An Inspector Calls
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"An Inspector Calls" Summary

By J.B. Priestley

plays | 117 pages | Published in NaN


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

The mysterious inspector's visit to the Birling family prompts them to confront their own moral responsibilities in this classic play.


"An Inspector Calls" by J.B. Priestley is a thought-provoking play that delves into the complexities of human behavior, morality, and social responsibility. Set in 1912, the play unfolds over the course of a single evening, as the prosperous Birling family is visited by an enigmatic police inspector who brings news of a young woman's tragic suicide. As the inspector's investigation progresses, the characters' secrets and hypocrisies are gradually exposed, leading to a powerful climax that challenges the audience to confront their own attitudes towards society and morality.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The play is set in the dining room of the Birling family's home in Brumley, an industrial city in the north Midlands of England. The Birlings are celebrating the engagement of their daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft, the son of a wealthy businessman. The family consists of Arthur Birling, a self-made man and a prosperous factory owner; his wife, Sybil; their son, Eric; and Sheila. Gerald is also present. The mood is jovial until the arrival of Inspector Goole, who informs them that a young woman, Eva Smith, has died in the infirmary after swallowing disinfectant.


The play is set in the dining room of the Birling family's home in 1912, as well as in the town of Brumley. The setting reflects the opulence and comfort of the upper-class lifestyle, contrasting with the harsh realities of the industrial town outside.

Main Characters

The play features a small cast of main characters, each with their own role in the unfolding drama.

Inspector GooleAn enigmatic police inspector who arrives at the Birling family home to investigate the suicide of Eva Smith.
Arthur BirlingA prosperous factory owner and the head of the Birling family. He is confident and self-assured, often displaying a lack of consideration for others.
Sybil BirlingArthur's wife, she is a prominent member of the Brumley Women's Charity Organization. She is often dismissive and judgmental, particularly towards Eva Smith.
Sheila BirlingThe daughter of the Birlings, Sheila is engaged to Gerald Croft. She is initially portrayed as a naive and privileged young woman.
Gerald CroftSheila's fiancé, Gerald comes from a wealthy family and holds a position of authority in his father's company. He is revealed to have a significant connection to Eva Smith.
Eric BirlingThe son of the Birlings, Eric is portrayed as troubled and restless, often feeling overshadowed by his father's success. He becomes increasingly central to the inspector's investigation.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Act 1

The play begins with the Birling family enjoying a celebratory dinner, setting the scene for a seemingly joyous occasion. Inspector Goole arrives, announcing the suicide of Eva Smith and revealing a chain of events that implicates each family member in her downfall. As the inspector questions each character, their involvement with Eva Smith becomes increasingly apparent, leading to a series of revelations that shatter the facade of respectability.

Act 2

The second act delves deeper into the characters' connections to Eva Smith, exposing their selfish actions and moral failings. Sheila and Gerald's relationship is strained as they confront uncomfortable truths, while Eric's guilt becomes more pronounced. The tension escalates as the inspector's relentless interrogation forces the family to confront their past actions.

Act 3

In the final act, the play reaches its climax as the full extent of the family's impact on Eva Smith is revealed. The characters' attempts to evade responsibility are thwarted by the inspector's unwavering determination, leading to a shocking twist that challenges their understanding of guilt and accountability. The play concludes with a haunting reminder of the consequences of their actions.

Main Events

  • The arrival of Inspector Goole, who announces the suicide of Eva Smith and initiates the investigation.
  • The gradual unraveling of the characters' involvement with Eva Smith, exposing their callous behavior and disregard for her well-being.
  • Sheila's confrontation with Gerald about his affair with Eva Smith.
  • Eric's admission of his relationship with Eva Smith and his role in her tragedy.
  • The revelation of the inspector's true identity and the family's dismissal of his warnings.
  • The final twist that exposes the family's lack of remorse and the consequences of their actions.

Themes and Insights

Social Responsibility

The play explores the theme of social responsibility, highlighting the impact of individual actions on others within society. The characters' disregard for the well-being of Eva Smith reflects the selfishness and lack of empathy prevalent in the upper class of 1912 England.

Class Divide

Priestley critiques the class system of early 20th-century England, emphasizing the disparities between the wealthy elite and the working class. The Birlings' indifference towards the lower class and their exploitation of Eva Smith exemplify the societal divide and the injustices faced by the less privileged.

Guilt and Consequences

The play delves into the moral consequences of one's actions, as each character grapples with guilt and accountability for their mistreatment of Eva Smith. The inspector's relentless pursuit of the truth serves as a reminder of the enduring impact of their choices.

Reader's Takeaway

"An Inspector Calls" offers a compelling exploration of human behavior, morality, and societal norms. Through its engaging plot and well-developed characters, the play encourages readers to reflect on their own attitudes towards social responsibility and ethical conduct. The timeless themes and thought-provoking narrative make it a captivating read that prompts introspection and critical analysis of the world we live in.


"An Inspector Calls" by J.B. Priestley remains a timeless and impactful work that continues to resonate with audiences today. Its examination of class, morality, and social responsibility serves as a powerful reminder of the consequences of individual actions within society. The play's enduring relevance and insightful portrayal of human nature ensure its place as a thought-provoking and compelling piece of literature.

An Inspector Calls FAQ

  1. What is the setting of the book 'An Inspector Calls'?

    The setting of 'An Inspector Calls' is the fictional town of Brumley, in the home of the Birling family. The play is set in 1912, just before the First World War.

  2. Who is the author of 'An Inspector Calls'?

    The author of 'An Inspector Calls' is J.B. Priestley, a renowned English writer and playwright.

  3. What is the main theme of 'An Inspector Calls'?

    The main theme of 'An Inspector Calls' revolves around responsibility, class conflict, and the consequences of one's actions.

  4. What is the plot of 'An Inspector Calls'?

    The plot of 'An Inspector Calls' centers around the mysterious Inspector Goole's visit to the Birling family, during which he interrogates each family member about their connections to a young woman who has committed suicide.

  5. What is the genre of 'An Inspector Calls'?

    'An Inspector Calls' is a play that falls into the genre of crime fiction and social drama, exploring the intricacies of human behavior and societal expectations.