There are a number of references to external events within the play and
these could provide the areas which could be developed further. Among these are:
- The Titanic
- The emergence of Russia as a world power
- The outbreak of World War One
- The importance of the Women’s Rights movement
- The rise of Socialism
- The writings of H G Wells
- very compact structure to the play, nothing is allowed to distract the audience from
the central theme. There is no sub-plot.
- the play takes place in just one location, the action is continuous
- Act One begins by introducing the characters and establishing the idea of a happy and united family looking forward to the future with a degree of confidence. In retrospect, there are a number of hints that all is not as it seems but these are not particularly obvious until later in the play. There is nothing to warn us of the shock of the Inspector's visit
- events soon gather speed and it is not long before we are being informed of Birling and Sheila's involvement with Eva Smith
- tensions increase, firstly as Gerald's affair is unveiled (and the scandal it would cause) and Sheila begins to realise that they are all implicated in some way 'he is giving us rope - so that we’ll hang ourselves'.
- Mrs Birling's attempts to shift the blame for the girl's suicide leads her to blame the father of the unborn child. The tension is heightened at this point by the dramatic entrance of Eric.
- with the departure of the Inspector it would appear that what follows will be something of an anti-climax as the Inspector's identity is put into doubt by a series of observations made by the Birling family and Gerald. Even the existence of Eva is called into question.
- however, the tension remains to some extent as the two generations confirm the
differences as suggested by the Inspector - the moral divide is very great indeed
Sheila Birling has become engaged to Gerald Croft and as a
result the Birling family have enjoyed a family dinner
together. Mr Birling makes grand speeches giving his views
on technology and industrial relations, emphasising his
opinion that a man should only care about himself and his
family and no-one else. Their evening is suddenly interrupted
by the arrival of a police inspector by the name of Goole who
is making enquiries into the suicide of a young woman called
The inspector has a photograph of the woman and from it Mr Birling admits that he once
employed her in his factory but had sacked her over an industrial dispute over wages.
Gerald Croft backs Mr Birling’s belief that he acted within reason. Sheila and her brother
Eric react differently, feeling that their father was harsh in sacking her. However, upon
seeing the photograph herself, Sheila realises that she also sacked the same woman from
her job as a shop assistant.
During the course of Act I it becomes clear that the inspector has an uncanny knowledge
about the family’s dealing with the girl. He then announces that the girl has in fact
changed her name from Eva Smith to Daisy Renton. The reaction that this causes in Gerald
makes it obvious that he knows the girl also. By the time we reach the end of the act the
inspector is already suggesting that many people share the responsibility for the miserable
existence of the young girl which prompted her to take her own life.
There is by now an evident tension between Sheila and
Gerald which becomes heightened when he admits that he
had had an affair with Daisy Renton in the spring of the
previous year. Whilst feeling angry with Gerald for his
involvement with the girl she does have a certain respect
for his openness and honesty with his admission.
Mrs Birling makes attempts to intimidate the inspector and control the situation. Despite
this, Sheila feels that it is foolish to try and hinder the inspector’s enquiries and this
appears to be well founded. At the point when Eric is out of the room Mrs Birling is forced
to admit that she also has an involvement with the girl. Two weeks earlier she had refused
the girl who had come to her seeking help. It is then revealed that the girl was pregnant
and the suspicion now points at Eric as being the father of the unborn child.
Eric confesses that he was he who had got the girl pregnant. He also admits to having
stolen money from his father’s firm in an attempt to support her. When he hears that his
mother refused to help the girl he is horrified and blames her for both the death of the
girl and of the unborn child. At this point it becomes clear that nay family unity has now
dissolved. The inspector has therefore done his job by showing each of them that they
had a part to play in ruining the girl’s life.
He then goes on to make a speech about the consequence
of social irresponsibility which is in direct contrast to the
speeches made by Mr Birling at the start of the play. The
inspector then leaves.
Gerald and Mr Birling begin to have doubts about the
inspector’s identity and are gradually able to prove that
the man was not a real police inspector. This then raises
further doubts between them all about whether they have
been talking about the same girl or indeed whether any girl
had actually killed herself at all. Gerald telephones the
infirmary who confirm that they have no record of any girl
dying there that afternoon. Naturally there is a general
feeling of relief upon hearing this.
Sheila and Eric still feel guilty about their action although they seem to have been
changed by the recent events. The others, however, feel a greater sense of relief and
their confidence in the rightness of their own actions is restored. At that point the
telephone rings and Mr Birling answers it. It is the police calling to say that a young woman
has just died on her way to the infirmary and that an inspector is on his way to make
enquiries about her death.