An Inspector Calls - Character

This GCSE English Literature quiz looks at character in An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley.

J. B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls has only seven characters: Inspector Goole, Mr Birling, Mrs Birling, Sheila Birling, Eric Birling, Gerald Croft and Edna, who works in the family home. Eva Smith, a woman whose death is the catalyst for the events of the play, overshadows the drama without ever appearing. All that we learn of her is through the questioning of the Inspector and the recollections of others. In fact, she is not necessarily one person, but instead an amalgamation of the many young women with whom the family have come into contact.

Like Eva, the Birlings are symbolic of other members of their class: Mr Birling stands for wealthy bosses and Mrs Birling for wealthy, under-occupied women who wield influence through charity.

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Sheila and Eric represent the young members of their class who are expected to follow in their parents' footsteps but are at the same time more open to change. Gerald, who is older than the two younger Birlings, seems firmly set on becoming like the older generation. Edna fulfils a practical role in announcing the Inspector and answering the door. How does the family's attitude to Edna shed light on their attitudes to the working class?

In this play, the characters are not merely symbolic, however, but are also shown to be individuals. Does this statement apply to the Inspector himself? Do you consider him as a character, or as representative of something abstract, such as "conscience", or "justice"?

Character is extremely important in drama because it is one of the most significant ways through which the audience understands the text. See how well you understand the characters in An Inspector Calls by answering the questions below.

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  1. Which of the following best describes Sheila's attitude at hearing of the events which befell Eva Smith?
    Sheila's display of emotions leads her parents to dismiss her as hysterical, yet her response to the death of Eva Smith is in reality an honest, humane and empathetic one
  2. Which of the following does NOT describe the Inspector?
    The Inspector is determined to make the Birling family and Gerald face the truth about their behaviour. His manner is full of authority
  3. Which one of the following adjectives does NOT describe Eric?
    Eric is very young, enjoys going out and drinking too much, and does not think much about the impact his actions have on others
  4. Which of the following does NOT accurately describe Gerald?
    The introduction to Act One describes Gerald as "too manly to be a dandy". This places him in contrast to Eric
  5. Which of the following characteristics is evident in Gerald's treatment of Daisy Renton?
    Gerald admits he did not love Daisy, but he clearly treated her with some kindness. His relationship to Daisy shows that the powerful, even when well-meaning, can still have devastating effects on the lives of the poor and powerless
  6. At the beginning of Act One, Mr Birling is described as being 'rather provincial in his speech'. What does this mean?
    'Provincial' means from the provinces, i.e. he speaks in a regional dialect that is not considered as prestigious as an upper-class manner of speaking. This is one of the ways he shows himself to be his wife's social inferior
  7. Mr Birling is described as 'portentous'. Which of the following quotes best demonstrates this characteristic?
    "Portentous" also means "pompous" and "self-important". Mr Birling wants to impress the Inspector with his status and connections in the town
  8. Mrs Birling is described as being 'cold'. Which of the following quotations best demonstrates this quality?
    Mrs Birling's comment implies that she has no sympathy for the dead woman
  9. Which of the following best describes Sheila's character as she appears during the family celebration?
    At the beginning, Sheila is often described as speaking half-playfully, half-seriously. Before the Inspector's arrival, her tone is teasing, playful and joyful
  10. "The rude way he spoke to Mr Birling and me - it was quite extraordinary!" - Mrs Birling's exclamation illustrates which aspect of her character?
    Mrs Birling's manner of speaking makes clear her awareness of the higher social status she occupies. This awareness is evident in her dealings with others, except with Gerald, who shares her status

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