An Inspector Calls
In ‘An Inspector Calls’, Priestley uses the three unities of classical Greek theatre: unity of action, unity of time and unity of place. This means that the story unfolds in real time with no gaps so that the audience is completely engrossed in the experience of watching the Inspector expose the Birlings’ involvement in Eva Smith’s death. There are recounts of events that happened before the dinner party which add to our understanding of the characters and strengthens Priestley’s message.
The play opens as the Birling family are having a dinner to celebrate the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft.
Arthur Birling makes self-satisfied speeches about how war will never happen and how business, not a sense of community, is important.
A doorbell cuts across one of these speeches and Inspector Goole arrives. He tells them that he is there to investigate the suicide of a young girl who has swallowed disinfectant.
Inspector Goole shows Mr Birling a photograph of the dead girl, Eva Smith. Mr Birling relates the story of how Eva was one of the workers at his factory who organised a strike in an attempt to be given higher wages. The strike was soon over and Mr Birling dismissed Eva Smith.
The Inspector then shows Sheila the photograph of the dead girl. Upset, Sheila confesses how she had Eva dismissed from her new position as a shop girl.
Gerald reacts to Eva’s change of name to Daisy Renton. It is clear that he too knew the dead girl.
Gerald reveals how he met Daisy in a bar and then kept her as his mistress for some months.
After this confession, Sheila returns her engagement ring to Gerald.
The Inspector turns his attention to Sybil Birling. It is her turn to reveal that she knew Daisy. Daisy had come to the charitable organisation of which Mrs Birling is a prominent member. Daisy was pregnant and desperate but Mrs Birling used her influence to turn her away without help.
Mrs Birling announces that helping Daisy was not her responsibility; it was the responsibility of the unknown father.
As she says this, Eric Birling walks in.
Eric tells the Inspector and his family how he got Daisy pregnant and then stole money from his father’s firm to support her.
The Inspector tells the assembled family that they all had a part to blame in Eva/Daisy’s death. He also tells them that society has a responsibility to look after everyone. The Inspector then leaves.
Gerald returns and raises suspicions as to whether Inspector Goole is a genuine police officer.
Mr Birling makes a phone call that confirms that the Inspector is a ‘fake’. A second telephone call confirms that no girl died in the infirmary that night from swallowing disinfectant.
Arthur, Sybil and Gerald are all relieved and dismiss their earlier guilt. Sheila and Eric continue to feel remorse.
At the end, the telephone rings; a young girl has just committed suicide by drinking disinfectant and an inspector is on his way to investigate.