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An Inspector Calls Characters

by J. B. Priestley

Character List

Arthur Birling

Husband of Sybil, father of Sheila and Eric. Priestley describes him as a "heavy-looking man" in his mid-fifties, with easy manners but "rather provincial in his speech." He is the owner of Birling and Company, some sort of factory business which employs several girls to work on (presumably sewing) machines. He is a Magistrate and, two years ago, was Lord Mayor of Brumley. He thus is a man of some standing in the town. He describes himself as a "hard-headed practical man of business," and he is firmly capitalist, even right-wing, in his political views.

Gerald Croft

Engaged to be married to Sheila. His parents, Sir George and Lady Croft, are above the Birlings socially, and it seems his mother disapproves of his engagement to Sheila. He is, Priestley says, "an attractive chap about thirty ... very much the easy well-bred young-man-about-town." He works for his father's company, Crofts Limited, which seems to be both bigger and older than Birling and Company.

Sheila Birling

Engaged to be married to Gerald. Daughter of Arthur Birling and Sybil Birling, and sister of Eric. Priestley describes her as "a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited," which is precisely how she comes across in the first act of the play. In the second and third acts, however, following the realization of the part she has played in Eva Smith's life, she matures and comes to realize the importance of the Inspector's message.

Sybil Birling

Married to Arthur. Mother of Sheila and Eric. Priestley has her "about fifty, a rather cold woman," and--significantly--her husband's "social superior." Sybil is, like her husband, a woman of some public influecnce, sitting on charity organizations and having been married two years ago to the Lord Mayor. She is an icily impressive woman, arguably the only one of all the Birlings to almost completely resist the Inspector's attempts to make her realize her responsibilities.

Eric Birling

Son of Arthur and Sybil Birling. Brother of Sheila Birling. Eric is in his "early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive" and, we discover very early in the play, has a drinking problem. He has been drinking steadily for almost two years. He works at Birling and Company, and his father, we presume, is his boss. He is quite naive, in no way as worldly or as cunning as Gerald Croft. By the end of the play, like his sister, Eric becomes aware of his own responsiblities.

Inspector Goole

The Inspector "need not be a big man, but he creates at once an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness." He is in his fifties, and he is dressed in a plain dark suit. Priestley describes him as speaking "carefully, weightily ... and [he] has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before he speaks." He initially seems to be an ordinary Brumley police inspector, but (as his name might suggest) comes to seem something more ominous--perhaps even a supernatural being. The precise nature of his character is left ambiguous by Priestley, and it can be interpreted in various ways.

Edna

"The parlour maid." Her name is very similar to "Eva," and her presence onstage is a timely reminder of the presence of the lower classes, whom families like the Birlings unthinkingly keep in thrall.

Eva Smith

A girl who the Inspector claims worked for Birling and was fired, before working for Milwards and then being dismissed. She subsequently had relationships with Gerald Croft and then Eric Birling (by whom she became pregnant). Finally she turned to Mrs. Birling's charitable committeee for help, but she committed suicide two hours before the time of the beginning of the play; she drank strong disinfectant. It is possible, though, that the story is not quite true and that she never really existed as one person. Gerald Croft's suggestion that there was more than one girl involved in the Inspector's narrative could be more accurate.

Daisy Renton

A name that Eva Smith assumes.

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