Note: Arrival of Inspector to end of Act One

Summary

The Inspector enters, introducing himself as Goole. Arthur says he’s never heard of Goole before, despite being an Alderman, Lord Mayor, and “a member of the Bench.” The Inspector states that the two have not met. Arthur offers the Inspector a drink, and he refuses, saying he is “on duty.” The Inspector tells Arthur that a girl named Eva Smith has committed suicide that evening, after swallowing disinfectant. Eric cries out at this, and Arthur says it is difficult news to hear.

The Inspector asks Arthur if he has heard of Eva Smith. Arthur says the name might be familiar, but he isn’t sure. The Inspector shows Arthur, and Arthur alone, a photograph, and refuses to show the picture simultaneously to Eric, noting that questioning multiple people at a time would create confusion. Although Arthur is perturbed, he lets the Inspector proceed. Arthur says that he employed Eva in his factory and discharged her in September 1910. Hearing this, Gerald offers to leave, but when the Inspector says he knows that Gerald and Sheila are engaged, he asks Gerald to stay. Gerald, agitated, remains.

Arthur tells the Inspector that he dismissed Eva in a “straightforward” case. He argues that he “can’t accept responsibility” for what has happened to Eva. The Inspector counters that Arthur has initiated a “chain of events” leading to Eva’s death. Eric interjects that Arthur was saying just before the Inspector arrived that men must look out for themselves and their families, but not all society. Arthur describes why he dismissed Eva: she was the normal wage, but joined with other laborers to ask for a raise of three shillings a week. Arthur would not grant this, saying it would cut into profits. The Inspector asks Arthur why he refused, and Arthur objects to the idea that the Inspector would question his business practices. Arthur says that the workers, including Eva, went on strike, but it lasted no more than two weeks, after which the laborers were taken back on “at the old wage.” Eva, however, was not offered her job back, as punishment for initiating the strike. Gerald announces that Arthur did what he had to do, as the owner of a business.

Arthur asks the Inspector how he gets along with the Chief Constable, a man with whom Arthur is friendly. The Inspector says he does not “see much” of the Chief Constable. When Eric asks why Arthur couldn’t grant the raise, Arthur accuses Eric of being lazy. Eric responds that they do not need to speak this way with the Inspector present. Sheila enters the room, and wonders what’s the matter. The Inspector tells Sheila that a girl named Eva Smith, aged twenty-four, has killed herself, and Sheila is appalled to hear it. Sheila is also shocked to learn that Arthur fired Eva after the strike.

The Inspector begins questioning Sheila, who says she does not know anyone named Eva Smith. The Inspector tells Sheila that Eva Smith went on to work at a clothing store called Milward’s. Sheila admits to having shopped there before, and asks to see the Eva’s picture. The Inspector shows Sheila, and only Sheila, and she gasps. Arthur becomes angry that the Inspector has upset Sheila, and Sheila asks the Inspector if he knew “all along” that Sheila had interacted with Eva previously, a question the Inspector does not answer.

Sheila admits to having gotten the girl fired from Milward’s. Sheila was shopping there in January of 1911 and, after having tried on an unflattering dress, she noticed that the girl, Eva Smith, seemed to find this funny. Sheila became enraged and said she would not return to the store unless the girl, Eva, was fired. Sheila is mortified to hear that her actions might have contributed to Eva’s death. The Inspector tells the room that Eva worked at Milward’s under the name Daisy Renton, rather than Eva Smith, which is why Sheila did not recognize her name.

All but Gerald and Sheila leave the room. Sheila notices that Gerald was shocked at the name “Daisy Renton,” and she asks whether Eva/Daisy was the girl he was seeing in the spring and summer when he claimed to have been occupied at work. Gerald admits to an affair with a girl he thought was named Daisy. He asks Sheila to conceal this from the Inspector, but Sheila tells Gerald that the Inspector must already be aware of this information.

Analysis

The Inspector is the play’s great unexplained presence, perhaps even stranger a character than Eva/Daisy, whose “real” identity is never defined. The Inspector is notable because his motivations are not clear to the audience, nor to the Birling family. He says he is a part of the police department, but Gerald’s and Arthur’s later investigation will show this is not the case. The Inspector seems aware of some police protocol, but no one on the force knows him, and it is not even evident if he is a resident of the town of Brumley. His political sympathies appear roughly socialist, but he does not identify them as such, nor does he say that his mission in the Birling home is a political one.

Instead, the Inspector begins by stating that he is there to ask questions. It becomes evident that these questions are designed to relate the characters, one by one, to the life of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton. As Sheila goes on to realize later, the Inspector has arrived to ask these questions just as Arthur has finished telling Gerald and Eric that men do not have heavy obligations to their fellow men. The Inspector thus offers, over the course of the play, a rebuke to this idea. He seems to argue that, because each family member can be connected to one girl, or to the idea of one girl, named either Eva or Daisy, then perhaps all people can be connected to all others by bonds of trust, betrayal, love, or anger.

Once the Inspector gets Arthur and Sheila to acknowledge that they recognize Eva/Daisy, he then wants them to admit the part they have played in her downfall. Arthur is unwilling to do this, because his personal beliefs do not allow for these kinds of causation. That is, Arthur thinks that people should look out for themselves, or, at most, for their families. He does not think that all people owe obligations to all other people. Thus the concerns of the workers in his factory are utterly abstract to Arthur. The workers will want higher wages, but that is because, in Arthur’s mind, workers are lazy and accustomed to “handouts.” Arthur accuses his own son Eric of this laziness.

Sheila is more willing to acknowledge and come to terms with her guilt. She realizes that her anger, directed toward the Eva/Daisy at Milward’s, was unjustified. Further, that anger derived from a feeling of resentment that other young women might look better in the outfit she wore than she did. Sheila realizes that she got Eva/Daisy fired because she, Sheila, was not comfortable with herself in her own skin. She begins, in this section of the play, to come to terms with that personal failing, and to imagine what it would mean to make amends for her actions.

The stage directions say that the Inspector is a large and imposing presence, and one can imagine in reading the play that the other characters more or less cower around him. The Inspector thus destabilizes the order that the family had achieved up until this point. In that old order, Arthur was the head of the household, and whatever Arthur commanded at a given moment was considered the truth. Sybil, then, was to carry out Arthur’s orders and make sure the family was comfortable. And Eric and Sheila were to go along with whatever their parents demanded of them. With Sheila’s engagement to Gerald, Arthur implies that he is handing off concern for his daughter to another man whom he trusts, and who himself works in manufacturing and is of a good family. This economy of marriage might seem, to a contemporary audience, at best outdated, and at worst offensive. And it is exactly this structure of the nuclear family that the Inspector’s presence upsets.

Gerald’s character similar to Sheila’s, and a contrast to Arthur’s and Sybil’s. Gerald seems sheepish during the questioning. He offers no reply to the Inspector, and none to Arthur. When Sheila realizes she is guilty of her immoral behavior and of ruining Eva/Daisy’s job at the store, Gerald neither stands up to support his fiancee, nor denounces her. This is perhaps because Gerald recognizes that he has had an affair with that same Eva/Daisy, a fact that Sheila will soon figure out. Gerald’s passivity is a counterpoint to Arthur’s and Sybil’s resistance to the Inspector’s authority. Whereas they wonder what he is doing there, and openly call his questioning “rude,” Gerald does not resist the interrogation, nor does he offer up any information voluntarily. He seems to recognize that, in the Birlings’ living room, he is trapped until the Inspector tells him he can leave.