An Inspector Calls - Sample exam question

In your exam, you may be asked a question about the whole text OR about an extract from the text as well as the whole text. Either way, these are the analysis skills you will need to use.

The question

How does Priestley present Mr Birling in An Inspector Calls?

Write about:

  • how Mr Birling is presented in this extract
  • how Priestley uses Mr Birling to get his ideas across in the rest of the play

The extract

GERALD (amused)
Sounds a bit fishy to me.
BIRLING (taking it in the same manner)
Yes, you don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays. More money to spend and time to spare than I had when I was Eric’s age. They worked us hard in those days and kept us short of cash. Though even then – we broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes.
I'll bet you did.
BIRLING (solemnly)
But this is the point. I don't want to lecture you two young fellows again. But what so many of you don't seem to understand now, when things are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself - and his family too, of course, when he has one - and so long as he does that he won't come to much harm. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive - community and all that nonsense. But take my word for it, you youngsters - and I’ve learnt in the good hard school of experience - that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own - and -
We hear the sharp ring of a door bell. Birling stops to listen.
Edna'll answer it. Well, have another glass of port, Gerald - and then we'll join the ladies. That'll stop me giving you good advice.
Yes, you've piled it on a bit tonight, Father.
Special occasion. And feeling contented, for once, I wanted you to have the benefit of my experience.
Act One

Before you go onto the next page, make some notes about what you could write about:


  • Think about the key words in the question (Mr Birling, ideas).
  • Think about the extract - how is Mr Birling presented here? Which of Priestley's key ideas does he highlight? Age, gender, social responsibility or class? Highlight some key points.
  • Think about the rest of the play and how he is presented.