Inspector Calls, An
An Inspector Calls
a play by J. B. Priestley, first performed in Moscow in 1945. Although the play is set in 1912, it clearly reflects the anti-establishment views of an author committed to the election of a socialist party. A man claiming to be a local policeman, Inspector Goole, arrives at the house of Arthur Birling, wealthy Conservative industrialist and ex-Lord Mayor of Brumley, who has been playing the host at a private dinner to celebrate the engagement of his daughter, Sheila. Goole announces that he has come to investigate the suicide of an impoverished, pregnant young woman, Eva Smith, and proceeds to demonstrate that those present are responsible for it. The chain begins with Birling, who sacked her for helping to organize a strike for higher wages; continues with Sheila, who successfully demanded her dismissal after unfairly losing her temper with the girl, then an assistant in a department store; passes through Sheila's fiancé, Gerald Croft, who made her his mistress; and ends with Birling's son Eric and wife Sybil, who respectively made her pregnant and persuaded a charity committee to refuse her help as ‘undeserving’. Having shamed the younger characters, and left Birling terrified of a scandal that will deprive him of his promised knighthood, Goole exits remarking that if people will not learn that they are responsible for each other they will be ‘taught it in fire and blood and anguish’. It is then discovered that there is no Inspector Goole and no dead girl in the local hospital, revelations whose irrelevance to the moral issues raised only Sheila and Eric seem to see; but the rejoicing is interrupted by a phone call from the police station, revealing that a girl has just committed suicide and an inspector is on his way to the Birlings. On that somewhat cryptic note the play ends, its attack on the smug, spoiled, and myopically selfish complete. An Inspector Calls is a cautionary thriller, written in a conventional naturalistic style, but a highly praised ‘expressionistic’ revival at the National Theatre in 1992 gave it more scope and weight, leaving one critic acclaiming it as ‘an eloquent attack on the sins of the century’.