An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls notes

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: naomi
  • Created on: 12-05-12 14:30

Social Class

Class Drives the plot and shapes of the characters

  • Priestly designed the characters to put across his message
  • The Message is about social responsibility so class plays a central part in the plot
  • The characters in the play represent the clases and Priestly challenges their views and behavoir in order to challenge the class heirarchy.

There was a clear class structure in the early 20th Century

  • Working class: Had all the hardest jobs and little money - Eva/Daisy: she struggles through life, doing tough jobs, only just earning enough to survive
  • Middle class: Owned factories or were professionals(like lawyers). Had plenty of money and control. - The Birlings are wealthy, own a business and are able to live very comfortably.
  • Upper class: Inherited loads of land and money. Were often lords and ladies - Gerland's family own land, and are socially 'better' than Arthur's. Inherited money had a higher status than trade.
1 of 33

Social Class

The Class System meant the Lower Classes Struggled

  • Class system - made life difficult for those lower down - would have been hard for people like Eva/Daisy to help themselves if they were in trouble.
  • Priestly portrays upper classes as having a limited sense of social responsibility for those less well off. They either: DIDN'T KNOW, DIDN'T WANT TO KNOW, OR DIDN'T CARE
  • Mrs Birling claims not to recognise Eva's photo - for her she has no identity.
  • Priestly suggested that higher classes didn't question the class system as it worked for them - same reason why they also overlooked problems of alcoholism and womanising - easier to ignore unpleasant things than to deal with them
  • Inspector tells the Birlings that they must accept that everyone should take responsibility for each other, or it'll all end in 'fire', 'blood' and 'anguish'.
2 of 33

Social Class

The Birlings think that Class is all that Matters

Birling's biggest concern about Eva's death = he won't get his knighthood because there will be a 'public scandal'

Birling thinks his positions of authority make him more important. He'd been Lord Mayor and an Alderman for many years, and he's now a magistrate who sits in courts and dishes out justice

He uses Gerald to promote his social class - asks him to hint to his parents that he's expecting a knighthood, and he's also very pleased that his daughter is marrying into a higher class.

Sybil Birling = leading member of the Brumley Women's Charity Organisation. This group is supposed to give money to desperate women, but Mrs Birling's only involved for the social status.

3 of 33

Social Class

Priestley thought Class Shouldn't Matter

Priestley uses the play to reveal the unfairness of the class system - uses the Birlings as exaggerated caricatures of all the bad qualities he thought the ruling classes had.

The play isn't just about one family's scandal - shows how Priestley saw society.

Priestley presents the Birling's arrogant behaviour and selfish attitudes as common to the middle classes. 

Priestly presents the working class as victims of the class system - although Eva/Daisy's story is unique, te miseries she suffered were probable quite common.

Eva Smith could have been anyone.

4 of 33

Social Class

How People Act isn't just about Class

Eva/Daisy is expected to have low morals, but she refuses to accept stolen money even when she's desperate.

The Birlings think that class is all that matters, but Priestley is trying to present the oppostite view.

He suggests that class only clouds people's judgements, and people should be judged by what they do, not by what class they happen to be in

By presenting Sheila and Eric as having changed at the end of the play, turning against the views of their own class, Priestley's saying that class isn't all that matters - individuals can break out and choose to act differently.

5 of 33

Social Responsibility

The Character's Views are Challenged


  • Thinks that community responsibility is 'nonsense'. The interests of business are more important than the worker's rights

Mrs Birling:

  • Believes that they have no responsibility to the working class - her prejudices so ingrained that they can't be changed

Sheila :

  • Realises that getting Eva/Daisy sacked out of spite was irresponsible - but she didn't do anything about it at the time. The inspector challenges her to improve her behaviour


  • Realises too late that his selfish actions were responsible for ruining Eva/Daisy's chances of improving her life
6 of 33

Social Responsibility

Social Responsibility is the Inspector's Main Focus

His final speech is clear and to the point - it's a summary of his lesson about responsibility

The Inspector wasn't just trying to make the family feel guilty for Eva Smith, but to make them aware of the difficulties faced by all the "millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths"

All the events in An Inspector Calls are connected. Priestly's moral seems to be that is doesn't take great people to change the world - we all change it every day just by the way we treat others.

7 of 33

Social Responsibility

The Play Reveals a lot about Priestley's Socialist Ideas

Priestley was a supporter of socialism - his plays promote social responsibility and criticise the problems caused by the class divide.

An Inspector Calls tries to make the audience question not only their social responsibility, but also how responsible they are for their own actions.

