Plot Summary - The Birling family's celebrations
The Birling family are celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft.
An Inspector arrives to tell them that a girl called Eva Smith has killed herself by drinking disinfectant.
The Inspector reveals that Eva worked at Arthur Birling's factory - he sacked her for going on strike.
Mr Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for her death.
Plot Summary - Gerald's confession
It is revealed the Eva got a job working at a department store.
Sheila is horrified when she find out that her complaint let to Eva being sacked for a second time.
The Inspector forces Gerald to confess to an affair he had with Eva.
Sheila respects Gerald's honesty but returns the engagement ring he gave her.
Plot Summary - Sybil Birling
It is revealed that Sybil Birling had refused to help the pregant Eva when she asked for help of her charity.
It turns out that it was Sheila's brother Eric who got Eva pregnant.
Eric also stole money from his father to help her.
The Inspector leaves.
Plot Summary - Inspector Goole
The family learn there is no record of a girl dying from drinking disinfectant.
Mr and Mrs Birling and Gerald are excited by the idea that they may not be to blame.
Eric and Sheila are aware that it makes no difference whether or not the Inspector was real, they still behaved badly.
Mr Birling answers a sudden phone call and is told that a young woman has just died from drinking disinfectant and the police are coming
Characters - Mr and Mrs Birling
Mr Birling has a successful business and is hoping for a knighthood.
He is arrogant, materialistic and selfish and he doesn't learn any lessons by the end of the play.
He represents a capitalist attitude and criticises socialism.
Mrs Birling is her husband's social superior.
She is cold-hearted and snobbish, despite being a prominent member of the local women's charity.
Characters - Eric Birling and Gerald Croft
Eric is in his early twenties and has a drinking problem - there is tension between him and his parents.
He forces his way in to Eva/Daisy's flat and takes advantage of her position and gets her pregnant.
At the end, Eric does feel responsible for Eva.
Gerald is engaged to Sheila Birling and comes from a high status family.
Gerald is confident and charming - at first he impresses the audience with his honesty, but by the end of the play he has not learned from his mistakes.
Priestley suggests that men like Gerald had seen themselves as above the problems of the working class.
Characters - Sheila Birling
Sheila is in her early twenties, is engaged to Gerald Croft and is a giddy, naive and childish young lady.
She is very regretful of her own involvement in Eva Smith's suicide.
She matures, admiring Gerald's honesty, even though he cheated on her.
She shows an assertive side in standing up to her mother and father and also proves to be insightful and intelligent.
By the end of the play she has grown up and realised that her actions can have grave consequences.
Characters - Eva Smith/Daisy Renton
We never meet Eva Smith, but she is a very important character.
It is Eva's shocking death that is the cause of the Inspector's investigation which in turn drives the drama.
We can infer that she was strong willed and had a sense of humour.
By the time she reaches Eric and Sybil, Eva is desperate and resourceful in trying to get herself help.
Eva Smith is a symbol of all working-class women - we don't even know that 'Eva Smith' is only one person, since the Inspector controls the information.
Characters - Inspector Goole
The Inspector drives forward the drama and delivers Priestley's message to the audience.
He is assertive, all-knowing and imposing.
By the end of the play, it is revealed that he isn't actually an Inspector.
The name 'Goole' suggests a supernatural or ghost-like element (ie, ghoul).
He could be seen as the conscience of the audience.
Themes - Social responsibility
Priestley wanted his audience to be responsible for their own behaviour and for the welfare of others.
Priestley uses the Inspector to teach the characters about responsibility, using their treatment of Eva Smith to illustrate his message.
Mr and Mrs Birling do not feel socially responsible.
Eric and Shelia change their attitude and do feel socially responsible.
Themes - Age
Priestley believed that there was hope in the younger gerneration's ability to learn and change.
Eric and Sheila accept their mistakes and offer the chance of a brighter future.
Mr and Mrs Birling opinions and behaviour are more fixed and they refuse to change.
Mr Birling has a poor opinion of the younger generation.
Mrs Birling refuses to see the truth about herself and her family.
Themes - Gender
In 1912, women did not have the vote and suffered from inequality.
Eva Smith is presented as independent and outspoken before her death.
She is treated badly by all the men in the play (except the Inspector).
Mr Birling is very patronising about women and makes sweeping statements about them (including his own daughter).
Mrs Birling fulfils old-fashioned female roles - that women should support their husbands and not speak against them.
Themes - Class
Priestley wanted to highlight the inequality between the classes.
The upper classes looked down upon the working-classes.
Working-class Eva is treated very badly by the wealthy middle and upper classes.
Priestley wanted the audience to see the injustice in this.
Form, Structure and Language - Form
An Inspector Calls is a play and is meant to be seen as a performance.
The play could fit into a number of different genres.
A 'well-made play' - an inticate, complex plot that builds to a climax.
A 'morality play' - it seeks to teach the audience a moral lesson.
A 'crime thriller' - it creates a gripping tale around a crime.
Form, Structure and Language - Structure
The play is divided into three acts, each with a cliffhanger ending.
Priestley (via the Inspector) slowly reveals the events to the audience, increasing the sense of tension.
There is a final climax and then a twist at the end.
The ending is very effective and has a stong impact on the audience.
The ending returns to event as at the beginning, showing a cycle that will start again because some of the characters have not changed.
Form, Structure and Language - Language
The stage directions show how dialogue should be delivered or gives extra information about a character's reaction.
Dialogue is plain and sometimes emotive.
Priestley uses repetition, pauses and interruptions to add to the drama of the play.
The Inspector's language is rhetorical and direct as he uses strong imagery and biblical language to deliver his message.