An Inspector Calls A play by J.B. Priestley Timeline of Eva Smith End of March. Kills herself by drinking strong disinfectant. End of September Changed her name to Daisy Renton 1910 2 months unemployed Employed by Birling. sacked for asking for a pay rise and being the strike spokesperson. Was asking for 25 shillings instead of 22 and 6. Worked at Milwards and got sacked because Sheila Birling was irritable and frustrated that the dress did not suit her. 1911 Has a six month relationship with Gerald Croft. After which, she was given money by him to see her through until the end of the year. 1912 Meets Eric Birling in November, when she takes care of him; they then become lovers. Pregnant by Eric Birling and seeks help from Mrs Birling's Woman's Charity Organisation. Uses the name ‘Mrs Birling’. She had refused to accept stolen money from Eric. Mrs Birling takes a dislike to her and prevents her from receiving help Eva Smith / Daisy Renton • These are the two names by which the girl who suffered at the hands of the Birling family and Gerald was known. • Mr birling sacked her from his factory for leading a strike for better pay. • She was sacked from a dress shop after Sheila unjustly complained about her. • She became Gerald Croft’s mistress. • She was made pregnant by Gerald Croft. • She applied to a charity for help, but Mrs Birling refused that help. • She committed suicide by swallowing strong disinfectant. • Mr Birling had a good opinion of Eva Smith. Being bred in the country made her naïve, less wordly-wise than a city girl: ‘a lively good-looking girl – country bred’ and ‘a good worker too’. As a good worker she had the potential to become a ‘leading operator’. • She had spoken up for the other girls who were on strike and was showing leadership qualities against Mr Birling. He did not like that – ‘She’d a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go’. • Sheila judged the girl by her appearance; she did not consider the difficulties the girl may face in getting another job: ‘ She was very pretty and looked as if she could take care of herself’. • She was forced to ‘try something else’ to make a living. This meant meeting men in a place used by prostitutes. Use your information to write a clear and coherent answer about the character! • The girl remains a mystery, she never appears on stage, we do not know her real name (‘she used several names’ implies that ‘Eva Smith’ may also be a pseudonym). However, play revolves around her which makes her a leading character. We do know that she was pretty enough for Mr Birling to remember her, for Sheila to become jealous of her and to attract the attention of Gerald and Eric. What we learn contrasts sharply with what we see of the Birling family. She worked hard, supported her fellow workers and was kind. Although she was reduced to earning her living by picking up men from the Palace Theatre bar, her honesty prevented her from considering marriage to Eric and protected him from his folly in stealing money. It could be said that she stands for all the people we meet in our everyday lives, and J.B. Priestley uses her to make us think about our responsibility towards others. Inspector Goole • He introduces himself as Inspector Goole, a police officer who has come to investigate the background to a young woman's suicide. • He interrupts the Birling family gathering. • He establishes that each character did something unkind or cruel to the dead girl. • He gradually takes control of the situation and, while being polite, refuses to acknowledge that any of the others is superior to himself. • He leaves them after making an impassioned speech about social injustice. • The inspector is an imposing figure, a man of ‘massiveness, solidarity and purposefulness’, who dominates the play to achieve his aims. • He wants to do things his way: ‘One person and one line of enquiry at a time. Otherwise there’s a muddle’. This allows J. B. Priestley to build the play as a chain of events. • He takes his responsibility seriously and shows the others that they haven’t done so: ‘It’s my duty to ask questions’. • ‘He never seemed like an ordinary police inspector’: the word ‘ordinary’ could mean usual, or it could mean that he was somehow extraordinary – more than human. How do the characters change? • At the start of the play it could be said that each character is wrapped up in their own life and have little consideration for others especially those who are not of the same social class. • By the end of the play there are some significant changes. Who and how are the characters changed? Try to find evidence to support your theories. Create a comparison chart At the start of the play • Mr Birling • Mrs Birling • Sheila • Eric • Gerald Croft At the end of the play • Mr Birling • Mrs Birling • Sheila • Eric • Gerald Croft Find and add quotes that support your ideas Mr Arthur Birling At the start • • • • • Regards himself as reasonable and pays the going rate to employees. Unable to grasp link between actions and consequences, or wider social/world issues. No concepts of value other than money and position (Daughter’s marriage as deal). Proud of his status and is a social climber (Daughter's marriage for status). Sees him & wife as upholding 'right' values and as guardians of 'proper' conduct. At the end • Convinced that he was not responsible • Refuses to attach any blame to himself or his family. • Finds reasons to doubt the validity