She is described at the start as "a pretty
girl in her early twenties, very pleased
with life and rather excited."
Even though she seems very playful at
the opening, we know that she has had
suspicions about Gerald when she
mentions "last summer, when you
never came near me." Does this suggest
that she is not as naive and shallow as
she first appears?
Although she has probably never in
her life before considered the
conditions of the workers, she shows
her compassion immediately she
hears of her father's treatment of Eva
Smith: "But these girls aren't cheap
labour - they're people." Already, she is
starting to change.
She is horrified by her own part in Eva's story.
She feels full of guilt for her jealous actions and
blames herself as "really responsible."
She is very perceptive: she realises that Gerald knew
Daisy Renton from his reaction, the moment the
Inspector mentioned her name. At the end of Act II, she
is the first to realise Eric's part in the story. Significantly,
she is the first to wonder who the Inspector really is,
saying to him, 'wonderingly', "I don't understand about
you." She warns the others "he's giving us the rope - so
that we'll hang ourselves" (Act II) and, near the end, is
the first to consider whether the Inspector may not be
She is curious. She genuinely wants to know about
Gerald's part in the story. It's interesting that she is
not angry with him when she hears about the
affair: she says that she respects his honesty. She
is becoming more mature.
She is angry with her parents in Act 3 for trying to
"pretend that nothing much has happened." Sheila
says "It frightens me the way you talk:" she cannot
understand how they cannot have learnt from the
evening in the same way that she has. She is seeing
her parents in a new, unfavourable light.
At the end of the play, Sheila is much wiser. She can now
judge her parents and Gerald from a new perspective, but
the greatest change has been in herself: her social
conscience has been awakened and she is aware of her
responsibilities. The Sheila who had a girl dismissed from her
job for a trivial reason has vanished forever.
He is described at
the start as a
man in his middle
fifties but rather
provincial in his
He has worked his way up in the world
and is proud of his achievements. He
boasts about having been Mayor and
tries (and fails) to impress the
Inspector with his local standing and
his influential friends.
However, he is aware of people who are his
social superiors, which is why he shows off
about the port to Gerald, "it's exactly the
same port your father gets." He is proud that
he is likely to be knighted, as that would
move him even higher in social circles.
He claims the party "is one of the
happiest nights of my life." This is not
only because Sheila will be happy, but
because a merger with Crofts Limited
will be good for his business.
He is optimistic for the future and
confident that there will not be a war. As
the audience knows there will be a war,
we begin to doubt Mr Birling's judgement.
(If he is wrong about the war, what else
will he be wrong about?)
He is extremely selfish
He wants to protect himself and his family. He
believes that socialist ideas that stress the
importance of the community are "nonsense" and
that "a man has to make his own way."
He wants to protect his reputation. As the
Inspector's investigations continue, his
selfishness gets the better of him: he is
worried about how the press will view the
story in Act II, and accuses Sheila of
disloyalty at the start of Act III. He wants to
hide the fact that Eric stole money: "I've got
to cover this up as soon as I can."
He wants to protect Birling and Co. He cannot
see that he did anything wrong when he fired
Eva Smith - he was just looking after his
At the end of the play, he knows he
has lost the chance of his knighthood,
his reputation in Brumley and the
chance of Birling and Co. merging
with their rivals. Yet he hasn't learnt
the lesson of the play: he is unable to
admit his responsibility for his part in
She is described at the start as
"about fifty, a rather cold
woman and her husband's social
She is a snob, very aware of the
differences between social classes. She is
irritated when Mr Birling makes the social
gaffe of praising the cook in front of
Gerald and later is very dismissive of Eva,
saying "Girls of that class."
She has the least respect for the Inspector of all the
characters. She tries - unsuccessfully - to intimidate him and
force him to leave, then lies to him when she claims that she
does not recognise the photograph that he shows her.
She sees Sheila and Eric still as
"children" and speaks
patronisingly to them.
She tries to deny things that she doesn't want
to believe: Eric's drinking, Gerald's affair with
Eva, and the fact that a working class girl
would refuse money even if it was stolen,
claiming "She was giving herself ridiculous
She admits she was "prejudiced" against the
girl who applied to her committee for help
and saw it as her "duty" to refuse to help
her. Her narrow sense of morality dictates
that the father of a child should be
responsible for its welfare, regardless of
At the end of the play, she has had to come
to terms that her son is a heavy drinker who
got a girl pregnant and stole money to
support her, her daughter will not marry a
good social 'catch' and that her own
reputation within the town will be sullied.
