The Act opens with Eric saying, ‘you know don’t you’. Immediately the attention is on him, and he is now the main target of the Inspector. Mrs Birling has spent the past act blaming everything on the man who got the girl pregnant. Mrs Birling is naïve, as she also says Eric doesn’t get drunk, to which Sheila becomes frustrated as she says Eric isn’t as they view him, he is less innocent.
The Inspector over rules and dominates Mr Birling as he says Eric can drink when Mr Birling says he can’t (this is showing the dominant figure in the room is the Inspector). Eric confesses to meeting Eva and going to her hotel, Sheila is told by Mr Birling to leave the room, both Mrs Birling and Sheila agree to leave the room. Eric confesses to seeing Eva and sleeping with her multiple times and brining her money as she opened up on her financial struggles. He admits she told him she thought she was pregnant, but Eric didn’t love her and told her about this, therefore they didn’t want to get married.
He admits to giving her £50 and kept money from the business accounts. To which Mr Birling is livid and attempts to cover these details up as soon as possible (business minded more than the fact his son has made serious mistakes). Eric admits to telling the girl the money was stolen and the Inspector admits to never having spoken to the girl. Sheila enters and tells them that the girl told Mrs Birling the money was stolen, this annoys the family, however Sheila wants them to tell the Inspector everything.
Eric learns that Mrs Birling rejected Eva at her committee and Eric responds, ‘you killed her’ and blames his mother for her death. The Inspector goes over everything they’ve ever done to her and shows each of them what they’ve done and reveals the girl killed herself. The inspector leaves after making a speech and therefore leaves them all to talk amongst themselves.
They all agree on not being sure if the inspector was a real inspector due to his intrusive tone and nature. Mr Birling rings the chief constable and describes the Inspector to them, to only find he wasn’t a real inspector, the constable also tells them no girl has died of suicide in months.
The book ends with a call from the constable reporting a girl has just died of suicide, by way of disinfectant consumption. The exact way the Inspector told them Eva had died. With real police officer now on the way to question them.
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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