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The scene starts in Act one with the Birling family sitting around the dining table celebrating the recent engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft. Everything goes well and everyone seems happy until there’s a knock at the door. Edna, the Birling’s housekeeper answers the door and let’s an Inspector Goole into the house. The Inspector introduces himself then explains how a young girl called “Eva Smith” has committed suicide. This shatters the engagement party and the overall celebration for the whole family.
But as events unfold, members of the household seem to have been in some way involved with Eva Smith and perhaps partly to blame for her suicide. Priestley (the writer of “An Inspector Calls”) creates atmosphere throughout Act one by the use of his stage directions for how each of the characters should act and behave around each other. He also uses the mysterious Inspector to ask allsorts of potentially offensive and undermining questions to throw the balance and create a tense or dramatic atmosphere Mr Birling is a prosperous factory owner, not the social equal of his wife.
He is ‘a self made man’ as he has worked (though unfairly) to get where he is. Being the head and provider of the household, Birling gives across a sense of authority and arrogance as he talks about his expected ‘knighthood’ (giving his reputation) to Gerald. Making it clear to him that he will be marrying into a rich and successful family. As Birling knows Gerald’s mother is firmly against the marriage as she believes him to be marrying socially low. Birling strongly believes that ‘a man has to make his own way’. He does not consider the harm he may cause to other people because of his attitude. He is a ‘hard headed business man ‘.
Birling throughout his ever-occurring speeches, creates dramatic ironies when he comments on ‘World War One’ never likely to happen and the ‘Titanic’ being unsinkable, this says a lot about his character. That being the unexpectantly gullible type as he thinks he knows it all just because his upper class associates and friends have told him so. Although not mentioned a lot in Act One, Mrs Birling the wife of Mr Birling comes across as being a typical snobby aristocrat. She doesn’t seem that affected at the presence of the Inspector until we find out more about her in Act Two where her involvement with Eva Smith is made clear by the Inspector.