Good evening all!
Can you believe I’ve not written a book review since December? That’s shocking! So, I’m back to review one of my favourite plays, An Inspector Calls. I’m currently teaching this as well so I had to re-read this ready for that. The kids are hooked as well which is a bonus!
It’s true to say that the more times you read this, the more you get from it, the deeper you feel you have to dig. It’s like you become an inspector too. I love the fact that it goes deeper than appearance to find true meanings.
So, without further ado, here comes the review.
The play opens in 1912 at a family celebration at the Birling household. Arthur Birling, a wealthy mill owner and local politician, and his family are celebrating the engagement of Shelia, their daughter, to Gerald Croft. Gerald is the son of Birling’s competitor, thus making this engagement one of need as well as want. Attending the party are Sybil, Arthur’s wife and their children, Shelia and Eric. Eric, the younger sibling, has a drinking problem that is ignored throughout the play. Once dinner is finished, Arthur decides to give a speech about the importance of self reliance. One of the things he discusses is his impending knighthood and the classes.
“There’s a good deal of silly talk about these days—but—and I speak as a hard-headed business man, who has to take risks and know what he’s about—I say, you can ignore all this silly pessimistic talk. When you marry, you’ll be marrying at a very good time.”
Inspector Goole arrives at their house and interrupts their celebration. He explains how a young woman, called Eva Smith, has killed herself by drinking strong disinfectant. He implies that she left a diary of names, including members of the Birling family. The Inspector produces a photograph and shows it only to Arthur Birling. At first, he doesn’t seem to recognise her. But, he soon openly acknowledges that she worked in one of his mills. It comes to light that he dismissed her from Birling & Co. 18 months ago for her involvement in an abortive workers’ strike. He firmly denies responsibility for her death.
“It’s the way I like to go to work. One person and one line of inquiry at a time. Otherwise, there’s a muddle.”
It is at this point that Shelia walks in and is immediately drawn into the discussion. She too is then shown the photograph. (Was it the same? No one knows!) She admits to also knowing Eva Smith. She confesses to the Inspector that Eva served her in a department store. Shelia did not have the best experiences and this resulted in her having Eva fired. Shelia admits that Eva’s behaviour had been blameless and she only wanted her fired because she was motivated by her jealousy and spite towards an attractive working class woman.
“If we are all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?”
Sybil then joins them whilst Goole continues his interrogation. He reveals that Eva was also known as Daisy Renton. Gerald’s reaction to this news causes suspicion. Gerald then admits he met a woman by that name in a theatre bar. He gave her money and arranged to meet with her again. Goole pursues this line further by revealing that Eva was Gerald’s mistress. He gave her money and promises of continued support before ending the relationship. Naturally, Arthur and Sybil are horrified. As Gerald leaves the room, Shelia acknowledges his nature and appreciates that he has spoken so truthfully. But, she also notes that their engagement is over.
“I don’t dislike you as I did half an hour ago, Gerald. In fact, in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I’ve ever done before.”
Inspector Goole then identifies Sybil as the head of a women’s charity to which Eva turned for help. Eventually, Sybil admits that Eva came to her committee for financial aid. She was pregnant and destitute. Despite this, Sybil convinced the committee that the girl was a liar and that her application should thus be denied. Despite vigorous cross examination from Goole, Sybil refused to accept any wrongdoing. Shelia is horrified at her mother and begs her to not continue any further. Goole then plays his final card, making Sybil admit that drunken young man at the front of this should be made to give a public confession to admit the blame.
“You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.”
It is at this point that Eric enters. After a brief amount f questioning from Goole, he breaks down and admits to drunkenly sleeping with Eva. He also et up with her several times later and then stole £50 from his father’s business to help her when she became pregnant. Quite obviously, Arthur and Sybil, who are driven by appearances and class, are horrified. The party and the family breaks down.
“The fact remains that I did what I did. And Mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her. It’s still the same rotten story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or to somebody else.”
Goole’s questioning implies that each of the people there that evening contributed to Eva’s death. He reminds the Birlings of the aged old classic: actions have consequences and all people are intertwined in one society. He leaves.
“There are millions and millions 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, with what we think and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.”
Gerald returns telling the family that there may be no Inspector Goole on the police force. Arthur, enraged, makes a call to the Chief Constable, who confirmed this. This leads to Birling believing that if there is no inspector then there may be no girl. He makes a second call to the infirmary to find out that there had been no recent cases of suicide. They are off the hook it seems, so the elder Birlings and Gerald celebrate. Arthur dismisses the evenings events as nothing.
“Everything we said had happened really had happened. If it didn’t end tragically, then that’s lucky for us. But it might have done.”
However, the younger Birlings realise the error of their ways and promise to change. Gerald is keen to resume his engagement to Shelia. Naturally she is reluctant because he did admit to having an affair. Hardly a desirable man! He does have status though…
“There’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.”
The play ends rather abruptly with a telephone call. Arthur answers and reports to the group that a young woman has died, a suspected suicide case by disinfectant, and that local police are on their way to question the Birlings.
“This girl killed herself—and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. But then I don’t think you ever will.”
The true identity of Inspector Goole is never explained. What is clear, quite possibly the only thing in the play, is that the family’s confessions are true. This will result in them being public ally disgraced when the narration of Eva’s demise is revealed.
“We’re respectable citizens and not dangerous criminals. Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think.”
Didn’t I say that this play was totally gripping?! It leaves you feeling uncomfortable and on edge on o many levels. We all get distracted sometimes by appearances. This play is an example of don’t believe everything you see at every level. Nothing is to be trusted.
You have to read this, or better, see it performed on stage.
Big love xx