The audience are already wary of Birling's short-sighted opinions, so when he criticises socialism, the audience are more inclined to disagree with him. In this way Priestley uses Birling to promote socialist ideas:

  • during his speech at the start, Birling says that the whole world will have "peace and prosperity" except Russia. Russia became a socialist state in 1917, and Priestley was interested in seeing how sucessful this was in creating greater equality for the Russian people. The first production of An Inspector Calls was held in Moscow in 1946
  • Birling attacks George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, who were well-known socialist writers during that time - Just like Priestley in the 1940s. 
8 of 33

Learning About Life

Some people never learn:

Birling sneers at Eric's private education and the younger generation who "know it all", because he's worked his way up.

This arrogance is the reason why Birling is so subborn. He doesn't think anyone has anything of use to tell him - especially not his children or a lowly inspector. 

He only listens to Gerald because he's from a higher social class.

Arthur, Sybil and Gerald's arrogance prevents them from changing. They don't see anything wrong in the way they think or act.

They believe that they know best. My Birling's views are made clear in Act One and they don't change.

9 of 33

Learning About Life

Others Try to Change

The Inspector has much more of an effect on Eric and Sheila, who are ashamed of their behaviour. They reject their parents who have refused to learn from the night's events.

They understand that the important thing about the evening was the lesson learnt, not whether the Inspector was real.

Before they even realise they're involved with the gir's death, they criticise their father's behaviour.

Sheila changed not only her views but also her personality - she starts out playful, self-centred and obedient, but as the play progresses her character dramatically develops and she becomes more aware, sensitive and mature.

10 of 33

Learning About Life

Ignorance is Bliss

One of the reasons that the older generation refuse to change is that they're happy living in ignorance. The problems of the working class don't affect them, so they don't want to know.

They don't like the think about anything troubling:

  • Prostitution - "I see no point in mentioning the subject" Says Birling.
  • Womanising - "You don't mean Alderman Meggarty?" Says Mrs Birling.
  • Drinking - "It isn't true" says Mrs Birling when Eric's habit is revealed.

Even Sheila tries to forget about her bad behavioiur "it didn't seem to be anything very terrible at the time"

They do everything they can to avoid changing, even when it's clear that they're done wrong - they refuse to believe it, and blame everyone else instead.

It suits them to think that they're always right - they don't see the point of ghanging or learning from their night's ordeal. The system works in their favour.

11 of 33


The style is like an old Morality Play

An Inspector Calls is like a murder mystery - but it's also like a morality play.

Morality plays were religious plays written in the late Middle Ages. They tried to teach people how to behave and were warnings against the dangers of sin.

An Inspector Calls follows the same kind of idea as morality plays - it points out everyone's sins, and tries to get them to confess and repent.

This play is different from the old morality plays, because it doesn't follow Christian ideas. The moral judge isn't God, it's a police inspector. Priestly makes his morality play secular.

The Inspector represents temporal law (law courts not based on religion) - but in the end it turns out that it's not a legal issue - it's a moral one.

12 of 33


There's Something Odd About The Inspector:

Sheila says she had an idea "all along" that "there was something curious about him" and questions the supernatural side of the whole thing - she asks what he was, not who he was.

His origin is unknown, and he appears omniscient - they didn't tell him anything he didn't already know. It seems unbelievable that a real inspector would know so many details.

(Omniscient means 'known everything')

Priestly deliberately leaves questions about the Inspector unanswered, as it increases the mystey and feelings of tension within the play

13 of 33


The Important thing is to Learn the Lesson

In the end, it doesn't matter who the Inspector is. He teaches the Birlings a lesson - what matters most i how they react to it and which of them learns from it.

  • Gerald, Arthur and Sybil decide it was a hoax. They're relieved that the Inspector was a fraud - they think they've been let off the hook.
  • Sheila and Eric waver slightly when they find out there was no suicide, but they've learnt the important lessons - even if their story didn't have the tragic ending it might have done.

Sheila and Eric hold true to their moral instincts - even when they;re given an opportunity to pretend it never happened. The others, however, act selfishly and never take responsibility for their actions.

14 of 33


Gerald and the Birlings could represent the seven deadly sins...

