An Inspector Calls - Plot summary

An Inspector Calls by J B Priestley, is a play that revolves around the apparent suicide of a young woman called Eva Smith.

In the play, the unsuspecting Birling family are visited by the mysterious Inspector Goole. He arrives just as they are celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft. The Inspector reveals that a girl called Eva Smith, has taken her own life by drinking disinfectant. The family are horrified but initially confused as to why the Inspector has called to see them. What follows is a tense and uncomfortable investigation by an all-knowing Inspector through which the family discover that they are all in fact caught up in this poor girl's death.

Priestley uses dramatic irony to great effect in the play.

Social and historical context

The front page of the New York Times announcing the sinking of the Titanic.

An Inspector Calls was first performed in 1945 at a time of great change - both World Wars were fresh in the minds of the people, women had become more prominent in the workplace and it was possible to be class mobile.

It is set in 1912 - this means that the characters have no knowledge of these world events. Priestley uses this to make important points about society and responsibility.