Here’s a summary of the story/narrative for JB Priestley’s play An Inspector Calls — it’s suitable for any student at GCSE, IGCSE, or A-Level (Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE/Cambridge, CCEA, WJEC, Eduqas). I’ve made it as short and clear as possible; so that you can get to grips with the main ideas and most important scenes quickly!
If you like this resource, take a look at my full An Inspector Calls online video course.
AN INSPECTOR CALLS: STORY BREAKDOWN
- Set on a spring evening, 1912 (the play was written in 1945).
- The Birling family are having a party to celebrate Sheila and Gerald’s engagement.
- Mr. Birling (Arthur) gives a speech about business and explains to Eric (his son) that every man should look after himself.
- A policeman calls on the family, his name Inspector Goole. He says a woman has committed suicide and he’s investigating the circumstances of her death.
- The Inspector starts by questioning Mr. Birling. It turns out that he sacked this woman (Eva Smith) from his factory for trying to start a strike/protest about wages. Mr. Birling refuses to accept responsibility.
- The Inspector turns to Sheila (Mr. Birling’s daughter). She got Eva sacked from her next job at a department store, as she was jealous of her looks.
- The Inspector tells the family that after this, Eva changed her name to ‘Daisy Renton’, and Gerald is shocked.
- Daisy was forced to become a ‘working girl’ (a prostitute) in order to support herself.
- Gerald admits that he knew Daisy, and let her stay in his friend’s apartment — it transpires that they had an affair.
- He finished the affair after they spent a summer together – offering her some money but making it clear they couldn’t continue. It seems Daisy was in love with him.
- Sheila is shocked, as she’s engaged to Gerald at this point (the evening is a celebratory engagement party for them), but she’s also glad of the confession.
- Gerald goes for a walk to clear his head, and the Inspector shows the photo to Mrs. Birling, who denies knowing the girl.
- It turns out that Eva (calling herself ‘Mrs. Birling’) had applied for help at a women’s charity, which Mrs. Birling managed at the time. Mrs. Birling thought her insulting and dishonest, and so refused her aid.
- Eva was pregnant and unsupported by the father, and Mrs. Birling blames the father for her misfortune, stating that he should have been forced to marry her.
- It turns out that the father is Eric.
- Eric tells his story, saying he met her in the same bar as Gerald, he was drunk and forced his way into her room. He got her pregnant and panicked, he stole money from his father’s business to give to her, and she refused to accept any more as she knew it was stolen.
- Mr. and Mrs. Birling are disgusted with Eric. The family all now understand that they contributed to Eva’s suicide.
- The Inspector delivers his final speech — saying how we should all be responsible for each other — and leaves
- The family begins to consider the event, the older characters question what happened. Gerald calls the infirmary to check about Eva and is told there wasn’t suicide for months. The older Birlings are relieved, but the younger ones still question their actions.
- The telephone rings, Mr. Birling answers, it’s a police inspector on his way to ask questions about the suicide of a young girl…
Thanks for reading! If you like this resource, take a look at my full An Inspector Calls online video course.
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