of the case. • His main concern is the possible threat to his chance of a knighthood. • In essence and effect, he does not change at all. What does he do? • Mr Birling is a successful businessman, who has been active in local politics, has been Lord Mayor of Brumley and is the father of Eric and Sheila. • He hosts a dinner to celebrate Shelia’s engagement to Gerald Croft. • He declares a man’s responsibility is only to himself and his family. • Two years ago he fired Eva Smith from his factory. • He tries to intimidate the inspector, but also tried to protect himself and his family. • He becomes increasingly concerned about any possible scandal. • He is the one who takes the final phone call. Putting your information to use! • Mr Birling’s size helps to give him a threatening appearance: he is a ‘heavy-looking, rather portentous man’. • He thinks of himself as a man who does well in business, ‘a hard-headed practical man of business’, who doesn’t let sentiment get in the way of whatever needs to be done to succeed. • He likes to air his views and is aware that he tends to monopolise the conversation, suggesting he has a high opinion of his own importance: ‘Yes, my dear, - I know I’m talking too much’. • He expects respect as he has been a member of the town council, a Lord mayor and a magistrate: ‘I am a public man’. • Mr Birling sees himself as an important man in Brumley and he is prepared to use his reputation and friends to intimidate the inspector. • His views are made clear early in the play and they do not change. • His cry that he would give the girl a thousand pounds if he could is because he is afraid of what the girl’s death will do to him, his family and his chances of getting a knighthood, not because he feels remorse over sacking her. • He represents what socialists feel is wrong with society. • He is a man with money, power and social responsibility, but he has no sense of social justice. Mrs Sybil Birling At the start • Even more hard-faced and arrogant than her husband. • Introduced as her husband's social superior. • Is very snobbish, conscious of and uses social position to try and intimidate . • She expects other to respect her, her opinions and defer to her. • Resents being contradicted, even when caught lying by the inspector. At the end • Refuses to accept any part of the blame for Eva’s death. • Blames the ‘father’ of the unborn child until she realises it was her own son and then blames Eva herself. • She does not change in a positive way; she becomes even more determined to see her position as being correct and her actions justified. What does Mrs Birling do? • She is a prominent member of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organisation. • Mrs Birling praises Gerald for his timing and presentation of the ring. • She treats the inspector as an inferior. • She is disgusted when she learns that Daisy Renten was Gerald’s mistress. • She persuaded the charity not to help the pregnant girl. • She blames the girl’s death on the father of the child – who turns out to be her son. • She claims she was the only one not to ‘give in’ to the inspector. • Mrs Birling is not a friendly person and rarely shows any affection. She looks down on most people and expects the inspector to treat her with respect: ‘a rather cold woman’ and ‘her husband’s superior’. • She does not like and does not expect people to disagree with her, she is used to being listened to and having her opinion accepted as right: ‘Please don’t contradict me like that.’ • Even though Gerald comes from a good family and meets with her approval as a future son-in-law, she cannot accept Gerald’s affair: ‘It’s disgusting to me.’ • She is the most powerful and respected member of the group which runs the charity, and is able to influence the decisions it makes: ‘the most prominent member of the committee’. • Despite her charity work, Mrs Birling lacks understanding of how other people live, shown in her comments about ‘a girl of that sort’ and her unwillingness to believe the girl’s reasons for refusing to take stolen money or to marry the young man responsible for her pregnancy. • Her lack of understanding extends to her family as she has been unaware of Eric’s heavy drinking . • She remains untouched by the inspector’s questions, although she is shocked to learn of her son’s involvement. Having condemned Gerald’s ‘disgusting affair’, she forgets it once the threat of scandal is removed. Sheila Birling At the start • Vain, she resented Eva being attractive and wearing a gown that she could not carry off. • She is accepting of the way things are and is indifferent to social hypocrisy. • Impressionable - willing to accept new ideas/concepts • She has an honest and attractive character. • She is not cold-blooded like her parents are. At the end • • • • • She and Eric are the only cause for optimism in the play because they change in attitude. Affected by the Inspector's revelations about family and society. Her redeeming feature is that she is willing to accept her portion of responsibility and is truly sorry. She helps the Inspector get to the truth in other characters involvement. Sheila sees that at the end of the play that her parents do not learn. What does she do? • Sheila is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Birling and is engaged to Gerald Croft. • She shows genuine emotion when she hears that a young woman has died. • She was responsible for making the girl lose her job in the dress shop. • She realises that the inspector is not someone who can be lied to. • After hearing about his affair, she breaks off her engagement to Gerald. • She reveals tat Eric drinks too much. • She understands that the family’s experiences that night is meant to make them improve the way they treat others. • Shelia feels shock at the death of a young woman: ‘Oh – how horrible! Was it an accident?’ She is naïve to suggest that someone could drink a fatal amount of disinfectant by ‘accident’, but it shows she can’t imagine someone not having a lot to live for. • Although bitter about Gerald’s relationship with Daisy Renton, her curiosity needs to be satisfied and she is strong enough to hear the whole story: ‘I wouldn’t miss it for worlds’. • She is prepared to accept responsibility for what she has done: ‘I had her turned out of a job’. • Shelia clearly believes that it doesn’t matter whether the inspector is a real police officer or not. Her parents are relieved that they may prevent a scandal, but she is concerned that they all harmed someone: ‘it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face facts’. • Sheila changes more than any other character. At first she is playful and self-centred, enjoying the attention her engagement brings. When she hears of the girl’s death she shows a sensitive side to her nature: she responds to the girl as a person, not as cheap labour, and criticises her father. When she realises her own jealousy and bed temper led to the girl losing her job, she is genuinely sorry. She grows stronger as the play goes on, and has the strength of character to respect Gerald’s honesty, even though she feels they should end the engagement. She understands the inspector’s message, that there is a need for justice in society. These things all help to make her a more sympathetic character. At the start • • • • • • Eric Birling Eric is exposed as a drunkard, the father of an illegitimate child, a liar, a thief and an embezzler. Eric, in a drunken stupor forced himself upon Eva. He declared that there was no love involved, it was purely sex for him. He is hostile and an irritant to his father, asking awkward questions and making comments that embarrass. Arthur Birling thinks that Eric has not befitted from the expensive education he has had (because it was bought to improve status and not intelligence). A weak and lonely figure. At the end • Blames his mother for killing his child (her grandchild). • He admits he has acted without thought of the consequences and that was why Eva thought he was like ‘a kid’. • His emotional outburst shows that he does recognise his part in the tragedy. • He does show signs that he has changed in his attitude but not as dramatically as Shelia. What did he do? • Eric is Shelia’s brother. He is employed in his father’s business, drinks more than is good for him and is the father of Daisy Renton’s (Eva) unborn child. • Eric drinks too much at the family dinner. • He met the girl in the bar of the Palace Theatre and made her pregnant. • He stole money from his father’s firm to give to the girl. • He accuses his mother of killing her own unborn grandchild. • He accepts his guilt, whether the inspector is a real inspector or not. • Mr Birling recognises tat Eric has had too much to drink: ‘Just keep quiet, Eric, and don’t get excited’. He is afraid that Eric might easiliy say something he shouldn’t. • Eric has been to an expensive school and then university, but Mr Birling feels he knows more of life than his son: ‘That’s something this public-school-andVarsity life you’ve had doesn’t seem to teach you’. • We know that Eric does get drunk, and the opposite of what his mother says is true: ‘Besides, you’re not the type – you don’t get drunk’. • Mr Birling thinks that by being the boss’s son, Eric has had too easy a life: ‘Your trouble is – you’ve been spoiled. • Eric is a misfit. He is ‘not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive’. He is weak willed and looks for an easy way out of troubles. He sees his father as ‘not the kind of father a chap can go to when he’s in trouble’. He doesn’t share his father’s ‘hard-headed’ attitude to business and to his employer. An unpleasant side of his character is brought out when he drinks. He insists on going home with the girl, but he cannot remember what happened that first time. He makes the girl pregnant and steals money from his father’s firm. When the girl suspects he has stolen the money she refuses to take any more, and also refuses to marry him. Like Shelia, he believes that their experiences at the hands of the inspector should make them improve their behaviour. Gerald Croft At the start • • • • • • Outlook on life very similar to Arthur Birling, they agree on issues. He makes the decisions between himself and Sheila. Tries at first to conceal his involvement with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton Helped Eva at first out of genuine sympathy for her situation and did not take advantage of her in the drunken and violent way that Eric did. Gerald did make Eva happy for a period of time, which is clear from her own diary and her actions after the 'affair' (p Possibly most complex character in family as he bridges the old/young divide. At the end • • • • • • Shows genuine remorse when involvement is clear, unlike Sybil and Arthur. He is the one who thinks in the clearest way by considering the identity of the Inspector. He