Imagine tasks – you must use language that shows the character and reflect the character’s perspective at the time. Try to pin point where in the text you are being asked to comment on. Try to explain your responses in as much detail as possible and try to comment on the effect of specific words on the reader / audience. Don’t forget to comment on stage directions, body language and reported clauses wherever possible. Timing and planning. Do both please (plan points, find quotes, consider paragraphing for all longer tasks)
Act 1- The Birlings have just finished a dinner celebrating Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft, (the son of one of Arthur Birling’s business rivals). Arthur Birling makes a speech giving his views on the world and then Gerald, Birling and Eric have a chat about current affairs.
Their evening is interrupted by the Inspector, who tells them that a young woman (Eva Smith) has died at the Infirmary after swallowing disinfectant. Arthur is the first to be interrogated and he admits that he sacked Eva as punishment for he having been on strike. Arthur Birling’s ruthless business sense is clear here as he fails to see he has done anything wrong and that his sole duty is to “keep labour costs down”. The Inspector says that it is not just Arthur who is responsible for Eva and begins to interrogate Sheila who recalls having a shop girl sacked from Milwards department store. She is horrified and embarrassed that her vanity and jealousy contributed to the girl’s death. The Inspector mentions that after this, Eva changed her name to Daisy Renton, which shocks Gerald. He admits to Sheila that he too knew the girl and she guesses that he had an affair.
Act 2- Gerald explains how he came across ‘Daisy’ and helped her out, giving her money and accommodation. He had an affair with her, which he ended after the summer. Sheila gives her ring back to Gerald, but says she respects his honesty. He leaves for a walk.
The Inspector then begins to question Mrs Birling, who runs the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation for women in distress. He reminds her of a meeting she chaired two weeks previous. She recalls that she used her influence to refuse assistance to ‘Eva’, who came giving the name “Mrs Birling” and was pregnant. ‘Eva’ said that the father was from a higher class and a drinker who had offered her marriage, which she had refused, feeling him too immature. She also said that he had offered her stolen money. Mrs Birling is adamant that she did the right thing and is not responsible for Eva’s death and that the man who got her pregnant is. Sheila realises it is Eric and tries to silence her mother but it is too late.
Act 3- Eric explains how he met Sheila in a bar and slept with her. He continued to sleep with her, even though he admits that he “wasn’t in love with her or anything.” He says that she refused to marry him when she found out she was pregnant and she treated him “as if (he) were a kid.” He stole money from his father’s office and when she found out, she refused to see him. Sheila tells Eric that their mother turned ‘Eva’ away and Eric accuses her of “killing them both”. The Inspector makes a speech about their shared responsibility for ‘Eva’s’ death and Arthur Birling offers “thousands” of pounds to atone for the family. The Inspector leaves.
The Birlings bicker amongst themselves and Mrs Birling and Arthur begin to question whether he was a real Inspector. Gerald returns with the news that the Inspector wasn’t really an Inspector and rings the hospital that report that no girl has been admitted. Arthur is relieved that it was a “hoax” but Eric and Sheila see that it changes nothing. The play ends with Arthur Birling answering a telephone call. It says that a girl has been rushed to hospital after swallowing disinfectant and an Inspector is coming round to talk to them.
“large suburban house”, “heavily comfortable, but not cosy or homelike” The maid is removing “champagne glasses, dessert plates” and replacing them with “decanter of port, cigar box and cigarettes” They are all dressed in “evening dress of the period”
“rather portentous”, “rather provincial in his speech” To Gerald: “You’re just the kind of son in law I wanted. Your father and | have been friendly rivals in business for some time..” “I’m talking as a hard headed, practical man of business. And I say there isn’t a chance of war.” On the Titanic: “absolutely unsinkable”
“There’s a fair chance I might find my way onto the next Honours List.” “a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself” “The way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to took after everybody else…. Community and all that nonsense” “I can’t accept any responsibility”
“It’s my duty to keep labour costs down”
On sacking Eva: “She had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go”
“If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the earth”
“I was quite justified”
“The press might easily take it up”
“Most of this is bound to come out. There will be a public scandal.”
