An Inspector Calls: End of Act 1

Extract Question:

Reread from: ‘Inspector: (harshly) Yes but you can’t.  It’s too late.’ to the end of Act 1.  What does this section reveal about the characters and what is dramatically effective?


The inspector’s references to Eva are brutally realistic: he states ‘She’s dead’ and re-uses the word in his phrase ‘that dead girl’ after Sheila’s self-pitying, shallow question ‘why had this have to happen?’; the finality of Eva;s death is further emphasised by the inspector not using her name.  He is relentless, revisiting Birling’s ruthlessness and Sheila’s pettiness to ensure Sheila realises that they are responsible for her destruction.  His ‘steady’ response  and ‘stern’ tone confirms his authority and control.

Gerald is shocked by the name ‘Daisy Renton’.  Specially notable is his ‘startled’ stage direction being contrasted with the Inspector’s steely ‘steadily’.  The stage business of going to the whisky decanter dramatically delays the dialogue as well as indicating the degree to which he is unsettled.  This lack of dialogue raises audience anticiption but instead of the inspector pressing home his advantage he leaves – but not before looking ‘from Sheila to Gerald’ signifying that he expects Sheila to dig out some of the truth whilst he is out.    She starts immediately with an uncompromsing ‘Well, Gerald?’  Gerald denies involvement, as other characters have previously, but the audience knows he is involved because his ‘What!’ response to Daisy’s name is wholly involuntary.  He later ineffectively tries to ‘leave it at that’ but Sheila is determined to discover the truth and won’t be put off by being called ‘darling’ or by weedling charming smile.

Tension mounts at the end of Act 1, with Sheila’s awareness that ‘We haven’t got much time.’ And further pressure is put on Gerald through her persistent questioning.   Sheila concludes with the triumphant and emotional repetition of ‘You’ll see’; this emphasises the sense of inevitability and the audience begins to view the inspector as a champion of the oppressed.   There is considerable dramatic irony in Gerald’s wish that the inspector be fobbed off; the audience is aware that there is no chance of this happening and that there will be a showdown with Gerald; the tension at the end of the act is thereby rachetted up; we know Gerald will reveal all.  The Inspector’s ‘Well’ finally raises the tension even more, at the end of the Act – it echoes Sheila’s ‘Well, Gerald?’: they are now both on the same track in their search for the truth and they remain so to the end of the play.

PART OF A STUDENT’S  ESSAY (with some minor amendments)

The way that Sheila laughs ‘rather hysterically’ and says he knows what we don’t know yet’ shows her fear of what is to come.  Her repetition of ‘you’ll see’ adds to the hysteria seen in her by the audience and increases the sense of impending doom.  It also shows how much she has changed since the beginning of the play.  On this point, she had suspicions about Gerald not seeing her during the summer of 1911, at the very beginning of the play but was not willing to find out about the truth, now she is actively trying to reveal it.  In this extract, when she is ‘staring at’ Gerald, we see the power of silence at the start of her ‘interrogation’.  She is searching for clues, waiting for him to explain and to confess.

Once Gerald finally looks ‘crushed’ and he understands his involvement is important,  the slow and inevitable opening of the door builds up to the Inspector’s question of ‘Well?’  A dramatic moment that reveals his full knowledge and understanding of not only the characters but also what they have been saying.  He is implacable and the audience realises that the characters cannot conceal either their involvement or their responsibility for the callous behaviour that have led to the death of Eva Smith.

Evaluation of student’s essay:

In this sample essay, does the student answer the question?

  • Does she deal with what is revealed about the characters?  if so, summarise what is revealed.
  • Does she deal with what is dramatically effective?  If so, list the moments and the reason for their effectiveness.
  • What do you feel has been missed about characterisation and dramatic impact?
Some common essay errors:

Not answering the question

Too much time spent on other parts of the text – in the extract question, only cross-refer to other parts of the text briefly to highlight the meaning of something in the passage given.

Referring to ‘the reader’ or ‘ the book’ instead of to  ‘ the audience’ and ‘the play’


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