Introduction to An Inspector Calls

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The Setting

  • By J.B. Priestley
  • Written in 1945 - near the end of WW2
  • Set in 1912 in a fictional town (Brumley) in the Midlands. 
  • Society in 1912 wasn't equal - people with more money and from a higher class had more power. Priestly used this as a setting to get people to think about inequality in 1945.
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The Message

  • The audience knows the characters' world is going to go through terrible changes as 1912 was just before WW1;  which killed millions of people
  • Priestly wrote this to challenge his audience to think about how many more disasters lay ahead if they don't learn from the past
  • Asks the audience to unit to improve society.
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How People Lived in 1912

  • Upper and middle classes lived comfortably. Middle-class men were wealthy and powerful because of their jobs - doctors, businessmen.
  • Working classes had to work hard for little money in factories owned by the middle classes.
  • It was the norm that people provide for themselves so support for those in poverty was next to none. This made it difficult for working class to help themselves if they fell on hard times.
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Arthur Birling

  • Successful businessmen
  • Well respected in Brumley
  • Owns his own factory 
  • Head of the Birling family
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Sybil Birling

  • Arthur's wife
  • Obsessed with etiquette and status within society
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Eric Birling

  • Birlings' son
  • Secret alcoholic
  • Going to inherit father's business
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Sheila Birling

  • Birlings' daughter
  • In early twenties
  • Engaged to Gerald
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Gerald Croft

  • Upper-class businessman
  • About thirty
  • Engaged to Sheila
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Edna

  • Birlings' parlour maid
  • Doesn't have many lines but she welcomes Inspector in to the house
  • Only working-class woman in the play
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The Inspector

  • Mysterious man who claims to be a police inspector
  • Investigating the death of Eva Smith
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Eva Smith/Daisy Renton

  • Victim of the play
  • We never see her
  • She might be lots of different girls
  • She might not even be dead
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Act One

  • Birling family are celebrating Sheila's engagement to Gerald. All is going well but Sheila suspects Gerald lost interest in her last summer
  • Arthur gives speech about business. He says every man for himself. 
  • Inspector Goole arrives and says lady called Eva Smith committed suicide by drinking disinfectant. Starts to question family members.
  • Turns out that Arthur sacked Eva from the factory for starting a protest against low wages
  • Sheila asked for Eva to be sacked from a department store 
  • Inspector says that Eva Smith then changed her name to Dasiy Renton. Gerald looks shocked, Eric leaves.
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Act Two

  • Gerald eventually describes how he spent last summer with Daisy Renton - she was his mistress
  • Sheila returns the ring to Gerald and then he leaves
  • Inspector gets Sybil to confess that she asked the Women's Charity Organisation to reject Eva/Daisy. Eva/Daisy was pregnant at the time.
  • Sybil blames the father of the child for Eva/Daisy's death
  • Sheila guesses Eric is the father
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Act Three

  • Eric returns. He knows that everyone thinks he is the father of Eva/Daisy's unborn child
  • He says how he met Eva Smith at a bar, drunkenly forced her to have sex and then stole money from his father's office to support her
  • Eva/Daisy rejected the stolen money and turned to Sybil's charity. 
  • Eric accuses Sybil of murdering her own grandchild by refusing to give her charity
  • Inspector reminds the Birlings - we are all responsible for each other, unless everyone learns to look after each other, the lesson will be learnt later in great suffering.
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Act Three - Final Twist

  • Gerald comes back, having spoken to a police officer who doesn't recognise the name Goole. 
  • Birling calls police station to confirm there is no inspector called Goole
  • Gerald calls hospital to find out no one has committed suicide
  • Birling, Sybil and Gerald decide it is all a hoax and relax
  • Sheila and Eric argue that they are all still guilty of treating someone badly
  • Phone rings - young woman has just been found dead after drinking disinfectant, and the police are sending an inspector to questoin the Birling family..
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