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"Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges."

"One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and million of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other."
Inspector Goole
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An Inspector Calls is a British play by J. B. Priestley that was first performed in 1945. It’s often called one of Priestley’s best works – if not, the best play he’s made – possibly because it comments on (as well as references) social issues that are still alive in Britain today. Maybe that’s why it’s a set text in many schools in Britain – usually for the GCSEs in England and Wales - so expect a large dose of Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory.

Set in the year 1912, the play follows the story of a middle-class family called the Birlings, who are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to a much-older upper-class Gerald Croft, secretly hoping that the marriage will make them even richer. The party is then interrupted by an inspector from the local police, who has been sent by the precinct to question them about the possible reasons behind the suicide of a working-class woman named Eva Smith. Each of the guests at the dinner-table are questioned, despite some protests of annoyance, but the family soon find out that they all have had dealings with the woman, and learn that there’s more to their seemingly-perfect world than they previously believed.

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Provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Mr and Mrs Birling could be kindly described as idiots. Only the younger generation realize 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.
  • The Alcoholic: Eric has been a heavy drinker for years; he got Eva pregnant after a drinking spree, and when the play opens, he already appears to have had quite a few drinks, and he has many more over the course of the play.
  • Ambition Is Evil
  • Angel Unaware: It is often suggested that the inspector is not what he appears...
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  • 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.
  • Author Tract: The fiercely left-wing Priestley thought the capitalist middle class - as represented by the Birlings and Gerald - were predominantly selfish hypocrites whose ruthless pursuit of wealth ground up vulnerable women like Eva Smith into grist, and several of the "Reason You Suck" Speeches Inspector Goole gives the suspects over the course of the play mirror Priestley's own views.
  • Badass Longcoat: The Inspector.
  • 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.
  • Captain Oblivious: Mrs Birling.
    • She doesn’t seem to be aware that her children are in their twenties (which is obvious when she chaperoned Sheila to a clothes shop, and she calls Eric a young man).
    • She doesn’t realize that Eric was drunk at the party (probably even early into the party) and was possibly an alcoholic. When Sheila claims that he’s drunk (albeit jokingly), her mother scolds her.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Sheila does this a bit, but it's mainly Eric (see the Adults Are Useless entry).
  • 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 as Mr Birling gets a phone call that a girl connected to the family has committed suicide, and a police inspector is on his way to the house to question them.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Mrs Birling's constant attempts to deflect any blame she may have for the suicide. Lampshaded by Sheila.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Birlings find out that they're this, despite their supposedly perfect middle-class lives.
  • The Edwardian Era: Although the Daldry production meshes the Edwardian "bubble" the family live in with ominous WWI-era bombed-out surroundings outside their house.
  • 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.
  • Evil Old Folks: The two parents are shown to be more evil than the others. At least their children end the play feeling remorse.
  • 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 actually 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.
  • Gold Digger: Mr Birling. His daughter is probably marrying Gerald because she really does love him, Mr Birling is rather happy that she agreed to marry him because he would be able to be closer to Gerald's family, Lord and Lady Croft, and hopefully become richer if he's able to negotiate merging their businesses together.
  • 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.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Sheila's insecurities over her own looks are what led to Eva being dismissed from her second job.
  • Irony:
    • Sheila's jealousy over Eva Smith apparently looking prettier than her is what leads to her fiance having an affair with her!
    • Sybil spends quite a few lines of dialogue slamming the man who got Eva pregnant, unaware that it's her son. And denying her own grandchild charity to boot!
  • 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? The world's too advanced for silly things like that!
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Eric did get a girl pregnant thanks to some drunken idiocy and while he stole money from his father, he points out it was stolen to help the mother of his child. And that if he had gone to his father, he was unlikely to have gotten the help Eva needed.
  • Last-Name Basis: Mr and Mrs Birling. Their children call them "mother and father", and Gerald calls them their formal titles out of politeness, but the married couple call themselves their forenames when they talk to each other.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Who was Inspector Goole? An imposter, somehow connected to Eva Smith, who wanted to confront and frighten the Birling family? Or a supernatural being, out to impart vengeance or a lesson on behalf of another power?
  • Meaningful Name: Inspector Goole. Not exactly a ghoul, but is he of supernatural origin?
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Inspector Goole. Downplayed in that he is genuinely benevolent, if an example of Good Is Not Soft.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between: Sheila and Eric are shocked when they discover their involvement in Eva's death and end the play feeling disgusted with themselves (Sheila also had the least involvement, and Eric had actively tried to help Eva in some way). The Birling parents treated Eva with contempt because of her class, and when they learn there is no Inspector Goole, they're happy to be off the hook and don't care about the harm they may have caused to a poor girl. Gerald is in between, where he feels remorse for his actions but is likewise happy at the prospect of not having to answer for them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sheila's reaction to her mother's speech about how the father of Eva's child should take responsibility for his actions could be considered this, as well as Mrs Birling once the Inspector delivers a Wham Line.
  • Or Was It a Dream?: How the play ends. Eva Smith/Daisy Renton was real, but there is no Inspector Goole, and Eva Smith may not have committed suicide - at least, not until after "Inspector Goole" leaves and Mr Birling gets a phone call...
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Seven Deadly Sins: Present in how the characters treated Eva in their crossings with her. The older characters have two sins each, fittingly as a commentary on the older generation.
    • Mr Birling showed Greed by denying her the raise she needed to live, and Wrath by angrily dismissing her for even asking. He also yells at his children a lot.
    • Sheila showed Envy by getting her fired from the shop when she was jealous that Eva looked prettier than her.
    • Gerald showed Lust by having an affair with her while he was courting Sheila.
    • Eric showed Gluttony by his excessive drinking, which led to getting Eva pregnant.
    • Mrs Birling showed Sloth by not doing her duty as a charity worker when encountering the pregnant Eva. She also showed Pride by viewing Eva as beneath her because of the class difference.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Gerald and Sheila in the opening act — but not for long.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: A gender inverted version; Eric willingly dated Eva because he wasn't into the middle-class women at the fancy dinner parties he always attended, because they always talked about their wealth and other uninteresting topics.
  • 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 everything Priestley loathed about the British middle-class - arrogant, obsessed with money, and without morals - 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.
  • This Is Going to Be Huge: Mr Birling's opinion on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
  • 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 Un-Favourite: It's obvious that Mr Birling prefers Gerald, who toadies to him in an effort to impress his future father-in-law, to his own son.
  • The War on Straw: Mr Birling, representing the bourgeoisie. Priestley does everything possible to stack the deck against him, such as using the sinking of the Titanic and the outbreak of the First World War as illustrations of his complacency. In early 1912, nobody was expecting the Titanic to sink, and it wouldn't have been crazy to expect there not to be a war.
  • You ALL Share My Story: All four Birlings and Gerald have crossed paths with Eva Smith in different capacities; Mr Birling sacked her from a job at his mill for her involvement in an abortive strike, Sheila got her sacked from a department store job out of jealousy, Gerald took her as a mistress and then abruptly dumped her, Eric got her pregnant after a drinking spree and then stole money from his father to support her financially (which she refused), and Mrs Birling turned her away when she tried to ask her women's charity for help.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Gerald to Daisy Renton.

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