An Inspector Calls Summary
by J. B. Priestley

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An Inspector Calls Summary

An Inspector Calls is a play by J.B. Priestley in which Inspector Goole informs the Birling family that a girl has committed suicide and that they are responsible.

  • Inspector Goole calls on the Birling family, who are in the midst of celebrating their daughter's engagement. Goole tells them that a young woman has killed herself.

  • Goole details all the ways the Birling family is responsible for the woman's death.

  • Later, it's revealed that Goole isn't really an Inspector and the suicide hasn't happened yet. The relieved Birlings return to normal.
  • Shortly after, a real Inspector arrives and informs the Birlings of the girl's death.

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Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like Dangerous Corner, An Inspector Calls is a suspense play that investigates a suicide through self-incrimination. It also reflects Priestley’s consuming interest in time theory. In spite of these similarities, the two plays were written for very different purposes.

An Inspector Calls is a parable on the responsibility of the individual toward one’s fellow beings, and it succeeds in spite of its heavy-handed sermonizing. Arthur Birling and his family are celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft. This will also merge two corporate competitors, resulting in higher profits. Priestley relies on the audience’s knowledge of recent events to color Birling’s optimism with irony as he extols the wonders of the Titanic, which is about to set sail into a world that will avoid war. These ironies also foreshadow the impending disaster about to strike the Birlings when Inspector Goole unexpectedly arrives. True to his name, the inspector resembles a ghoul as he glares at the family, relentlessly repeating his message that a young woman has killed herself by drinking disinfectant.

The details of the woman’s hideous and painful death are described repeatedly as Goole methodically reveals how each member of this respectable family was partly responsible for her untimely death. Birling fired her for requesting a small raise. In a spoiled rage, Sheila Birling insisted she be fired from her next job. After Croft had an affair with the girl, she picked up with a wild young man who left her alone and pregnant. Mrs. Birling used her influence to deny the girl charity, contending that the...

(The entire section is 457 words.)