The Birling family are spending a happy evening celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft- a marriage that will result in the merging of two successful local buisnesses. Yet, just when everything seems to be going so well, they recieve a suprise visit from an Inspector Goole who is investigating the suicide of a young girl.
The Birling family are holding dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Sheila to Gerald Croft, the son and heir of Mr Birling's rival in buisness. Although there are a few signs that not everything is perfect (Mr Birling is a bit too anxious to impress Gerald, Eric seems rather nervoius and Sheila playfully rebukes Gerald for not having come near her the previous summer) there is a happy, light-hearted atmosphere.
When the ladies leave the men to their port, Mr Birling has a 'man to man' chat with Herald and Eric, advising them that a man need to look after himself and his own family and not to worry about the wider community. As he is telling them this, the door bell rings. Inspector Goole enters, an impressive, serious man whom none of them has heard of.
Inspector Goole announces that he has come to investigate the suicide of a young working-class girl who died that afternoon. Her name was Eva Smith. After seeing a photograph of her, Birling admits that she used to be one of his employees: he discharged her when he became one of the ring-leaders of a strike asking for slightly higher wages. Birling justifies sacking her by saying he paid his workers the usual rates; he cannot see that he haas any responsibility for what happened to her afterwards.
When Sheila enters, the Inspector reveals that he would also like to question her about Eva Smith's death. He tells Sheila that Eva's next job was at a big shop called Milwards, but that she was sacked after a customer complained about her. When she too is shown the photograph of the girl, SHeila is very affected. She admits that it was her faultt that Eva was sacked: when Sheila had gone in to try on a dress that didn't suit her, she had caught Eva smirking to another shop assistant - in her anger, Sheila told the manager that if Eva wasn't fired, Mrs Birling would close their account. Sheila os higely guilty and feels responsible for Eva's death.
When the Inspector then states that Eva, in depsair, changed her name to Daisy Renton, Gerald Croft's involuntary reaction reveals that he knew her too. When the act ends, the audience is poised to find out what part Gerald had to play in her death.
After some tense words between Sheila and Gerald, an attempt by Mrs Birling to usher the Inspector away…