Pride, Laziness, Wrath, Envy, Greed, Lust, Gluttony

Birling is proud and full of capitalist greed

Sybil's wrath stops her from helping Eva

Sheila gets Eva sacked because of envy

Gerald convets Eva for himself

Eric is a lazy layabout who has a lustful affair with Eva

15 of 33

Young and Old

The Older Generation are Old-Fashioned

  • Priestly presents Arthur and Sybil Birling as having very traditional views - they think that they know best, that children should be seen and not heard, and they don't like their authority to be challenged
  • The represent the views of the ruling class
  • By questioning their old-fashioned personal views, Priestley also questions their obsession with social class - he's suggesting that the whole class system is out of touch and need to be reformed.

The Younger Generation are Different

  • Some are ambitious, determined and motivated - Eva/Daisy "had a lot to say - far too much" Her courage is the main reason Birling sacked her.
  • The younger generation are shown as challenging the authority of their elders. This threatens Birling, who tells them they'd "better keep quiet".
  • Because the younger generation learn their lesson, there's a chance for an equal and fairer society in the future.
  • Eric at the end is standing around as if he wants nothing to do with his parents. Sheila stands by him. By the end of the play they're no longer controlled by his parents.
16 of 33

Young and Old

Gerald's the Oldest young Man Around

Gerald's closer to Sheila and Eric's age than he is to Mr and Mrs Birling's, but he's a young man who's already old in his attitudes. He's a younger version of Arthur - shallow and stubborn - 

  • His marriage to Sheila is for business reasons.
  • He agrees with Birling that Eva/Daisy had to be fired

He doesn't learn anything:

  • When he's found out to have ditched Daisy/Eva, he doesn't seem to feel guilty.
  • At the end, he thinks his engagement's back on: "Everything's all right now, Sheila".

The fact that Gerald is of the younger generation but remains unchanged suggests that a more caring future isn't inevitable - people can choose whether to change or not. Priestly is also making a criticism of the upper classes, that they're set in their ways and therefore unlikely to change.

17 of 33

Men and Women

The women and men start out as stereotypes:


  • They're supposed to be obsessed with "pretty clothes", shopping and weddings - Sheila gazes adoringly at her ring and asks, "is it the one you wanted me to have?"
  • They're protected against "unpleasant and disturbing" things. 
  • Sheila gets Eva sacked because of pride, vanity and jealousy - stereotypical female traits in the play.
  • Sheila is accused of being hysterical - a state often associated with women at the time.


  • They're preoccupied with work and public affaird - e.g. "the miners came out on strike"
  • Gerald feels it's his duty to rescue Daisy/Eva from the womanising Alderman Meggarty.
  • Gerald is allowed to sleep around before his marriage. Sheila isn't. Arthur says that even his day they "broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes". There are different rules for men and women.
18 of 33

Men and Women

The Young Women Challenge the Stereotypes

Eva/Daisy and Sheila try to rebel and break out of the roles that society has given them.

  • Eva/Daisy questioned the decision of her boss instead of quietly accepting it.
  • Instead of relying on a man to save her, Eva/Daisy refused to accept Eric's stolen money.
  • Sheila interrupts and challenges everyone at different times, apart from the Inspector.

By the End the Stereotypes are turned Upside Down

  • As the play develops Birling, Gerald and Eric get weaker, while Sheila gets stronger. Priestly does this to challenge the audience's views of women at the time.
  • Gerald's rejected by Sheila, and Eric is revealed to be nervous and lazy, with a drinking problem. Birling suffers the most - the whole night has slowly undermined his authority. He;s "panic-stricked" as he speaks the final line - a very different man from the one at the beginning.
  • Sheila starts stating her own opinions, not those she is 'supposed' to have - "that's what's important - and not whether a man is a police inspector or not". She's learnt to think for herself.
19 of 33

Family Life

There were Expectations of Middle-Class Families in 1912

Family members were expected to know their role, and to be content with their position - the parents were in charge of the family, and the children were expected to be obedient and unquestioning.

'Gender roles' (how men and women were supposed to behave) were well defined for the wealthy middle class:

Men were expected to:

  • Work to support their 'perfect' family.
  • Protect women - especially their wives and daughters

Women were expected to:

  • Marry into money so they didn't have to work.
  • Plan parties, visit friends and have children. They didn't do jobs like washing, cooking or cleaning. 

However, working class families, and especially working-class women, had very different roles. Many had jobs in factories or worked as servents e.g. Eva Smith and Edna

20 of 33

Family Life

The Birling Family seems fairly Normal

  • The Birlings want everyone to believe they're the perfect family.
  • The gender roles are clearly defined - the ladies 'withdraw' to let the men talk about 'male' stuff.
  • But there's tension bubbling just under the surface:
  • Mrs Birling keeps correcting her family's social mistakes.
  • Eric laughs out of turn and acts oddly.
  • Sheila teases Gerald half playfully, but also "half serious", about last summer.

