An Inspector Calls - Plot summary
An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley, is a play that revolves around the apparent suicide of a young woman called Eva Smith.
In the play, the unsuspecting Birling family are visited by the mysterious Inspector Goole. He arrives just as they are celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft. The Inspector reveals that a girl called Eva Smith, has taken her own life by drinking disinfectant. The family are horrified but initially confused as to why the Inspector has called to see them. What follows is a tense and uncomfortable investigation by an all-knowing Inspector through which the family discover that they are all in fact caught up in this poor girl's death.
Priestley uses dramatic irony to great effect in the play.
Social and historical context
It is set in 1912 - this means that the characters have no knowledge of these world events. Priestley uses this to make important points about society and responsibility.An Inspector Calls was first performed in 1945 at a time of great change - both World Wars were fresh in the minds of the people, women had become more prominent in the workplace and it was possible to be class mobile.
Key plot details
- An inspector arrives at the Birling house. He tells them how a girl called Eva Smith has killed herself by drinking disinfectant - he wants to ask them some questions.
- The Inspector reveals that the girl used to work in Arthur Birling's factory and he had her sacked for going on strike. Mr Birling refuses to accept any responsibility for her death.
- The Inspector then reveals that Sheila thought that Eva had made fun of her, complained and got her sacked. Sheila is deeply ashamed and feels responsible for the girl’s death.
- The Inspector forces Gerald to confess to an affair he had with Eva. Sheila respects Gerald’s honesty but returns the engagement ring he gave her.
- It is revealed that Sybil Birling had refused to help the pregnant Eva.
- It turns out that it was Eric who got Eva pregnant, and stole money from his father to help her.
- The Inspector leaves. The family ring the infirmary and there is no record of a girl dying from drinking disinfectant.
- Suddenly the phone rings, Mr Birling answers it, to his horror the phone call reveals that a young woman has just died from drinking disinfectant and the police are on their way to question them about it. The curtain falls and the play ends.
An Inspector Calls revolves around the apparent suicide of a young woman called Eva Smith and the investigation into the Birling family. Could they be responsible?
Detailed plot summary
Setting the scene and opening the play
Before the play begins, Priestley gives detailed instructions on how the play should be staged. The action takes place in a single room with few adjustments needed during the performance. The stage…