The Inspector targets Gerald for interrogation, which frustrates Sheila. Gerald attempts to make her leave the room during his questioning, which makes Sheila warm further to the Inspector and almost turn on Gerald.
Mrs Birling enters and attempts to divide Sheila and the Inspector, a hint is placed on the impacts of both Gerald and Mrs Birling on Eva Smith, by the Inspector. Mr Birling attempts to remove Eric from the situation; however, the Inspector ensures he won’t go to bed as he wants to question Eric. Gerald confesses to meeting Eva Smith, he claims to have saved her from the palace bar (prostitution), as he wanted a young girl to not be around those kinds of people, such as old womanisers. Gerald got her a hotel room in a quiet location for a few days and chats with her, he finds her name to be Daisy Renton not Eva Smith. He found out she didn’t have any money, so he felt obliged to help her. However, the suspicion is placed on Gerald having a relationship with her. Gerald confesses this to be true and opens up on having the affair. Social class is shown here, as despite Gerald having an affair, Mr Birling is still desperate for the engagement, which Mr Birling is more bothered about the business implications
Gerald gave her money to live off for the remainder of the year and parted ways, however she wouldn’t tell him what she’s doing next. Gerald leaves to go on a walk and the Inspector continues to question the family. He now shows Mrs Birling the photo of the girl, (he never showed Gerald a photograph but still had all the information). Mrs Birling says she doesn’t recognise the photo to which the Inspector says she is lying.
Eric leaves as they hear the door slam, Mrs Birling begins to talk with the inspector and opens up more, as Sheila says her mother is lying. The Inspector claims out of nowhere Mrs Birling saw the girl 2 weeks ago, Mrs Birling agrees. He claims that Eva referred to herself as not Eva Smith, not Daisy Renton but Mrs Birling. She also admits to being prejudice against her in her case for financial help (rejects her without a reason).
The Inspector and Mrs Birling reveal the girl was pregnant and went for help, however the Inspector reveals it wasn’t Gerald who was the father but someone else they know. He also uncovers that Eric had been stealing money from his father , Eric enters and immediately is questioned, as he was the one who got her pregnant and was giving her the money.
At the Birlings’ home in the industrial town of Brumley, Arthur Birling – a wealthy factory owner and local politician – celebrates his daughter Sheila’s engagement to a rival magnate’s son, Gerald Croft. Also in attendance are Arthur’s wife Sybil and their son Eric (whose drinking problem the family discreetly ignores). Following dinner, Arthur lectures them on the importance of self-reliance and looking after one’s own, and talks of the bright future that awaits them (which, he hopes, will include a place for himself on the honours list).
The evening is interrupted by a man calling himself Inspector Goole, who is investigating the suicide of Eva Smith. Her diary, the Inspector explains, named members of the Birling family. Goole produces a photograph of Eva and shows it to Arthur, who acknowledges that she worked in one of his mills. He admits that he dismissed her from Birling and Co. some two years ago for her involvement in an abortive workers’ strike, but denies responsibility for her death.
After prompting from Goole, Sheila admits to recognising Eva too – she had contrived to have her fired from her job in a local department store over an imaginary slight. Her real motivation, Sheila ashamedly confesses, was the jealousy that she felt towards the younger, prettier woman.
At the mention of Eva’s alias ‘Daisy Renton’, Gerald starts. He admits to having met a woman by that name in the Palace Bar, and to having given her money and arranged to see her again. Goole reveals that Gerald then installed Eva as his mistress, becoming ‘the most important person in her life’, before abruptly cutting her off. Arthur and Sybil are horrified, and Sheila returns her engagement ring.
Goole comes to Sybil next, whom he identifies as the head of a women’s charity which the pregnant and destitute Eva turned to for help. Sybil, however, convinced the committee to deny her application for financial aid. Despite vigorous cross-examination from Goole, she denies any wrongdoing. Goole then plays his final card, making Sybil lay the blame at the feet of the ‘drunken young man’ who got Eva pregnant.
Eric then enters, and after brief questioning from Goole, breaks down and admits responsibility for the pregnancy, having forced himself on Eva after a drinking spree at the Palace Bar. He took funds from his father’s business in order to support her and the child, but she refused the stolen money. Arthur and Sybil are outraged by Eric’s actions, and the evening dissolves into angry recriminations. Goole’s questioning reveals that each member of the family had contributed to Eva’s despondency and suicide.
He reminds the Birlings that actions have consequences and that all people are intertwined in one society. As Goole leaves he warns that ‘If men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish’ – an allusion to the impending war.
Gerald returns, telling the family that there may be no “Inspector Goole” on the police force. Arthur makes a call to the chief constable, who confirms this. Learning from a second call to the infirmary that no recent cases of suicide have been reported, the family surmise that the Inspector was a fraud and that his story was fictitious. Gerald and the elder Birlings celebrate, but the younger Birlings still realise the error of their ways, and promise to change. The play ends with a telephone call, taken by Arthur, who reports that a young woman has died (a suspected case of suicide), and that the police are on their way to question them. Goole’s true identity is left unexplained, but it is clear that the family’s confessions over the course of the evening have all been true, and that public disgrace will soon befall them.
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