Act one of Priestley’s Inspector Calls draws our attention to an unknown Inspector visiting the family home of the Birlings, in his attempt to divulge any information relevant to the death of a young poor girl by the name of Eva Smith later known as Daisy Renton. It would appear the girl has committed suicide caused by and intake of strong disinfectant and as the Inspectors’ questions evolve during the course of his discussions with the family members, it becomes apparent that the Birlings and soon to be family member Gerald with his marriage to the daughter Sheila have all somehow been connected to the now dead girl.
The arrival of the inspector is sudden and unexpected and interrupts a celebratory family meal and drinks. The Inspector is extremely strong minded and addresses very probing questions to each one of the Birlings and eventually extracts the information that he needs. The manner in which the Inspector questions the family members about their knowledge of the dead girl implies that each and every one of the Birlings played a part in the events leading up to the death of Eva Smith, and how the upper class society people abused their position in the community to suite themselves regardless of the consequences of the less fortunate in this case that of a poor girl who has eventually died.
Act one opens with the dining room scene in a large suburban house belonging to Mr. Birling a prosperous manufacturer and his prestigious family. The four Birlings, namely Arthur Birling his wife, his son and daughter Eric and Sheila and Gerald, Sheila’s fiancï¿½ make up the first act. As they are enjoying a celebratory occasion, which is the engagement of Gerald to Sheila they enjoy a glass of port and a chat after dinner. All of them are an evening dress of the period (early 1900’s), the men in tails and white ties.
Priestly uses a range of techniques to draw us into the mood of the scene in act one. He does this by setting instructions for the lighting in the room to begin as “pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives and then it should be brighter and harder.” The softer lighting creates a calm atmosphere,(pink being associated with romance linked with the engagement celebration) whilst the Birlings are having a nice family chat and drinks but the audience is made more alert and tension builds with brighter, harder lighting (brightness signifying a wake up or shock) making it obvious that the Inspectors arrival brings an intense atmosphere into the act. At this point the mood of the evening changes and this is cleverly done by Priestley’s instruction to adjust the lighting This part of the play takes place in the dining room which Priestley has done deliberately as it signifies how the Birlings are engrossed in their own little world and cocooned from everything else that they chose not to associate with. As the play progresses its evident that the Birlings believe that they are extremely important people in society and everything revolves around them.
Priestley’s introduces Inspector Goole with a sharp “ring of a front doorbell.” Immediately the fact that the doorbell is a short sharp ring will cause curiosity and tension. Mr. Birling first reaction to the news that an Inspector has called is “Don’t know him. Does he want to see me?” It is obvious Mr. Birling is being defensive right from the start and wishes he didn’t have to see him because he is not an acquaintance, and probably in Mr. Birlings mind not worth the time wasted on a visit. The name Goole is a homophone which can be also interpreted as Ghoul leaving the audience with an eerie impression about this character. This adds a fearful tension to the play.
Physically the character of Goole is solid and massive. He is in his fifty’s dressed in a plain darkish suite which could also conjure up images of bad news and death. His manner of speaking is confident, carefully thought out and he has a habit of looking hard at the person he is about to speak to, indicating that he has the complete attention of the person he is interrogating. Inspector Goole clearly separates himself from the likes of the Birlings when he refuses to have a glass of port when offered by Mr. Birling, making it quite clear that he doesn’t want to socialise with these people but is here to obtain the information he needs does this by cleverly about Eva Smith, and evidently to show the Birlings that they have an accountability for her death for which they are clearly all in denial.
The Inspector uses mind games and takes a photograph out of his pocket of the dead girl, but initially keeps it away from Eric and Gerald keeping them both agitated with the suspense of not knowing who the girl was and when asked by Eric and Gerald why they couldn’t see the picture the Inspector replies “It’s the way I like to go to work. One person and one line of inquiry at a time.” By doing this Priestly makes it obvious to the audience that the mysterious Inspector unknown to the Birling family intends to interrogate each and every one of them leading us to believe that they are all to blame for the incident.