These notes are to help
kick-start your revision of the
play for the GCSE exam.
There are a number of references to external events within the play and these could provide the areas which could be developed further. Among these are:
The emergence of Russia as a world power
The outbreak of World War One
The importance of the Women’s Rights movement
The rise of Socialism
The writings of H G Wells
very compact structure to the play, nothing is allowed to distract the audience from the central theme. There is no sub-plot.
the play takes place in just one location, the action is continuous Act One begins by introducing the characters and establishing the idea of a happy and united family looking forward to the future with a degree of confidence. In retrospect, there are a number of hints that all is not as it seems but these are not particularly obvious until later in the play. There is nothing to warn us of the shock of the Inspector's visit events soon gather speed and it is not long before we are being informed of Birling and Sheila's involvement with Eva Smith
tensions increase, firstly as Gerald's affair is unveiled (and the scandal it would cause)
and Sheila begins to realise that they are all implicated in some way 'he is giving us rope - so that we’ll hang ourselves'.
Mrs Birling's attempts to shift the blame for the girl's suicide leads her to blame the father of the unborn child. The tension is heightened at this point by the dramatic entrance of Eric.
with the departure of the Inspector it would appear that what follows will be something of
an anti-climax as the Inspector's identity is put into doubt by a series of observations made by the Birling family and Gerald. Even the existence of Eva is called into question.
however, the tension remains to some extent as the two generations confirm the differences as suggested by the Inspector -
the moral divide is very great indeed
the final denouement, the phone call announcing that a police inspector is on his way to ask some questions about a girl who has just died in the infirmary is as shocking as it is surprising and ensures that the audience will leave the auditorium in a state of real shock
Sheila Birling has become engaged to Gerald Croft and as a
result the Birling family have enjoyed a family dinner
together. Mr Birling makes grand speeches giving his views
on technology and industrial relations, emphasising his
opinion that a man should only care about himself and his
family and no-one else. Their evening is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of a police inspector by the name of Goole who is making enquiries into the suicide of a young woman called Eva Smith.
The inspector has a photograph of the woman and from it Mr Birling admits that he once employed her in his factory but had sacked her over an industrial dispute over wages. Gerald Croft backs Mr Birling’s belief that he acted within reason. Sheila and her brother Eric react differently, feeling that their father was harsh in sacking her. However, upon seeing the photograph herself, Sheila realises that she also sacked the same woman from her job as a shop assistant.
During the course of Act I it becomes clear that the inspector has an uncanny knowledge about the family’s dealing with the girl. He then announces that the girl has in fact changed her name from Eva Smith to Daisy Renton. The reaction that this causes in Gerald makes it obvious that he knows the girl also. By the time we reach the end of the act the inspector is already suggesting that many people share the responsibility for the miserable existence of the young girl which prompted her to take her own life.
Important questions & points about this act:
Why is Mr Birling happy about Sheila’s engagement to Gerald? Because...