Yet, like her husband, she refuses to believe
that she did anything wrong and doesn't
accept responsibility for her part in Eva's
At the end of the play, she has had to come to
terms that her son is a heavy drinker who got a
girl pregnant and stole money to support her,
her daughter will not marry a good social
'catch' and that her own reputation within the
town will be sullied. Yet, like her husband, she
refuses to believe that she did anything wrong
and doesn't accept responsibility for her part in
Eric seems embarrassed and awkward right
from the start. The first mention of him in the
script is "Eric suddenly guffaws," and then he is
unable to explain his laughter, as if he is nervous
about something. (It is not until the final act that
we realise this must be because of his having
stolen some money.) There is another awkward
moment when Gerald, Birling and Eric are
chatting about women's love of clothes before
the Inspector arrives. Do you feel that there is
tension in Eric's relationship with his father?
It soon becomes clear to us (although it
takes his parents longer) that he is a
hardened drinker. Gerald admits, "I have
gathered that he does drink pretty hard."
When he hears how his father sacked Eva
Smith, he supports the worker's cause, like
Sheila. "Why shouldn't they try for higher
He feels guilt and frustration with himself
over his relationship with the girl. He cries,
"Oh - my God! - how stupid it all is!" as he
tells his story. He is horrified that his
thoughtless actions had such
He had some innate sense of responsibility, though, because
although he got a woman pregnant, he was concerned enough
to give her money. He was obviously less worried about stealing
(or 'borrowing' from his father's office) than he was about the
girl's future. So, was Eric, initially, the most socially aware
member of the Birling family?
He is appalled by his parents' inability to admit their
own responsibility. He tells them forcefully, "I'm
ashamed of you." When Birling tries to threaten him in
Act III, Eric is aggressive in return: "I don't give a damn
now." Do you think Eric has ever stood up to his father
in this way before?
At the end of the play, like Sheila, he is fully aware
of his social responsibility. He is not interested in
his parents' efforts to cover everything up: as far
as he is concerned, the important thing is that a
girl is dead. "We did her in all right."
He is described as "an attractive chap
about thirty, rather too manly to be a
dandy but very much the easy well-bred
He is an aristocrat - the son of Lord and
Lady Croft. We realise that they are not
over-impressed by Gerald's engagement
to Sheila because they declined the
invitation to the dinner.
He is not as willing as Sheila to admit his part in
the girl's death to the Inspector and initially
pretends that he never knew her. Is he a bit like
Mr Birling, wanting to protect his own interests?
He did have some genuine feeling for
Daisy Renton, however: he is very
moved when he hears of her death. He
tells Inspector Goole that he arranged
for her to live in his friend's flat
"because I was sorry for her;" she
became his mistress because "She was
young and pretty and warm-hearted -
and intensely grateful."
Despite this, in Act 3 he tries to come up with as much
evidence as possible to prove that the Inspector is a
fake - because that would get him off the hook. It is
Gerald who confirms that the local force has no officer
by the name of Goole, he who realises it may not have
been the same girl and he who finds out from the
infirmary that there has not been a suicide case in
months. He seems to throw his energies into
"protecting" himself rather than "changing" himself
At the end of the play, he has not changed. He has
not gained a new sense of social responsibility,
which is why Sheila (who has) is unsure whether to
take back the engagement ring.
He is described on his entrance as
creating "an impression of massiveness,
solidity and purposefulness. He is a man
in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish
suit. He speaks carefully, weightily, and
has a disconcerting habit of looking hard
at the person he addresses before
actually speaking. "
He works very systematically; he likes to deal with
"one person and one line of enquiry at a time." His
method is to confront a suspect with a piece of
information and then make them talk - or, as
Sheila puts it, "he's giving us the rope - so that we'll
He is a figure of authority. He deals
with each member of the family
very firmly and several times we see
him "massively taking charge as
disputes erupt between them." He is
not impressed when he hears about
Mr Birling's influential friends and
he cuts through Mrs Birling's
He seems to know and understand an extraordinary
amount: He knows the history of Eva Smith and the Birlings'
involvement in it, even though she died only hours ago.
Sheila tells Gerald, "Of course he knows." He knows things
are going to happen - He says "I'm waiting... To do my duty"
just before Eric's return, as if he expected Eric to reappear at
exactly that moment He is obviously in a great hurry towards
the end of the play: he stresses "I haven't much time." Does
he know that the real inspector is shortly going to arrive?
His final speech is like a sermon or a
politician's. He leaves the family with
the message "We are responsible for
each other" and warns them of the
"fire and blood and anguish" that will
result if they do not pay attention to
what he has taught them.