But something's Not Right...

  • The clear hierarchy at the beginning is destroyed by the Inspector's arrival.
  • Without their parents' influence, Sheila and Eric can think for themselves:
  • Sheila doesn't know whether she'll marry Gerald any more. She needs time to decide for herself.
  • Eric says his mother doesn't "understand anything" and that Birling's "not the kind of father a chap could go to" for help.
  • The family is in a mess, and Sheila and Eric refuse to "go on behaving just as we did". They don't want to pretend any more. The parents no longer have any authority over their children. 
21 of 33

The Language of 'An Inspector Calls'

The Characters' Language reveals More about them

The Birlings use words that were popular with the middle and upper class people in 1912:

  • Words such as "chaps" (men) and "jingo" help show the characters' social class. It also suggests that the characters feel comfortable with each  other - they're using the language of their social group.
  • Some slang words were popular with the younger generation but weren't used by their more old-fashioned parents. Sybil's shocked when Sheila says "squiffy".
  • Birling sees the world as a businessman views his company. When Birling realises the Inspector's visit was a "hoax" he uses business language to describe being fooled: "an elaborate sell!". The fact that his language links sales with tricks suggests he might not be an honest businessman either.
22 of 33

The Language of 'An Inspector Calls'

Inspector Goole uses language Diferently.

the Inspector doesn't mess about. He speaks his mind e.g. he says Eva/Daisy was burnt "inside out" by disinfected. This contrasts with Birling's long waffly speech at the beginning of Act One.

The Inspector uses plain and direct language, he only says what he needs to - there can't be any confusion.

He also uses silence - he has a "disconcerting habit" of staring for a while at a person before he speaks to them.

The older Birlings find him offensive because of his manner and language - he is "rude" and "impertinent"

23 of 33

The Language of 'An Inspector Calls'

Sheila's Language Changes during the play

At the start of the play Sheila uses simple and childish language - e.g. She says "I'm sorry, Daddy", when she's admiring her ring instead of listening to her father.

By the end of the play she's confident and assertive. She uses simple, plain and sometimes blunt English, just like the Inspector  - e.g. "we drove that girl to commit suicide".

She directly siagrees with her parents. She tells them they're wrong to think the Inspector was a "joke" and points out that they "began to learn something" before they decided it was a hoax.

Writer's Technique:

Priestly makes Sheila's voice sound full of emotion - her language seems honest and from the heart.

24 of 33

Dramatic Techniques in 'An Inspector Calls'

Priestly Paces the Action to Build Tension and Create Conflict

At the beginning of Act Two, the audience expects the story to move on to Gerald's confession. But instead, Priestly delays the action by shifting the audience's attention to Sybil and sheila, insisting that they should be allowed to hear what he says. This builds tension and increases the audience's curiosity.

Priestly also increases tension by having the Inspector release information bit by bit. He shows the photo(s) to one person at a time and positions himself so the others can't see - the characters, like the audience, are kept on their toes.

The family all start seated, but by the end there are people standing, shouting, drinking and crying - it's a dramatic but slow change in how the stage looks and sounds.

25 of 33

Dramatic Techniques in 'An Inspector Calls'

Entrances and Exits are really important

An exit can signal a character escaping someone or something - e.g. Sheila runs offstage when realises she's the reason Eva was sacked. She wants to leave the intense atmosphere - but she's also running away from telling her story.

The Inspector uses exits to help draw information out of the other characters - e.g. he leaves Sheila and Gerald alone to discuss Daisy Renton.

The front door bangs every time someone leaves or enters the house. The characters on stage and the audience hear this - and wonder who's coming and going.

The Beginnings and Ends of the Acts are Dramatic Moments

Priestley freezes the action between Acts to create tension.

  • Act One ends with the Inspector asking "Well?". Act Two opens with the same moment. The audience will wonder about the answer to his question during the break, which builds suspense.
  • The end of Act Two is another cliffhanger. The front foor slams, announcing Eric's return, but Priestley makes the audience wait until Act Three for Eric's confession. 
26 of 33

Language Techniques in 'An Inspector Calls'

Priestly uses Dramatic Irony to Influence the Audience

It seems as if the Inspector's omniscient - he knows everything

Priestley gives similar power to the audience. He set the play in 1912, but the play was first performed in 1945. The audience know that a lot of what Birling dismisses in his speech actually happened.

When the audience know more than the characters, it's called dramatic irony - Priestly uses dramatic irony to make Birling look short-sighted.

