The characters we see as the curtain rises are not the same as those at the plays conclusion. Inspector Goole is instrumental in disturbing the harmony; a purposeful, mysterious character who forces the characters to confront each other's social responsibility, snobbery and guilt.
But who is Inspector Goole? And who is the girl whose suicide he is apparently investigating?
"heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speech."
"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.
"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.
"a man has to make his own way."
"I've got to cover this up as soon as I can."
"about fifty, a rather cold woman and her husband's social superior."
"Girls of that class."
"children"and speaks patronisingly to them.
"She was giving herself ridiculous airs."
"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 circumstances.
"a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited."
"last summer, when you never came near me."Does this suggest that she is not as naive and shallow as she first appears?
"But these girls aren't cheap labour - they're people."Already, she is starting to change.
"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 real.
"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.
"in his early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive."
"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?
"I have gathered that he does drink pretty hard."
"Why shouldn't they try for higher wages?"
"Oh - my God! - how stupid it all is!"as he tells his story. He is horrified that his thoughtless actions had such consequences.
"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?
"We did her in all right."
"an attractive chap about thirty, rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy well-bred man-about-town."
"because I was sorry for her;"she became his mistress because
"She was young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful."
"protecting"himself rather than
"changing"himself (unlike Sheila).
"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. "
"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 hang ourselves."
"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 obstructiveness.
"Of course he knows."
"I'm waiting... To do my duty"just before Eric's return, as if he expected Eric to reappear at exactly that moment
"I haven't much time."Does he know that the real inspector is shortly going to arrive?
"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.
Of course, we never see Eva Smith on stage in the play: we only have the evidence that the Inspector and the Birlings give us.
"pretty."Gerald describes her as
"very pretty - soft brown hair and big dark eyes."
"We've no proof it was the same photograph and therefore no proof it was the same girl."Birling adds,
"There wasn't the slightest proof that this Daisy Renton really was Eva Smith."Yet the final phone call, announcing that a police inspector is shortly to arrive at the Birlings' house to investigate the suicide of a young girl, makes us realise that maybe Eva Smith did exist after all. What do you think?