1945 play by J. B Priestley, often acclaimed as one of his most well-known and a classic of twentieth century theatre. It's a standard set text
in British schools.
It is an evening in 1912, and the Birlings, a well-off middle class family, are celebrating their good fortune. The father is a successful industrialist and a prominent figure in local government, and his daughter is getting married to the son of a local aristocrat. Life's looking pretty good — but it's about to be shaken by the arrival of a man claiming to be a local police inspector, investigating the suicide of a young working class woman and claims that she is somehow connected to the family. It soon becomes apparent that everyone present that evening has had dealings with this young woman that will come back to haunt them...
Provides examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Mr and Mrs Birling could be kindly described as idiots. Only the younger generation realise the significance of the Inspector's message and try to be nicer people because of it. Eric also says he didn't ask for his father's help after he got "Daisy Renton" pregnant on the grounds that "You're not the kind of father a chap could go to when he's in trouble, that's why."
- Age-Appropriate Angst: Sheila and Eric's distress is just dismissed as a result of their youth.
- Ambition Is Evil
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Mr Birling seems more concerned with the loss of his money- a small amount to him compared to his total wealth- than with Eric impregnating Eva Smith or her death.
- Angel Unaware: It is often suggested that the inspector is not what he appears...
- Author Tract
- Badass Longcoat: The Inspector.
- Blatant Lies:
"I told you Sheila, I was very busy at the works that summer."
- ( Breaking the Fourth Wall: Close to the end the Inspector has a big dramatic speech warning about the First World War (and possible Hell, depending on how your English teacher wants you to interpret it) directed at the audience as well as the Birlings.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Sheila does this a bit, but it's mainly Eric (see the Adults Are Useless entry above).
- Character Development: With the possible exception of Mr and Mrs Birling, each of the characters is a changed person by the end of the play.
- Character Focus: Each character gets a couple of scenes where it's mainly them talking, other than prompting from the Inspector.
- Cliffhanger: The play ends on one.
- Dysfunctional Family: The Birlings.
- Everybody Did It: Although it's initially presented a little like a murder mystery, it becomes obvious fairly soon that the whole family are to blame.
- Fat Bastard: Mr Birling.
- First Name Basis: Edna, the maid.
- Foreshadowing: The play is chock full of it. It's a rare example of a set text that actual stands up to being repeatedly re-read.
- Friendly Enemy: Birling & Co. and Crofts Limited are business rivals, but Gerald Croft has just got engaged to Sheila Birling and there hasn't been a single feud.
- Here We Go Again: It's revealed at the end that the inspector is not actually a police inspector, and the characters are seemingly free to ignore their guilt and culpability in Eva's death with the illusion that he was just a fraud sent to scare them. Until Mr. Birling gets a phone call; it seems a young woman has committed suicide, and the police are on their way to question them about certain connections she may have had with them...
- Hysterical Woman: Sheila is frequently accused of this by her family when her discovery of their actions distresses her, especially towards the end when she is the only character to point out that whether the Inspector is real or not doesn't matter - it's what they did that's important.
- It Will Never Catch On: Most of Birling's speeches at the start of the play. Strikes? Labour troubles are over! War with the Kaiser? It Will Never Catch On!
- Posthumous Character: Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The Inspector.
- Rich Bitch: Mrs. Birling is essentially a rich bitch who disguises the fact with her position on the board of a local charity. Her daughter is implied to be one, but she feels remorse for what became of Eva and is intent on making amends.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Most of the family qualify, but
- Scenery Porn: The mid-1990s revival received a lot of attention for its lighting and scenic design, which featured a self-deconstructing house for the Birlings.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Birling constantly argues that his actions toward the strikers are justified because they would have cost him profit if he'd listened to them.
- Averted when Birling states towards the end that he'd pay thousands to make up for what he's done, only for the inspector to tell him that the damage has been done.
- Sickeningly Sweethearts: Gerald and Sheila in the opening act. — but not for long.
- Spot of Tea: In the Daldry production, which (since 1992) is the one generally staged, the Inspector is seen interacting silently with various characters outside of the family. This includes politely accepting a cup of tea off Edna. In the original play, although it's not clear whether he's a teetotaller, he emphatically refuses Birling's offer of a drink.
- Strawman Political: Mr. Birling is pretty much everything Priestley loathed about the British middle class, and it shows.
- Summation Gathering
- Take Back Your Gift: Sheila gives Gerald his engagement ring back after discovering what he really did last summer. That being Daisy Renton.
- The Alcoholic: Eric
- The Edwardian Era: Although the Daldry production meshes the Edwardian "bubble" the family live in with ominous WWII-era bombed-out surroundings outside their house.
- The Unfair Sex: Sort of everyone acknowledges that Gerald's affair with Eva was wrong, but it's also acknowledged that he's not the only one to blame.
- The Unfavourite: It's obvious that Birling prefers Gerald, who toadies to him in an effort to impress his future father-in-law, to his own son.
- The Voiceless: Edna, the maid.
- This Is Going To Be Huge: Birling's opinion on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
- You ALL Share My Story