An Inspector Calls

by J. B. Priestley

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What was the inspector's intention in visiting the Birlings and was he successful?

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The man who calls himself Inspector Goole is investigating the death—an apparent suicide—of a young woman, Eva Smith. Goole arrives at the Birling home to interview the family members about Eva’s death. He seems intent on getting each and every one of them to admit some complicity in the tragedy. Arthur Birling, the husband and father, tells the inspector that Eva had worked for him. Sheila, Arthur’s daughter, and Eric, his son, next learn of the death and disagree with their father about Eva’s involvement in labor activism. As the investigation advances, it is revealed that under an assumed name of Daisy Renton, Eva had been the mistress of Gerald, Sheila’s fiancé. Furthermore, she was pregnant when she died; Eric was not only the father but also stole money to help her, which she refused to accept. Sheila also had a hand in her ruin, having pushed her father to fire Eva for attitude. Mrs. Birling played a role when the pregnant woman sought charity, urging her benevolent association to refuse it.

The playwright leaves the audience wondering who Goole really was, as he was apparently not a policeman. Rather than solve the crime, therefore, it seems he intended to sow discord within the family; as they argue furiously, it seems that in that respect he succeeded.

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