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An Inspector Calls Revision

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Look closely at the passage in Act 1 from the entrance of the inspector to Gerald Croft: (surprised) all right’. In what ways does Priestley show in this extract that the inspector gains total control of the situation?

In this extract we see how quickly the inspector makes his mark in the Birling’s secure environment. Until his entrance, Mr Birling has been in control.

In the initial scene directions Priestley instructed that the lighting should become ‘brighter and harder’ when the inspector arrives, which gives him a direct advantage, for the family can no longer hide behind the rosy glow.

The element of surprise is a form of control by the inspector. Initially he behaves like a typical policeman, not drinking on duty and addressing Mr Birling as ‘Sir’, which might lull Mr Birling into a false sense of confidence. The inspector’s manner soon changes, which is unsettling for Mr Birling. He answers his questions very briefly, almost verging on impertinence: ‘Quite so’; ‘No, Mr Birling’, leaving Mr Birling at a disadvantage because he wants more information. He is becoming rattled, as you can tell from the direction, ‘with a touch of impatience’.

The Inspector’s speech bluntly giving the fact of Eva’s death provokes different reactions from the family, helping Goole to gauge their characters and work out how best to deal with them. Mr Birling sees no relevance in the case to him, but the inspector cuts him off ‘massively’ in mid-sentence (as he did when he rang the doorbell), which suggests his physical dominance. He has Mr Birling ‘hooked’ when he mentions Eva Smith’s name for the first time, because he recognises it.

The inspector now introduces one of his main tactical devises – showing the photograph. Only Mr Birling is shown it, although Gerald and Eric would like a look. This is one of the ways in which he gains control over them. This leads to another weapon – timing. He will work on ‘one person and one line of enquiry at a time’. Eric and Gerald are unsettled and intrigued, because their turn will come but they have to wait, this also builds suspense.

The inspectors control is fully shown when he does not give Mr Birling a chance to reply to Gerald’s suggestion that he leave and gives Gerald no choice but to stay, even though he has no idea what is happening. In that period, people of Gerald and the Birling’s social position would have seen the police as servants. They have done nothing criminal, yet the inspector is the one giving them the orders and they have no option but to go along at his pace. They are unused to this and, therefore, at the Inspectors mercy, as are the audience, who are intrigued by his investigation.


Explore the various ways Priestley makes dramatic use of similarities and difference between Sybil and Sheila Birling:

  1. Start of the play (similarity) this is important that Priestley shows the similarities so he can contrast this to the change in Shelia later on in the play, and highlight the rift between them which is dramatic for the audience. FOR EXAMPLE – they share light hearted dinner table chat and they both shop as Milwards which shows the typical mother/daughter bond and their similarities.
  2. Abusing privileged position in society (similarity) they both share the same mindset of the upper middle class and have pretentious ideals. FOR EXAMPLE – Sybil as the chair of the charity denies Eva help, her pride is offended/prejudiced which leads to Eva’s suicide. Similarly, Shiela as customer at Milwards gets Eva sacked which is out of pettiness and jealousy and they both use their family name and status to take advantage of their wealth for the wrong reasons.
  3. The reaction to Eva’s death (difference) which is important because it shows the different attitudes leading to dramatic conflict in Act 2, Shelia tells Sybil she is ‘beginning all wrong’ with the inspector. FOR EXAMPLE – Sybil is told the news of the death off stage by Arthur, this enables Priestley to show her hard-hearted reaction after the news sunk in – ‘girls of that class’. On the other hand, Sheila has a spontaneous and more understanding reaction when she says ‘Oh – how horrible’ which shows she is sympathetic and this emphasises the difference between her and Syblil.
  4. Attitude to the inspector (difference) which shows the difference in behaviour from the wealthy Birling family and how they treat other members in society in which they consider lower than them like the Policeman (Inspector). FOR EXXAMPLE – Sybil is antagonistic and haughty and thinks him ‘a trifle impertinent’ and it shows she feels proud to be the only one to stand up to him rather than taking responsibility and owning up to her mistake. On the other hand, Shelia is co-operative and realises Inspector ‘makes you admit to things’ and supports his views as she sees reality which her mother is oblivious to.
  5. Acceptance of guilt (difference). FOR EXAMPLE – Sybil doesn’t accept responsibility ‘I accept no blame for it’ only shows distress when her own world is affected (lost grandchild). On the other hand Shelia is remorseful ‘I know I’m to blame’ which shows the juxtaposition of the two different reactions.
  6. End of the play there is a total rift (complete difference) FOR EXAMPLE – Sybil resumes her complaisant attitude and nothing has changed whereas Shelia is willing to change and refuses to go on as nothing has happened.

