Character Summary: Arthur Birling
- Arthur Birling is the head of the Birling family.
- He is ambitious and business minded
- He enjoys being in control and often ensures that everyone knows that he is in charge.
- He has a preoccupation with money and power and will do anything it takes to keep both of them.
- However, he is willing to ignore the needs of others, including his family to get what he wants and to keep the power and fortune he has accumulated.
- His reputation is very important to him and he is anxious to ensure there are no public scandals which could affect that reputation.
Character Summary: Sybil Birling
- She is very aware of the rules of etiquette (social behaviour)
- Like her husband, Mrs Birling sees the lower class as inferior to themselves.
- Refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of Eva Smith.
- Accepts her position as a woman within society.
- Doesn't show any empathy for Eva Smith.
- Prefers to pass the blame/responsibility on to others.
- She thinks her social status protects her from the harsh realities of the world.
Character Summary: Eric Birling
- Eric deeply regrets his actions by saying that he will never forget what he has done.
- He accepts responsibility.
- He criticizes his parents for pretending nothing is happening.
- Eric is isolated from the rest of his family.
Character Summary: Sheila Birling
- Sheila is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Birling and is engaged to Gerald Croft.
- Sheila shows genuine emotion when she hears that a young woman has died.
- She was responsbible for making the girl lose her job in the dress store.
- She reveals that Eric drinks too much, helping the Inspector; she's the most influenced by the Inspector and is a support to his questioning.
- She understands that the family's experience that night is meant to make them improve the way they treat others; Priestley uses her to set an example to the audience.
- She changes and learns from her previous acts and begins to understand that her morals were corrupt. Sheila has done exactly what Priestley wants the audience to do.
Character Summary: Gerald Croft
- Gerald is the son of a wealthy industrialist and business rival of Mr Birling. He has just engaged Sheila Birling.
- Gerald gives Sheila an engagement ring during the dinner party
- He agrees with Mr Birling's speech
- Had an affair with Daisy for six months, then broke off their relationship.
- He finds out that the Inspector who questioned him does not exist.
- He telephones the Infirmary and learns that no girl died that day.
- He leaves just after his part in Eva's death is revealed and doesn't return until the end when it has all been uncovered about what happened.
Character Summary: Inspector Goole
- He introduces himself as Inspector Goole, a police Inspector who has come to ask some questions about the death of Eva Smith.
- He establishes a link between every single family member and Eva/Daisy. He reveals that each did something cruel or unkind to the dead girl which provided added scope for her wanting to end her life.
- The Inspector takes control of the situation in a cal mand collected manner.
Character Summary: Eva Smith
- These are two names by which a girl who suffered at the hands of the Birling Family and Gerald was known. She was a factory worker at Birling & Co. and shop assistant before being fired by both. She was working class and faced prejudice from people of other classes.
- Mr Birling sacked her from his factory for leading a strike over better pay
- She was sacked from a dress shop after Sheila unjustly complained about her
- She became Gerald's mistress.
- She impregnated by Eric Birling.
- She was refused help by the charity that Mrs Birling operated
- She committed suicide by swallowing disinfectant as a result of the neglect she received
Character Summary: Edna
- Edna's role in the play is seemingly overlooked by nearly every individual that has studied An Inspector Calls.
- Edna, the parlour maid, is a reminder of the presence of the lower classes, whom families like the Birlings inconsiderately keep as servants.
- Her name is very similar to "Eva".
- Mr Birling's opinion of the working class. "If you don´t come down sharply on some of these people, they´d soon be asking for the earth." Priestly wants the audience to realise that this is the wrong attitude to have, we should be looking after "these people" not punishing them.
- Mrs Birling’s opinion of the working class. "As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money!" Mrs birling clearly has presumptions about working-class girls suggesting that they lack morals and will always take money.
- The behaviour of the Birlings' friends. "He´s a notorious womaniser as well as being one of the worst sots and rogues in Brumley". Much to the Birlings' suprise, their upper-class friends can behave badly.
- Birling "Probably a socialist or some sort of crank - he talked like one."
- Birling "Not if it was just after the holidays. They'd all be broke - if I know them." - Gerald
- Birling "I must say, Sybil, that when this comes out at the inquest, it isn't going to do us much good. The press might easily take it up - "
- Inspector "you're offering money at the wrong time."
- Birling "But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you'd think everybody has to look after everyone else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive - community and all that nonsense."
- Sheila and Eric: "You're beginning to pretend now that nothing's really happened at all." He and Sheila, the younger characters feel responsible whereas the older characters don't when it is suggested that the Inspector isn't real.