Mrs (Sybil) Birling
“a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior” “I don’t suppose for a moment we can understand why that girl committed suicide. Girls of that class – “ “I did nothing I’m ashamed of. I consider I did my duty” “I accept no blame at all”
“pretty”, “very pleased with life and rather excited” On getting Eva sacked: “ I felt rotten about it at the time, and now I feel a lot worse” To Gerald about the Inspector: “Why – you fool – he knows. O f couse he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet.” “I know I’m to blame – and I’m desperately sorry”
“We really must stop these silly pretences”.
“He (the Inspector) is giving us the rope, so that we hang ourselves.” (Sarcastically, to Gerald about Eva) “You were the wonderful fairy prince. You must have adored it Gerald” On Gerald’s confession: “In some odd way, I rather respect you more than I’ve ever done before….You and I aren’t the same people who sat down to dinner here.” To her father: “I remember what he said, how he looked and what it made me feel. Fire and blood and anguish. And it frightens me the way you talk and I can’t listen to any more of it.”
“not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive”
On Arthur sacking Eva “I call it tough luck”
On the night he met Eva: “I’m not very clear about it, but afterwards she told me she didn’t want me to go in, but that – well, I was in that state where a chap easily turns nasty – and I threatened to make a row.” “I wasn’t in love with her or anything. But she was pretty, and a good sport.” “I hate these fat old tarts I see around the town. The ones I see your (Birling’s) respectable friends with.” “In a way, she treated me like a kid.”
(To Birling): “You’re not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble.”
“attractive”, “rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy, well bred young man-about-town” (On Eva) “She was pretty and warm hearted – and intensely grateful”
“creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness” “speaks carefully, weightily and looks hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking” “What happened to her then may have determined what happened to her afterwards, and what happened to her afterwards may have driven her to suicide. A chain of events.” Looking at the dead body: “A nice promising life there, I thought, and a nasty mess somebody’s made of it” “One line of enquiry at a time”
(Gerald: “we’re respectable citizens, not criminals”
Inspector: “Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think. Often ,if it was left to me, I wouldn’t know where to draw the line.” “You see, we have to share something. And if there’s nothing else, we have to share our guilt.” “Public men, Mr Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.” “this girl killed herself, and died a horrible death. But each of you helped kill her. Remember that. Never forget it.” “But remember this. One Eva Smith has gone – but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all entwined with our lives. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”
Background / Cultural Context
John Priestley was born in Bradford born in 1894 and died in 1984. He served as a soldier in WW1 and was a socialist – he believed that the British ‘community’ (people living together) should not be dominated by the rich and powerful (capitalists) Priestley wanted the poor to have a stronger place within the community The play is set before the war.
Social responsibility / community / accountability
Deception (lies) /
Abuse of power / Rich vs poor
Sin and morality
Possible questions / Revision tasks
1What impression of the Birling family does the writer want the audience to have in the opening scene?
2 “We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” In Act 1, how does the writer try to get this message across to the audience?
3. How is the theme of social awareness explored through different characters?
4. How does Sheila’s reaction to key events create tension in the play?
5. To what extent do you feel sympathy towards Mrs Birling?
6. To what extent do you feel sympathy for Eric?
7. What do you think is the importance of Eva Smith to the play as a whole?
8. You are Inspector Goole before your visit to the Birlings. You write in your notebook: what you plan to do during the visit; why you are doing it; and what you expect to happen.
9. How does the presentation of Arthur Birling, before the arrival of the Inspector, add to the dramatic impact of the whole play?
10. You are Sheila and you have kept a diary. Write two of the entries – one for the day when you got Eva Smith sacked from Milwards, and one for the night on which the play takes place.
11. What changes occur in the relationship between Sheila and Gerald?
12. Describe the way in which the Birling family begin to believe that the Inspector is not a genuine policeman.
13. The action of the play takes place on just one evening, and in just one room of the Birling house. What do you think the play gains, or loses, as a result?
14. Explore the theme of deception in the play?
15. How is the idea of sin explored in the play?
16. Is An inspector Calls a play about morality?
17. ‘In the play, it becomes clear that the responsibility is shared amongst the characters.’ How far do you agree with this statement?
18. “By the end of the play, lessons have been learnt.” Explore this statement in regards to the play.
19. Discuss the role of Inspector Goole in the play.
20. “The responsibility lies with the older generation.” Discuss.