Last-Minute GCSE Revision: An Inspector Calls

June 27, 2018

Key Characters:

Inspector Goole - Inspector Goole claims he was sent from the local police to investigate the suicide of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. By the end of the play, it is unclear exactly who he is or why he has come. 

Arthur Birling - Arthur is the patriarch of the family, and owns a successful manufacturing business. He is a capitalist who believes in individual willpower and hard work for success. 

Sybil Birling - Sybil is the matriarch of the house, Arthur’s wife. She is concerned with the family’s image and social standing. She sits on charitable committees and organizes social events in the town.

Sheila Birling - Sheila is the daughter of Arthur and Sybil. She is in her early twenties and has just gotten engaged to Gerald. 

Eric Birling - Eric is the son of Arthur and Sybil, Sheila’s older brother. He works for his father’s business and has a drinking problem, which he tries to hide from the family.

Gerald Croft - Gerald is Sheila’s fiancee, and from another, slightly more successful manufacturing family.

Edna - Edna is the Birlings’ maid.

Eva Smith/Daisy Renton - Eva/Daisy is the girl victim at the center of the play. The inspector says she committed suicide, and they are investigating what led to her death.

 

Plot Summary: 

 

Act One:

The play opens in the Birling home, where the family is eating dinner and celebrating Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. 

After dinner, Arthur and Gerald sit together, and Arthur tells Gerald that he may be knighted soon. 

Arthur then speaks with Eric and Gerald about the business and expands on his capitalist view. 

Edna enters, telling Arthur that an inspector from the police department has come to speak with him.

The inspector introduces himself as Goole, and Arthur notes that he has never heard the name. 

The inspector says that he is investigating the suicide of a girl named Eva Smith, who swallowed disinfectant. He shows only Arthur a picture of her, and Arthur replies that she used to work for his company, but was dismissed a few years ago for leading a strike about pay raises. 

Sheila enters, and though she does not recognize th girl’s name, the inspector shows her a picture. She knows the girl--she had gotten her fired from Milward’s clothing store the year before, when the girl at laughed at her for trying on an unflattering dress. When she worked there, she went under the name Daisy Renton.

All leave, except for Sheila and Gerald. Gerald admits that he had an affair the previous summer with a girl named Daisy.

 

Act Two

The inspector returns, and Sheila and Gerald quarrel. 

Sybil enters, stating that Eric is distressed, likely because he drank too much at dinner. Sheila says that Eric’s drinking is becoming a problem, but Sybil seems embarrassed and says that isn’t the case.

Arthur returns, having put Eric to bed.

The inspector asks Gerald if he knew a girl named Daisy/Eva, and he admits that he met a girl last summer named Daisy at a bar. He had thought she was a prostitute and saved her from a man making advances. He arranged a place for her to stay in town and she became his mistress. The affair lasted a few months, but he has lost contact with her since. 

The inspector tells him that Daisy had written about him in her diary. 

The inspector hands the girl’s picture to Sybil next. Sybil admits that the girl had petitioned her charity, the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization, for financial assistance two weeks before because she was expecting a baby, but had been denied. She had also petitioned under the name “Mrs. Birling”, which Sybil took as an insulting joke.

Sheila, Arthur, and Sybil suspect that Eric is the unnamed father. He then re-enters. 

 

Act Three

Eric admits that he knows the girl, and had an affair with her after drunkenly meeting her at a bar. She had told him she was pregnant, and he had been stealing money from the family company to support her. She would not take the money when she found out it was stolen though.  

The inspector berates each family members for the part they played in the girl’s death, and gives a final speech about how society is one people, and that everyone must learn to look out for one another. He then leaves.

The family argues about one another’s guilt in the girl’s death. They also question if the inspector was really sent from the police force. Arthur hopes he was not, as this would protect them from public shame.  

Gerald returns and says that he ran into a police sergeant while walking outside, who confirmed that there is no Inspector Goole at the force. 

Gerald suspects that, because no one in the family looked at the girl’s pictures at the same time, the inspector may have tricked them into thinking that they were all talking about the same girl. 

Arthur phones the local hospital, who confirms that no suicide has been reported for weeks. The family has likely been duped. 

As the play closes, the phone rings again. It is the police department, reporting that a girl has just died from swallowing disinfectant, and that an inspector is on his way to ask them some questions. 

 

Themes:

 

Social Class - The Birlings are very concerned with their reputation and social class throughout the play. Indeed, in 1912 Britain, social class held much weight. Arthur Birling is concerned that their family is not upper class enough for Sheila to marry Gerald, which is why he is eager to get knighted. Sybil is also very concerned with preserving the family’s good image. 

 

In the play, social class does not correlate to morals though. Eva/Daisy would not take Eric’s money because it was stolen. This shows that thought she is of a lower class, she has strong morals. Reversely, the actions of the Birlings and Gerald demonstrate that though they are upper class, they do not always act morally. 

 

Social Responsibility- Different characters in the play have very different views about social responsibility. Arthur is very capitalist, and does not feel any responsibility to others. The inspector however, is more socialist, and tries to make the family realize that they are responsible for Eva/Daisy’s death, as they never helped her. In this way, he tries to make them aware that they have a responsibility to all people like Eva/Daisy. 

 

Suicide- The idea of suicide is central to the play, as the girl’s suicide is the source of most of the family’s guilt and fear. The inspector tells them that the girl committed suicide because society had abandoned her, and they played a part in this by not helping her. She had worked hard but been fired twice, then appealed for charitable help (because of Eric’s actions) and was not granted it. In this way, the play portrays the suicide as the result of a selfish, capitalist society.



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