An Inspector Calls - Characters


The Inspector

He doesn’t seem to have anything in common with the Birling’s.
He is a socialist and expresses his views in his ‘fire, blood and anguish’ speech, talking about social responsibility. Priestly was also a socialist so he represents his character.
He is moral - “we don’t live alone. We are members of one body.”
He is authoritative, imposing and mysterious.
He is very practical - only lets one person see the photo at a time to avoid confusion.
He is the driving force in the play, continuously asking questions.
His language is emotive and personal. He makes the audience sympathise with Eva Smith by describing her as “pretty” and”lively”. This sympathy is strengthened by the harsh tone used to describe her death - “with a burnt-out inside on a slab”.
His language is forceful and to the point - he forces the other characters to answer him.
His entrance and exit is timed well - he enters as Birling says “a man has to mind his own business”, and exits leaving the characters speechless, “staring, subdued and wondering” as well as the audience.
Harshest towards Birling than anyone else - like they fight a battle for authority.
Towards the end he seems to be short of time - “there’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships”.
At the end of the play the audience are unsure who or what the Inspector is.
He is classless and treated everyone the same.
The Inspector acts as Priestley’s mouthpiece as he shares his views. His ‘fire, blood and anguish’ speech could be Priestley’s speech directly to the audience.

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Arthur Birling

Seems very confident - head of his family and the boss of his own business.
Likes to be in control and reminds everyone he’s in charge.
He is ambitious - “there’s a very good chance of a knighthood”
He is business-minded - “ a hard-headed, practical man of business”
He is selfish - “a man has to make his ow way”
He is anxious - “there’ll be a public scandal - unless we’re lucky.
Priestley uses dramatic irony to make Birling’s optimism about the further seem foolish, such as when he says the titanic was “absolutely unsinkable”.
He dismisses the idea of social responsibility and is a capitalist.
He won’t accept responsibility for Eva Smith’s death - “still, I can’t accept any responsibility”.
He is a public figure in Brunel and is obsessed with his status.
He uses authoritative language to be in control - Priestley shows this in the stage directions - “provincial in his speech”. He finishes his own sentences with “of course” to make his own claims seem obvious.
He is pompous (big headed).
Isn’t affected by the Inspector’s views - “the whole story’s just a load of moonshine”.

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Sybil Birling

She is proud of her social status - she is willing to be cruel to preserve her status.
She is traditional.
She is proud - “I was the only one of you who didn’t give in to him”.
She is prejudiced - “As if a girl of that sort would ever refuse money”.
She is cruel - “I used my influence to have it refused”.
She won’t let anyone boss her around - “you have no power to make me change my mind”.
She supports charity but is not very charitable - she says she only supports “deserving cases”.
She is self-centred, and detached from the real world - she hasn’t noticed her sons alcoholism and dismisses her daughter’s worries that Gerald lost interest last summer.
She won’t accept responsibility for her actions - “I accept no blame for it at all”.
She doesn’t learn from the Inspector’s message.
She answers “very sharply” and “bitterly”.
She repeatedly tells everyone that she’d already guessed it was a hoax, she “triumphantly “ tells everyone she knew all along. For her it’s more important that she comes out on top, than that her actions caused a girl’s suicide.
At the very end she is “smiling” and telling everyone to feel as ”amused” as she is by the evenings events. These words suggest she has already put it all behind her.

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Sheila Birling

She is quick-witted and strong-minded - she hands Gerald’s ring back when she’s finds out he’s been unfaithful.
She was previously selfish - she abused her status as a wealthy customer when she insisted they fired Eva Smith.
She is now sensitive and moral and by the end of the play she has changed for good - “but these girls aren’t cheap labour - they’re people”.
Her language makes her seem childish at first - the stage directions say she’s “very pleased with life and rather excited”. She uses slang like “squiffy”.
She behaves childishly at the start but what she learns over the course of the play makes her feel she has to be herself and break away from her parents.
She’s not naive - she knows men use prostitutes.
She “isn’t living on the moon”.
She regrets her actions and is eager to learn from the consequences.
Priestley uses her as a moral judge at the end of the play - she says “probably between us we killed her”. He also uses her to show there’s hope for change in the new generation.
She becomes a bit like the Inspector herself - she asks Gerald lots of questions; reveals Eric’s drinking problems to her mother; contradicts her parents - accuses them of pretending.

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Eric Birling

He is isolated from the rest of the family - he says that no one understands him.
Priestley drops hints that Eric isn't alright by his use of stage directions - he’s described as being “half shy” and “half assertive”. He finds thinks that’s re serious, funny. He acts suspiciously and seriously - “I don’t think it’s very funny”.
His drunkenness and bad behaviour represent the dark side of family life.
Eric’s not the only one with dirty secrets - both Gerald and Eric met Eva at the palace bar, looking for prostitutes.
He lacks self - control which is the only reason his secrets get out.
His parents don’t care about him as much as they care about what other people think of them.
He accepts responsibility for what he did - “the fact remains that I did what I did”.
He doesn’t have a good relationship with his parents - “you don’t understand anything. You never did. You never even tried -“.
He is irresponsible - “I didn’t even remember - that’s the hellish thing”.
He is sensitive - “my God - I’m not likely to forget”.

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Gerald Croft

He gets on well with Mr Birling - agrees with him on politics and women and laughs at his joke about getting in trouble. He supports Arthur’s sacking of Eva Smith - “you couldn’t have done anything else”.
He is respectable - “the easy well-bred young man-about-town.”
He is upper class.
He is a liar - “I wasn’t telling you a complete lie”.
He is traditional - “I should say so!”
Gerald’s language is less passionate than Sheila’s - he’s the first character to use the word ‘hoax’ - he’s very keen to prove the Inspector was a fake and clear everyone’s names.
Gerald can be seen as good and bad - he helped Eva out and kept her happy for a short time but then left her and went off on a business trip, making her homeless.
He doesn’t learn from his mistakes.

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Eva Smith

Her real identity is never revealed - she could be the same person or different people who are treated the same by the Birling family.
She is attractive - “young, fresh and charming”.
She is honourable - “she didn’t want to take any more money from him”.
She is working class - “a girl of that sort”.
Priestley made her a silent, offstage character so in the play, she represents the silent, invisible and powerless members of society.
Inspector Goole speaks for Eva and uses her as a symbol of the powerless working class to teach the Birling’s about social responsibility and to make them realise their mistakes.
The Inspector says there are “millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left” and that their chances of happiness are “intertwined with our lives”.
The focus of the play is the life and death of an unseen woman - Eva is a mix of all the people they’ve ever treated badly.

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