An Inspector Calls – Essay Plan

Choose a play which explores an issue or theme which interests you.

By referring to appropriate techniques, explain how this issue or theme is explored.

A play with a key theme: The responsibility of the strong to look after the weak.

  1. When Sheila gets Eva Smith fired.
  2. When Gerald sets her up as his mistress.
  3. When Mrs Birling denies her the support she needs.
  4. When Mr Birling sacks her.
  5. The inspector’s message.



Date of the piece: 1945

Name of the playwright: J.B. Priestley.

Title of the play: “An Inspector Calls”

The gist: A well-off family are forced to see the consequences of their thoughtless actions.

Intention: To show how the theme of social responsibility affects these characters, and the audience.


Paragraph 1:

  • Birling cares more for his own profit than for the people who work for him; he feels no sense of responsibility.
  • “If you don’t come down hard on these people they’ll soon be asking for the earth!”
  • This impresses on the audience how selfish Birling is.
  • Eva Smith was not a concern to him – nor was her death.
  • “come down hard” – shows he responds to his workers aggressively; zero tolerance for weakness.
  • “hard” connotations of lacking emotion.
  • “Look, inspector, I’d give thousands”
  • Sees money as the solution to everything.
  • Cares for his public appearance (especially his knighthood) – wants to avoid a scandal.

Paragraph 2:

  • Sheila’s sense of social responsibility
  • Initially – she doesn’t think about the consequences of her actions
  • But she is quick to realise her own guilt when the inspector arrives
  • “it didn’t seem to be anything very terrible at the time”
  • “We really must stop these silly pretences” – she understands that the inspector already know the truth
  • She sees that the family is entirely complicit
  • She is wracked with guilt – she changes – unlike the elders
  • “don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove the girl to suicide”.
  • Unlike her father, she develops a sense of her social duty


Paragraph 3:

  • Mrs Birling judges Eva Smith by her class, revealing her lack of conscience and sense of responsibility.
  • “girls of that class” – the tone conveys her distaste – she believes the lower class are different to the upper class – less important or valuable
  • Emphasis on “that” – almost spat out – emphasises her snobbery
  • Changes slightly when she realises her actions have killed her own grand-child
  • “I didn’t know – I didn’t understand” – repetition of “I didn’t” – emphasises her sense of panic and shame
  • Forced to see that her actions have consequences – sometimes close to home
  • She soon goes back to distancing herself from any responsibility – a static character – different to her children


Paragraph 4:

  • Gerald takes advantage of Eva’s poverty – does not see how his actions would make Sheila break off the engagement
  • Takes Eva as a mistress – brief happiness for Eva – Gerald had affection for her
  • No possibility of Gerald (upper class) having a relationship with Eva (working class)
  • Breaks Eva’s heart – “She looked young and fresh and charming…” – She only had value to him in her beauty
  • She massaged his ego – “I became at once the most important person in her life…”
  • He knew there could be no relationship but he strung her along
  • Gerald is different to the other characters because he showed some warmth – but he did not behave responsibly


Paragraph 5

  • The inspector is used to force the characters to confront their responsibilities
  • He isolates each and makes them see that their actions have had dire consequences
  • “Each of you helped to kill her”
  • He is the voice of the play-wright, carrying his message
  • “We are members of one body; we are all responsible for each other”
  • Priestley wants the audience to think about their own actions and responsibilities



  • The characters react differently to their own responsibilities
  • The young accept they have done wrong; the old do not
  • Priestley is optimistic – he suggests that the young are more likely to change than the old
  • The play is as effective now as in 1945
  • The theme of looking after one another will always be relevant