To what extent is it possible for the audience to feel sympathy for Eric?

  1. First impressions there is very little sympathy as he is immature and silly, ‘squiffy’ and is annoying his father which shows he lacks respect and compassion for anything or anyone other than himself.
  2. His upbringing does give some sympathy as his mother has been overprotective of him as she says ‘he’s a boy’ despite the fact he is in his 20s. His father gives him the outer signs of status but has not taught him any life lessons or any values – ‘you’ve been spoilt’.
  3. His relationship with Eva does not give much sympathy as it shows the worst side of Eric, ‘drunken young idler’, he is a ‘thief’ however he stole because he couldn’t confide with his father which does bring a little sympathy, he used Eva ‘as if she were an animal, a thing, not a person’.
  4. In Act 3 there is some sympathy for Eric as he is admitting responsibility for his actions as he is siding with Sheila and turning on his parents – ‘You killed her…damn you’.



  • “The dining room of a fairly large suburban house” – shows the upper middle class lifestyle they are living and the wealth and status of the Birling family.
  • “I say there isn’t a chance of war” – shows Mr Birling is naively optimistic and is too self-engorged to open his eyes to the realities of a struggling Britain as he lives comfortably in his wealth.
  •  “You seem to be a nice well behaved family” – shows how the difference between appearance and reality can be great and foreshadows how Geralds comment is soon to be proved wrong by the Inspector.
  • “You’d think everybody has to look after everybody else” – shows Mr Birling to express his philosophy that ‘a man has to mind his own business and look after his own’ which is dramatically ironic as the revelations of his family soon reveal his failure as a parent and eradicated his theory.
  • I can’t accept any responsibility” – shows Mr Birling says that his link with Eva can have nothing to do with her suicide and Priestley does this to show that people must take responsibility for others whether they like it or not.
  • As you were saying, Dad, a man has to look after himself” 
  • She’d had a lot to say – far too much – she had to go”
  • It’s about time you learnt to face a few responsibilities” – This tellingly ironic remark to Eric illustrates Birlings hypocrisy as just a few moments before he denied any responsibility for Eva’s fate.
  • There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence” – this shows the reality of the working class and their social struggle which the Birlings of the upper middle class were oblivious to.
  • And then she got herself into trouble” – This shows they are blaming Eva as they are looking for any reason to excuse themselves out of the situation and avoid taking any responsibility.
  • Sometimes there isn’t much difference as you think” – the Inspector points out the real nature of responsibility for others and he suggests that the line between guilt and innocence is narrower than is commonly assumed.
  • You knew it was me” 
  • So I’m really responsible” – Shows Shelia to step up and take responsibility as she realises the inspector knows more than all of them and she cannot get away with hiding from the truth.


  • if there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt” – shows the society in which the Birlings live shares out material riches very unequally which links to the shared responsibility of taking the blame. The inspectors message would have seemed appropriate to post war audiences concerned about what kind of a world they should be striving for in the future and Eva’s fate was mainly a result of the type of society that existed in 1912 and a government who did not do much to help which is highlighted by the unchanging human nature we see in Mr and Mrs Birling.
  • We are learning something tonight”
  • Public men, Mr Birling have responsibilities as well as privileges”
  • I didn’t like her manner”
  • Mother, I think it was cruel and vile” – shows the change in nature of Sheila and this reaction contrasts to her parents.
  • I don’t believe it, I won’t believe it” -  shows even after Mr Birling learns the truth which is staring him in the face he refuses to accept it.


  • You’re not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble” – shows the Birlings are not only callous towards those they perceive to be inferior, but they are also inadequate as parents.
  • I didn’t know – I didn’t understand” – shows Mrs Birling stubbornly refuses to see anything which does not fit in her narrow view of the world.
  • “Each of you helped to kill her”
  • Look, Inspector – I’d give thousands” – shows Mr Birling behaving as if money is the answer to all problems and may save his reputation which he is more concerned about than the death of Eva.
  • We are responsible for each other” – shows a great social wrong has been committed and the biblical tone of the inspector as he warns them of the ‘fire and blood and anguish’ which links to WW1 and WW2 to show the audience the necessity of being responsible for one another as when we don’t the fire and blood and anguish is the only result.
  • He walks straight out leaving them staring, subdued and wondering”



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