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Note: Beginning of Act Three to Inspector’s departure
With Eric back in the room, Sheila points out what all the characters now kno that Sybil’s speech against the father of Eva/Daisy’s child will force her to condemn Eric’s actions. Sheila notes that Eric is an alcoholic, and Eric admits that he was very drunk the first night he met the girl, although Eric does not supply the name with which she introduced herself to him. On the Inspector’s goading, Eric admits to beginning an affair with the girl, after following her back from the bar one night, and convincing her to let him into her room. Eric relates that, after several such meetings, the girl tells him that she is pregnant, and that she will need financial support for the unborn child. To provide the money, Eric swindles Arthur’s company, cashing out receipts without returning the payments to the office. Arthur is furious when he hears this, and Eric realizes that the truth of his theft and relationship are out.
With the family in a state of anguish, the Inspector goes from Birling to Birling, blaming them each in turn for a share of the guilt regarding Eva/Daisy’s suicide. The Inspector repudiates Arthur for firing her, Sheila for getting her fired again, Gerald and Eric for having illicit relationships with her, and Sybil for refusing aid when Eva was pregnant. Before leaving the house in a flourish, the Inspector tells the Birlings that all people are “one body,” and that people must help and look out for one another if society is to survive. He says that the Birlings and Gerald must now live with their actions for the rest of their lives as recompense for Eva/Daisy, who has lost hers. The Inspector leaves.
Eric’s revelation is twofold. At this point, the audience knows that Eric has most likely had an affair with the same Eva/Daisy that Gerald has. But his theft is a new revelation, even though it was foreshadowed when Sybil hints that Eva/Daisy petitioned the charity because she could no longer take stolen money from the father of the child. Nevertheless, Arthur and Sybil are particularly upset at the idea that Eric has defrauded the company, even if this money was used to support a girl and child to whom he owed a great deal. Arthur believes that Eric’s theft must be answered for, and that Eric’s behavior is the most likely to tip all these events into “public scandal,” which Arthur fears above all else.
Read an in-depth analysis of Eric Birling.
The Inspector’s closing speech is important for several reasons. First, it advances his politics most clearly, although the Inspector stops short of explicitly saying that he is a socialist, and that the Birlings and Gerald ought to become socialists, too. But the Inspector’s motivations do seem to have to do with a critique of the capitalist system that Arthur advances, in which families are left to fend for themselves. The Inspector believes that it is exactly this system that has caused Eva/Daisy to die, and that, in order for the world to change, this economic system must change too, or be replaced.
Read more about how socialist politics inform guilt as a theme.
As a link to the play’s performance history, its debut in the USSR in 1946 would have informed how audiences understood the Inspector’s speech. In an immediate post-World War Two and Soviet context, the Inspector’s argument would have sounded very much like the state’s rationale for collectivization of property, and for the demonization of the ownership classes. In an English context soon after, the Inspector might sound more moderate, for he is not actually advocating an overthrow of the government. Thus, the Inspector’s words are both socialist enough to make him and the playwright seem sympathetic to the socialist cause, but they are not so overtly partisan as to demand a specific course of action.