Inspector calls Summary Revision Notes



The front page of the New York Times announcing the sinking of the Titanic.

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

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.

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.

Detailed plot summary

Setting the scene and opening the play

Picture from a stage production of An Inspector Calls with Inspector Goole standing outside the Birlings home in the fog. Inspector Goole arrives at the Birling home

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 directions specify that the house is 'not cosy and homelike' and the lighting needs to become 'brighter and harder' once the Inspector arrives. The first of the three acts opens with the Birling family and Gerald Croft celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling and Gerald.

Mr Birling makes a speech

As it is a happy occasion, Mr Birling takes the opportunity to make a speech. During the speech he reveals how happy he is that Sheila is marrying Gerald because Gerald’s parents are wealthy business owners. It is clear that Mr Birling feels this marriage will be to his advantage, he boasts that he is to be considered for a knighthood. It is important to realise that the audience of 1945 would pick up on the fact that a lot of what Mr Birling says is incorrect. He states how war will never happen and that the Titanic is unsinkable. This would indicate to the audience that what Mr Birling says is not to be trusted. It might also alert them to a few other clues that Priestley gives in this opening scene that things are not as positive as they might appear in the Birling house. Eric Birling is distracted and a little drunk, while Sheila teases Gerald about him neglecting her last summer. During the speech, Mr Birling suggests that 'a man has to make his own way'. At this precise moment, Inspector Goole arrives.

Eva was sacked from


No comments have yet been made