An Inspector Calls

questions from the book

1. page 4 and 12-13. how does he organise his business and how does he treat his workforce?

2. page 6-7, this play was performed after world war 2 (1946). what impression do you think the audience should have of Birling after this speech?

3a. how had Arthur Birling been connected with the girl Eva Smith?

b. how does he feel about his part in her death? any quotes?

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1) He believes in “low wages, high prices,” is absolutely dismissive of Eva’s strike, and, even at the close of the Inspector’s inquiry, can only limply claim that he would “give thousands” to make things better. Money, indeed, dominates the way he thinks, even to the extent that, Priestley subtly illustrates, he sees his daughter’s engagement to Gerald Croft as a financial move and potentially the first step towards a merger between the Birling and Croft businesses. Birling represents the political point of view opposite to Priestley’s own. Birling even makes himself out to be the antithesis of left-leaning writers and intellectuals generally, namely George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, both very famously left-wing voices.

2) The centerpiece of this first part of the play, though, is the self-satisfied attitude of Arthur Birling. He is indeed, as he puts it, every inch the “hard-headed man of business.” Smug and sure of himself, he launches into a series of assertions which Priestley’s 1946 audience would have known only too well to be false. Birling asserts that there will not be another war, yet, two years after this utterance (the play is set in 1912) the First World War was to begin. Moreover, the 1946 audience would have only just managed to live through the Second World War of 1939 to 1945.

3) a. Eva Smith worked for Birling, but she was discharged from her employment at his works at the end of September in 1910.

b. Birling, “somewhat impatiently,” tells the Inspector that there is nothing “mysterious” or “scandalous” about this business, since it happened more than eighteen months ago, and therefore it can have nothing to do with this girl’s suicide.