- Mr Birling to Eric: "Why, you hysterical young fool - get back - or I'll -" He refers to Eric as a "fool" due to his age. Ironically it is the older Arthur who nearly resorts to physical violence.
- Mrs Birling: "So I was perfectly justified in advising my committee not to allow her claim for assistance." Mrs Birling is unmoved and stubbornly stands by her decision to turn Eva away despite all of the girl's misfortunes.
Themes: Social Responsibility
- Inspector: ‘Each of you helped kill her.’
- Inspector: ‘One Eva Smith is gone, but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths left in the world.’
- Arthur: ‘If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody…it would be very awkward.’
- Mrs Birling: ‘I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have’
Context: Political Views
Context: J.B Preistly
Context: 1912 and 1945
Arthur Birling Quotes
- "there will be a public scandal - unless we're lucky" Mr Birling is class conscious.
- "The Germans don't want war. Nobody wants war" Mr Birling has a naive attitude about war.
Sheila Birling Quotes
- "last summer, when you never came near me" Sheila isn't as naiive and shallow as she first appears. Knows at this point that Gerald was unfaithful.
Quotes: Inspector Goole
"fire, blood and anguish"
- Rule of 3, used to describe World War 1
"there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us..." "We don't live alone. We are member of one body. We are responsible for each other."
- Talks about community and responsibility.
Quotes: Gerald Croft
Quotes: Eric Birling
"Oh - my God! - how stupid it all is!"
- Shows his guilt and frustration with himself over his relationship with Eva.
‘not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive’
- Opening stage directions = Eric uncomfortable; there’s something wrong with him.
- Reveals his guilt, and hints that he is morally flawed.
‘I was in that state when a chap easily turns nasty.’
- Admits his flaw of drinking too much, and suggests how he behaves when he drinks, and when he meets Eva.
- Contrasts with Mrs. Birling’s view of her family’s superiority.
- Shows a knowledge and experience of disreputable behaviour.
Quotes: Sybil Birling
"If you think you can bring any pressure to bear upon me, Inspector, you're quite mistaken"
- Heartless attitude towards the death of Eva Smith.
Act 1 Summary
- The Birlings have just finished a dinner celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, (the son of one of Arthur Birling’s business rivals).
- Arthur Birling makes a speech giving his views on the world and then Gerald, Birling and Eric have a chat about current affairs.
- Their evening is interrupted by the Inspector, who tells them that a young woman (Eva Smith) has died at the Infirmary after swallowing disinfectant.
- Arthur is the first to be interrogated and he admits that he sacked Eva as punishment for he having been on strike.
- The Inspector says that it is not just Arthur who is responsible for Eva and begins to interrogate Sheila
- She recalls having a shop girl sacked from Milwards department store.
- The Inspector mentions that after this, Eva changed her name to Daisy Renton, which shocks Gerald. He admits to Sheila that he too knew the girl and she guesses that he had an affair.
Act 2 Summary
- Gerald explains how he came across ‘Daisy’ and helped her out, giving her money and accommodation. He had an affair with her, which he ended after the summer. Sheila gives her ring back to Gerald, He leaves for a walk.
- The Inspector then begins to question Mrs Birling, who runs a charity organisation for women in distress.
- He reminds her of a meeting she chaired two weeks previous.
- She recalls that she used her influence to refuse assistance to ‘Eva’, who came giving the name “Mrs Birling” and was pregnant.
- ‘Eva’ said that the father was from a higher class and a drinker who had offered her marriage, which she had refused, feeling him too immature.
- She also said that he had offered her stolen money.
- Mrs Birling feels unashamed and thinks that she did the right thing and is not responsible for Eva’s death but the man who got her pregnant.
- Sheila realises it is Eric and tries to silence her mother but it is too late.
Act 3 Summary
- Eric explains how he met Sheila in a bar and slept with her.
- He continued to sleep with her, even though he admits that he wasn't in love.
- He says that she refused to marry him when she found out she was pregnant.
- He stole money from his father’s office. Sheila tells Eric it was her mother who sent Eva away. He accuses his mother of killing Eva and the baby.
- The Inspector makes a speech about their shared responsibility for ‘Eva’s’ death, then the Inspector leaves.
- The Birlings bicker amongst themselves and Mrs Birling and Arthur begin to question whether he was a real Inspector.
- Gerald returns with the news that the Inspector wasn’t really an Inspector and rings the hospital that report that no girl has been admitted.
- Arthur is relieved that it was a “hoax” but Eric and Sheila see that it changes nothing.
- The play ends with Arthur Birling answering a telephone call. It says that a girl has been rushed to hospital after swallowing disinfectant and an Inspector is coming round to talk to them.