Congratulations! You have been selected for the role of Inspector Goole in the play ‘An Inspector Calls’, written by J.B. Priestly in 1944. The character you will be playing is not a very easy one, many challenges await you as you develop this character. J.B. Priestly uses the idea of representation very well in this play, the Birling family represent Britain in both 1912 and in 1944. The Birlings are ignorant of the problems with society and only care about their own wealth and power. The play is set in 1912, shortly before the Titanic’s maiden voyage. Mr. Priestly thinks there is relevance between 1912 and 1944; because of civil, religious and political disorder. The selection has been made from thousands of applicants and our panel of esteemed judges has handpicked you. You will be playing alongside some of the finest actors in the world.
The main story of the play is that an Inspector drops in, unexpectedly, during a Birling family dinner. They are a middle class family, well off, but not as well off as the aristocrats. The Birling family is then shocked to find out that each one of them is involved in a young girl’s suicide. The overall format of the character is a blank slate that you can contribute to in your own way. In my opinion the Inspector doesn’t exist and he is just the collective consciousness Birling family, he is guilt and their conscience rolled into one. The Birling’s are a middle class family. They consist of: Mr. Arthur Birling, Mrs. Sybil Birling, Eric Birling, Sheila Birling, Edna (the Maid) and Gerald Croft (Sheila’s fian).
Mr. Arthur Birling is an industrialist, wanting a knighthood from the Queen, he is a middle-aged man, not so relaxed but not strict and formal either. He thinks he knows everything; he misjudges many things, like the First World War as he says ‘The Germans don’t want war, no-one wants war…’. Also about the Titanic ‘Unsinkable…absolutely unsinkable…’ and Britain’s involvement in World War I, and most importantly, his involvement in the death of Eva Smith. Because of his ability to misjudge things, he is very stubborn at times and thinks his way is always right. His involvement in the case is that he refused to give Eva a 36p pay rise, and because of her persistence of wanting the pay raised; he forces her to resign. His reason for it is: ‘It is my duty to keep labour costs down…’
Sheila Birling is a girl in her early twenties, pretentious and snobby. She is proud of herself because she is marrying Gerald. That is the only character we see of Sheila until the Inspector gets her to expose the truth. When this happens she becomes a child, crying, and sobbing all the way through her ‘testimony’. Her involvement with Eva Smith is that Sheila got Eva sacked from her next job at a clothes store because she was jealous of Eva and how she would look in a certain dress. She shows her jealousy by saying ‘She was the right type for the dress, just as I was the wrong type’
Gerald Croft is Sheila’s fian. He is also the son of a man who owns a larger company than Mr. Birling, because of this he tries to earn Gerald’s respect in a bid to try and win his father over and merge with Mr. Birlings own company. He is a nice person; he respects Sheila’s feelings and emotions. Gerald made Eva his mistress when he was still courting Sheila. He didn’t use her at all, he just felt sorry, and then he had to leave her because Sheila was starting to get suspicious of his activities. Gerald doesn’t understand what is going on and how his involvement in the case is significant, but when the Inspector says Eva Smith’s assumed name he tries to avoid talking about the girl in question; ‘Alright I knew her, lets leave it at that…’ but Sheila wants to know his involvement too, ‘We can’t lave it at that…’
Mrs. Sybil Birling is a middle-aged woman, trying to be an aristocrat. She is also stubborn, even more so than Mr. Birling. She thinks that nothing else matters apart from her own self-image. She finds people’s weaknesses and exposes them. There is not much dialogue between Mr. Birling and his Mrs. Birling. Eva came to Mrs Birling, in the Bromley Women’s Charity Organisation, hoping for help using Mrs. Birling as her name. Because the real Mrs. Birling was so furious that someone else was using, and had maybe tarnished her reputation, she refused to help Eva.
Eric Birling is a mid twenties male, he is also an alcoholic. He drinks because of his guilt, with what he has done in the past. His father treats him badly; always pushing him around. His mother treats him like a child referring to him as ‘The Boy’; also we learn near the end of the play that Eric had been stealing money from his father’s company. After all of Eva’s hardships she turns to Eric, unlike with the rest of the family; Eva begins to manipulate Eric, and slowly wraps him around his little finger eventually leading him to steal money from his father, to give to her, and then promptly says that she doesn’t want to see him again.
Your character, Inspector Goole, can be interpreted in many different ways. He could be the family’s conscience, he makes them feel bad and their guilt becomes more apparent as the play progresses. He can be the voice of the author, commentating on the family, as they are said to represent Britain in the periods that it was both written, and set in. As the play comes to a conclusion we find that the Inspector wasn’t an Inspector at all; he may have been a prophet, foretelling of things to come, or as a method of torture to scare the family into admitting their crimes before the real Inspector gets there. The name ‘Goole’ suggests that he is a ghostly figure of some sort living in the spirit world. The characterisation you choose to use is completely up to you, because it is so open to interpretation, this is why the character is so hard to play.