Note: Questioning of Sybil to end of Act Two
Sybil thinks that the interrogation should be over. But the Inspector says that Sybil might know something about the girl’s death. He shows her the picture, and Sybil, not responding at first, hands the picture back, saying she has no memory of her. Arthur tells the Inspector that the Inspector is behaving rudely, and that he, Arthur, should be respected as a “public man.” The Inspector says that Arthur has responsibilities as a citizen, as well as privileges. Sheila announces to Sybil, Arthur, and the Inspector that she knows Sybil has recognized the Eva/Daisy’s, based on Sybil’s reaction to the photo. Sheila begs Sybil and Arthur to say what they know about Eva/Daisy’s death.
The front door opens and shuts. The family wonders if Gerald has come back, or if Eric has gone out, but neither person enters the room. The Inspector asks Sybil if she is a member of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization, and Sybil says that she is, and that she is proud of the group’s community work. The Inspector tells Sybil and the family that Sybil must recognize the girl, because she saw her only two weeks before that night, when the girl petitioned the charity for financial assistance. Sybil agrees that this is the case, and her husband and daughter are shocked. Sybil says that the charity refused to give the girl money because of her “impudence.”
The Inspector asks what name the girl provided to the charity. Sybil says the girl did not provide the name Eva Smith, nor Daisy Renton, but “Mrs. Birling.” Sybil found this to be a cruel, impossible joke, since the girl no relation to the Birling family. Sybil tells the Inspector that this “prejudiced” her against the girl’s case from the beginning. Sybil defends hers and the charity’s decision to withhold assistance, because she did not find the girl’s claim for aid compelling. The Inspector reveals to the family that the girl required aid because she was going to have a child. When Arthur interjects to ask whether Gerald was the father, the Inspector says no, that it was another, yet-unnamed man.
Sybil says that, first, the girl claimed to be married, and to have been abandoned by her husband. Sybil told the girl that this husband should be responsible for paying the child’s bills. Sybil says under the pressure of questioning that the girl revised her story to say she was not married to the father of her child, and that she could no longer take money from that man because she knew his money was stolen. Sybil argues to the Inspector that, because the girl changed her story, Sybil did not know which to believe, and despite the girl’s dire straits, Sybil rejected her petition.
The Inspector leads Sybil into admitting that the father of the girl’s child bears enormous responsibility for the girl’s difficulties and eventual death. Sheila and Arthur realize, with great disappointment, that Eric is probably the father of the child, thus explaining why Eva/Daisy would present herself to the Women’s Charity as Mrs. Birling. Sybil then realizes, after seeing the looks on Arthur and Sheila’s faces, that Eric is most likely to blame. At this moment, caught in her statement that Eric should suffer for his malfeasance, Eric reenters the room, and all characters stare at him expectantly.
This section of the play presents perhaps the most damning evidence against the family. On Sheila’s urging, Sybil admits that she has seen Eva/Daisy, or at least the girl in the picture that the Inspector shows only to Sybil. The very idea that Sybil would be in charge of a charitable organization is shown here to be a fanciful, cruel joke. For Sybil is the play’s least charitable character, by a long stretch. She shows little alarm at Arthur and Sheila’s misbehavior, and appears worried only about the family’s reputation. She admits that, when Eva/Daisy came to the charity, she was inclined not to like her simply because she presented herself as “Mrs. Birling.” What Sybil did not realize, however, was the possibility that Eva/Daisy actually might be tied to their family, and that Eric could be the father of the unborn child.