is the first to devise a way out for the family and checks with the infirmary to see if there is a dead girl. He also suggests the possibility of there being more than one girl involved. Uses the situation at the end of the play to find a way out. He believes that Sheila will accept the engagement ring again and asserts that all is well What did he do? • Gerald is the son of a wealthy industrialist and business rival of Mr Birling and has just become engaged to Sheila Birling. • Gerald gives her the ring during the dinner party. • He agrees with Mr Birling about the way a business should be run. • He rescued Daisy Renton from the drunken Alderman Meggarty. • He kept Daisy as his mistress for 6 months, than broke off their relationship. • He finds out that a police sergeant has never heard of inspector Goole. • He telephones the infirmary to find out that no girl died that da. • Gerald gets on easily with people, is self-confident and assured, an ‘easy, well-bred young man about town’, it looks as if he knows a lot about life. • He has a sense of what to do and when to do it, and he clearly has the approval of Mrs Birling: ‘That was clever of you Gerald’. • Mr Birling sees Gerald as being like himself - a determined man of business; he sees the engagement as a way of bringing the two family businesses together: ‘You’re just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted’. • Gerald has been hiding his feelings, like an English gentleman is expected to do. deep down he is greatly saddened by the girl’s death, and has a strong feeling of responsibility for what has happened: ‘I’m rather more upset – by this business than I probably appear’. • Gerald is not a member of the family, but his engagement to Sheila, business interests and the knowledge of the girl link him closely to them. He is a complex character. The others acted out of greed, anger, jealousy, spite lust or pride, but Gerald seems to have acted out of genuine sympathy and attraction. His sensitive nature is revealed in the way he produces the engagement ring, his reaction to the death of the girl and by his gently asking Sheila if he can come back after she returned the ring. He impresses Sheila after his admission about his relationship with Daisy Renton. She admits ‘I rather respect you more than I have ever done before’. At the same time he agrees that Mr Birling was right to sack Eva Smith, and wordly-wise enough to enquire about the inspector and then to phone the infirmary and lie about his interest in a possible suicide. Key Themes • • • • Social position Responsibility Love Time An equitable society • In this play, J. B. Priestley presents us with a powerful social message. We are shown the comfortable home and rich way of life of the Birling family. Be contrast we have accounts of the desperate attempts of workers to increase their poor wages and the drab and sordid life that the girl is forced to live as the result of the actions of such people as the Birlings. • The inspector champions ta cause of the poor and tries to get the others to accept that all the people share a common humanity and to be a part of a community. The message gets through to Sheila and Eric but their father dismisses the idea of a community, in which the responsibility and guilt are shared, as the foolish mutterings of socialist cranks. • As the play progresses, the inspector’s point is put across more and more forcefully and he becomes the spokesperson for the disadvantaged and the voice of conscience. Responsibility • Most of the characters have a narrow view of what it means to be responsible. Mr Birling feels it is his responsibility to be successful, making as much profit as possible and to provide for his family. Yet, he is not a father that Eric can turn to. • Mrs Birling accepts a responsibility as chairwoman of the Women’s Charity Organisation but only if she feels the cause is deserving and does not offend her. • Eric feels no responsibility at all. He drinks and feels nothing when he acts rashly. • Gerald showed some responsibility when he cared for the girl but he then used her for his own pleasure until he tired of her. Love • Gerald and Sheila appear to be in love until the revelation about Gerald’s affair proved just how little Shelia knew about him. Trust is a huge part of love and this was tested. • Mr and Mrs Birling measure their love in their material possessions and social status. It gives the impression that they have a cold, loveless marriage that extends towards their children. • Both Gerald and Eric had a relationship with the girl but both deny they loved her. They have a physical concept of love. • The inspector tries to give them a sense of love towards their fellow human beings. Time • The play is set before WW1 and the sinking of the Titanic. This is a deliberate attempt to gain the audiences appreciation that despite Mr Birling’s belief that things were all good, they are about to change dramatically. Will the characters change when the world changes? • Another theory is that the play is a chance for the audience to consider how they may change their ideas if they had the chance to re-live events – to re-wind and play back a section of their lives. • The inspector, arriving before the suicide is a reality, he offers each character a chance to reflect on the consequences of their actions and to change the future by breaking the cycle. • Only Sheila and Eric see this as a wake-up call.