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An Inspector Calls - Extract 1

This is the first of two GCSE English Literature extract questions for An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley. You will notice that there are only four characters in this passage: the Inspector, Mrs Birling, Mr Birling and Sheila. Where are the others? Read the passage through at least twice before answering the questions. When answering, try to remember everything you know about the play and its themes, but also pay very close attention to the details of this particular passage.

How to answer an extract question in an exam:

When preparing to answer an extract question, be sure to read through the passage more than once. Sometimes it’s a good idea to read through first without stopping, then to read again more slowly, making notes or annotations.

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Ask yourself why this passage has been chosen, why is it important? Where does it come in the text? Does it introduce significant characters or significant themes? What happens afterwards? Does the passage foreshadow later events? Do any characters experience change? Think about the point where the extract ends: why do you think it ends where it does instead of somewhere else? What is significant about the final line?

When answering an extract question, it’s important to focus on exactly what the question has asked you to discuss. This might be a particular character, mood and atmosphere, dialogue, behaviour or feelings. Always explain the passage’s immediate context: what events precede the extract? Pay close attention to the detail of the passage, to setting and characterisation. Explain how the passage relates to the themes of the text. Try, where possible, to group related ideas together, but be sure to discuss the entire passage – it’s no good writing in detail about the first half of the extract while neglecting the second half!

Read the extract below carefully from An Inspector Calls before answering the questions.

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INSPECTOR: You’re not even sorry now, when you know what happened to the girl?
MRS BIRLING: I’m sorry she should have come to such a horrible end. But I accept no blame for it at all.
INSPECTOR: Who is to blame then?
MRS BIRLING: First, the girl herself.
SHEILA [bitterly]: For letting Father and me have her chucked out of her jobs!
MRS BIRLING: Secondly, I blame the young man who was the father of the child she was going to have. If, as she said, he didn’t belong to her class, and was some drunken young idler, then that’s all the more reason he shouldn’t escape. He should be made an example of. If the girl’s death is due to anybody, then it’s due to him.
INSPECTOR: And if her story is true — that he was stealing money —
MRS BIRLING [rather agitated now]: There’s no point in assuming that —
INSPECTOR: But suppose we do, what then?
MRS BIRLING: Then he’d be entirely responsible — because the girl wouldn’t have come to us, and have been refused assistance, if it hadn’t been for him —
INSPECTOR: So he’s the chief culprit anyhow.
MRS BIRLING: Certainly. And he ought to be dealt with very severely —
SHEILA [with sudden alarm]: Mother — stop — stop!
BIRLING: Be quiet, Sheila!
SHEILA: But don’t you see —–
MRS BIRLING [severely]: You’re behaving like an hysterical child tonight. [SHEILA begins crying quietly. MRS BIRLING turns to INSPECTOR.] And if you’d take steps to find this young man and then make sure that he’s compelled to confess in public his responsibility — instead of staying here asking quite unnecessary questions — then you really would be doing your duty.
INSPECTOR [grimly]: Don’t worry, Mrs Birling. I shall do my duty. [He looks at his watch.]

J. B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls and Other Plays (Penguin Books, 1969)
  1. What is the immediate context for this passage?
    Mrs Birling has been justifying her decision not to help the young woman and easily slides into insisting that the man who got Eva pregnant should be forced to face the consequences of his actions
  2. What immediately follows this passage?
    The family realise that Eric is the young man responsible for Eva Smith's pregnancy just as Eric returns home. Act Two ends dramatically with a curtain fall after Eric opens the door
  3. Who is the first to realise the implications of the Inspector's line of questioning?
    Sheila is the first to realise that her mother is condemning Eric without knowing it
  4. Which word best describes the mood of this passage?
    The audience, along with Sheila, understands exactly whom Mrs Birling has condemned and can foresee the unpleasant scene when Eric will be confronted by the Inspector
  5. Unlike the rest of her family, Sheila understands their responsibility for Eva Smith's death. Which of the following lines does NOT help create this impression?
    Sheila understands her father's guilt and then her own. She is the first of the family, besides Eric himself, to see her brother's guilt
  6. Which of the following statements most accurately describes the Inspector's questioning style in this passage?
    Mrs Birling would not be so quick to condemn her own son to anyone outside the family. She is more honest about her opinions because she thinks they apply to 'some drunken young idler' unknown to her
  7. What is the significance of the Inspector's statement, "Don’t worry, Mrs Birling. I shall do my duty"?
    Mrs Birling tries to dismiss the Inspector by implying that he should be looking for the culprit responsible for Eva Smith's pregnancy
  8. Which stage direction emphasises that the Inspector must wait for Eric to return?
    Even when the Inspector looks at his watch, Mrs Birling still does not understand the implications of his continuing presence in her house
  9. What does Sheila's crying reveal?
    Eric was the only member of the family not yet implicated in Eva Smith's death
  10. Which language choices demonstrate Mrs Birling's firm convictions while also ironically displaying her own hypocrisy?
    Mrs Birling refuses to acknowledge her own responsibility, does not confess except when forced to face the facts, and does not accept blame for her behaviour

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