There more irony in Act One. Birling talks about getting a knighthood unless there's a "scandal". He jokes "complacently" (as if nothing will happen) but the play's title reveals that something will happen - an inspector will call.

27 of 33

Language Techniques in 'An Inspector Calls'

The Birlings use Euphemism to Hide what they Mean

A euphemism i a way of avoiding saying something unpleasant by using other, often more vague, words.

  • Eva/Daisy "went on the streets" where she led "another kind of life" becoming a "woman of the town". These are euphemisms for becoming a prostitute.
  • To Mrs Birling, Eva/Daisy is a "girl of that sort" (she means a lower-class girl), and is in a particular "condition" (pregnant).

The Inspector doesn't use euphemisms. His language is more direct.

Part of the Inspector's message is about accepting the truth. Using euphemisms does the opposite - it covers things up.

28 of 33

Language Techniques in 'An Inspector Calls'

The Inspector uses Imagery

Language that creates a strong picture is called imagery

The Inspector uses graphic imagery to shock - the words "burnt her inside out" create an image that distresses Sheila and the audience.

The Inspector's final speech uses imagery from the Bible. This makes the Inspector sound like a religious figure:

  • "We are members of one body" is an idea found in the Bible and the Inspector uses similar phrasing to suggest we have a 'sacred' duty to care for one another.
  • The words "fire and blood and anguish" sound like the end of the world described in the book of Revelation, where "fire mingled with blood" rains down - people are punished for their sins.
29 of 33

An Inspector Calls - Plot Summary

Act One - one spring evening in 1912...

  • The Birling family are celebrating Sheila's engagement to Gerald. It all seems to be going well, but Sheila suspects that Gerald lost interest in her last summer.
  • Arthur gives a speech to Eric and Gerald about business. He says that every man should look after himself.
  • Inspector Goole arrives and says that a woman called Eva Smith has committed suicide by drinking disinfectant. He starts to question the family members, one by one.
  • It turns out Arthur Birling sacked Eva Smith from his factory for striking in protest against low wages and that Sheila asked for Eva Smith to be sacked from a department store last year.
  • The Inspector explains that Eva Smith then changed her name to Daisy Renton. Gerald appears shocked and Eric leaves.
30 of 33

An Inspector Calls - Plot Summary

Act Two - everyone's tangled up in the Inspector's Investigation

  • Although he wants to keep it a secret, Gerald eventually describes how he spent last summer with Daisy Renton - she was his mistress.
  • Gerald is upset. Sheila returns his ring and Gerald leaves.
  • The Inspector gets Sybil to confess that she persuaded the Women's Charity Organisation to reject Eva/Daisy's appeal for help. Eva/Daisy was pregnant at the time.
  • Sybil blames the father of Eva/Daisy's child for her death.
  • Sheila guesses that the father of the child is Eric.
31 of 33

An Inspector Calls - Plot Summary

Act Three - Eric brings shame to the family

  • Eric returns. He knows that the Inspector has led everyone to the conclusion that he's the father of Eva/Daisy's unborn child.
  • He describes how he met Eva Smith at a bar, and drunkenly forced her to have sex. He got her pregnant then stole money from his father's office to support her.
  • Eva/Daisy rejected the stolen money and turned to Sybil's charity for help. Eric says Sybil murdered her own grandchild by refusing to give her charity.
  • the Inspector reminds the Birlings that we are all responsible for each other. He warns that unless everyone learns to look after each other, the lesson will have to be learnt with greater suffering 'In fire, blood and anguish'
32 of 33

An Inspector Calls - Plot Summary

Act Three - the final twist

  • Gerald returns, having spoken to a police officer who doesn't recognise the name 'Goole'. Birling calls the police station to confirm there is no inspector called 'Goole' in the area.
  • Birling calls the hospital and finds out that no one has committed suicide. Birling, Sybil and Gerald decide it's all been a hoax and start to relax.
  • Sheila and Eric argue that they are all still guilty of treating someone badly.
  • The phone rings again. A young woman has just been found dead after drinking disinfectant, and the police are sending an inspector to question the Birling family...
33 of 33


Lamise Hassan

This is really good, thanks!!

brad parratt

wooohooo i can learn something!!! thanks getrevising x


This is great! Thanks!:D

Precious Omorogbe

this is really good thanks


Oh my gosh! Thank you so much, this has been sooooo helpful. Thank You!!

marion edwards

Fantastic thank-you!

Similar English Literature resources:

See all English Literature resources »See all An Inspector Calls resources »