The play AN INSPECTOR CALLS by J B PRIESTLEY, set in the British East Midlands, in early 1912 [but written in 1945] revolves around the interrogation of the Birling family by a mysterious policeman, Inspector Goole about the suicidal death of a young woman, Eva Smith. Although, at first, they all deny it, but as the interrogation progresses, they are found to be all morally responsible for her death.
A Summary of the play follows:
The play begins at the house of a well-known businessman Arthur Birling where the family is at dinner celebrating the engagement of their daughter Sheila to Gerald Croft [son of a knighted industrialist]. At the table there is talk of politics, social interdependence, justice and fair play [all attributes ironic to their mentality] as well as an indication of a slight misconnection in relationship between the newly engaged couple [the reason for which will follow], when the Inspector arrives. He briefly introduces himself and then immediately gets down to the issue. Arthur - the first to be questioned, initially denies knowing the girl in question, and tries unsuccessfully to turn the tables back on the Inspector, but to no avail. Inspector tells Arthur that she was one of his employees at Birling & Co. Arthur admits and says that he discharged her because she was creating a workers union which demanded a 25-Shilling/week wage instead of the prevailing 22-Shilling & Sixpence. Therefore, she was shunted out of Birling's works. The Inspector shows him 'A' photo.
His daughter, Sheila overhears the conversation and shows her interest, but Arthur tells her to go. She tries to contribute, but this is taken by the Inspector as a sign to start questioning her.
Her eagerness to get involved showed her to be a somewhat sympathetic individual [as Eva Smith was roughly her own age]. The Inspector reveals that after leaving Arthur’s company she got a job at Milwards department store to which Sheila & Mrs. Birling [Sybil] were regular visitors, but she was dismissed from there too, because a customer complained about her. Sheila's expression changes. From the further information regarding date of sacking and seeing 'A' photograph, Sheila realizes that this issue does
concern her, and then she opens up to the Inspector with further details. It turned out that during a dress trial session, Sheila discovered that the dress which she wanted for herself, didn’t really suit her [but suited Eva Smith more] so, out of jealousy, she told the management to sack her. So she was out on the road again for something which wasn’t her fault. She seemingly changed her name to Daisy Renton – This startled Gerald as he remembers knowing a girl by that name.
Eric, their son, takes a drink, and the manner in which he handles the wine glass shows that he is used to heavy drinking. Gerald relates his memories of the time he knew Daisy Renton. Gerald met her at a prostitution club bar, where he once went. He saw that an old ex-politician was harrassing her, so he intervened. For some unknown reason, Sybil enters the conversation, as if it was just a simple discussion, answering questions where necessary, and at each stage, Sheila reminds Sybil repeatedly to talk less but, despite all that, Sybil continues. Eric leaves the room, with Arthur to follow. Sybil suggests that, if Eric isn’t feeling well, he had better go to sleep, but the Inspector implies that he will have to be interrogated too.
Gerald felt sorry for Daisy and gave some temporary lodging, where he used to visit her regularly. After a while, this gratitude turns to an unspoken love, but, Daisy didn’t want to burden him so she left. She kept a diary as a memory [which is probably the primary source of the Inspector’s knowledge]. Gerald leaves the house & Sheila returns the engagement ring.
Sybil is next. Again, the Inspector shows her 'A' photograph and asks her whether she recognizes it. Sybil denies. The Inspector then relates that a pregnant girl came to Sybil at Brumley Women’s Charity Association for help, but because she used Eric’s name as the child’s father, Sybil shunned her away. She tried to justify her position, but to no avail. Arthur intervenes, but is snubbed very easily. With the rapid shower of questions, it was concluded that Eric was her child’s father.
Eric comes in and takes another heavy drink to calm down. He relates that he met this girl, Eva Smith when he went clubbing at the Palace Bar. They became close and, he used to steal money from his father’s company to give to her. He cohabits with her & she becomes pregnant, but refuses to live on Eric’s stolen money. She goes and applies for help from Sybil’s association and is turned down. Eric realizes that Sybil's rejection of Eva Smith is what finally killed her, and makes her feel guilty. Sybil starts crying.
At the end, the Inspector blames them ALL. When he goes, Gerald returns with news that that Inspector Goole wasn’t a police officer at all. They take a sigh of relief, when suddenly, the phone rings. Arthur answers the phone and is told that a girl has just died on the way to the infirmary from swallowing disinfectant, and that a police officer is coming to ask some questions. They all stare at each other, dumbfounded.