t a real police officer and that they have been ‘had’. He returns to ‘triumphantly’ suggest that they all saw photos of different girls as if this somehow makes their actions less despicable. Gerald’s last words in the play are ‘Everything’s all right now, Shelia. (Holds up the ring.) What about this ring?’ The ‘Fairy prince’ is quick to forget his part in Eva’s life and to brandish a sparkling future for them all.
Useful Vocabulary – you could use these words to explore character, context and events:
untrustworthy exploitative opportunistic careless casual dominant insistent aristocratic privileged elite wealthy powerful cavalier remorseful apologetic
Jill Carter is an Advanced Skills Teacher and former Leader of English and has been teaching for 23 years. Jill currently works part-time as an English teacher and GCSE Interventionist, as well as authoring for Oxford University Press.
Take a look at the Oxford Literature Companion study guide and student-friendly write-in workbook for An Inspector Calls. Oxford Literature Companions are ideal for use in the classroom or as revision and include activities designed to prompt a closer analysis of the writer’s language, as well as tasks on characters, themes and contexts.