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An Inspector Calls - Extract 2

This GCSE English Literature quiz will test you on an extract from An Inspector Calls by JB Priestley.

It’s a good idea to practise several extract questions. Analysing brief passages from a text will really help you to develop your skills in close reading. This is the second of two extract questions for An Inspector Calls. This passage appears much earlier in the play than the first extract. You will notice that the mood and atmosphere are different. Once again there are only four characters present: the Inspector, Mr Birling, Gerald and Eric. They are discussing Eva Smith, a woman who is not present, but whose terrible fate dominates the play. 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.

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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. 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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BIRLING [after a pause, with a touch of impatience]: Well, what is it then?
INSPECTOR: I’d like some information, if you don’t mind, Mr Birling. Two hours ago a young woman died in the Infirmary. She’d been taken there this afternoon because she’d swallowed a lot of strong disinfectant. Burnt her inside out, of course.
ERIC [involuntarily]: My God!
INSPECTOR: Yes, she was in great agony. They did everything they could for her at the Infirmary, but she died. Suicide of course.
BIRLING [rather impatiently]: Yes, yes. Horrible business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector —
INSPECTOR [cutting through, massively]: I’ve been round to the room she had, and she’d left a letter there and a sort of diary. Like a lot of these young women who get into various kinds of trouble, she’d used more than one name. But her original name — her real name — was Eva Smith.
BIRLING [thoughtfully]: Eva Smith?
INSPECTOR: Do you remember her, Mr Birling?
BIRLING [slowly]: No — I seem to remember hearing that name — Eva Smith — somewhere. But it doesn’t convey anything to me. And I don’t see where I come into this.
INSPECTOR: She was employed in your works at one time.
BIRLING: Oh — that’s it, is it? Well, we’ve several hundred young women there, y’know, and they keep changing.
INSPECTOR: This young woman, Eva Smith, was a bit out of the ordinary. I found a photograph of her in her lodgings. Perhaps you’d remember her from that.

[INSPECTOR takes a photograph, about postcard size, out of his pocket and goes to BIRLING. Both GERALD and ERIC rise to have a look at the photograph, but the INSPECTOR interposes himself between them and the photograph. They are surprised and rather annoyed. BIRLING stares hard, and with recognition, at the photograph, which the INSPECTOR then replaces in his pocket.]

GERALD [showing annoyance]: Any particular reason why I shouldn’t see this girl’s photograph, Inspector?
INSPECTOR [coolly, looking hard at him]: There might be.
ERIC: And the same applies to me, I suppose?
INSPECTOR: Yes.
GERALD: I can’t imagine what it could be.
ERIC: Neither can I.
BIRLING: And I must say, I agree with them, Inspector.
INSPECTOR: It’s the way I like to go to work. One person and one line of inquiry at a time. Otherwise there’s a muddle.
BIRLING: I see. Sensible really.

J. B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls and Other Plays (Penguin Books, 1969)
  1. What is the immediate context to this passage?
    The arrival of the Inspector interrupts Mr Birling's lecture to the two younger men on responsibility
  2. What immediately follows?
    Mr Birling is the first to be interrogated
  3. Which line best conveys the disposable nature of human labour to men like Mr Birling?
    Mr Birling speaks as if the changing workforce is entirely out of his control, as if he does not personally sack workers
  4. Why will the Inspector not show Gerald the photograph?
    Later the family realise they might not all have been shown the same photograph
  5. Which word expresses the Inspector's attitude toward Gerald?
    The stage directions specify that the Inspector responds "coolly" to Gerald's request to see the photograph
  6. Does Mr Birling know who Eva Smith is?
    He stares at her photo "with recognition"
  7. Which of the following accurately depicts the changes in Mr Birling's attitude to the Inspector conveyed in this passage?
    When reading drama, it is important to pay attention to the stage directions
  8. The Inspector tells the men that Eva Smith used more than one name. Why will this be important later?
    At the end of the play, only Eric and Sheila are willing to acknowledge that they are still guilty whether Eva Smith, Daisy Renton and the pregnant young woman who appealed for help are the same or different women
  9. How could the mood of this passage best be described?
    The audience realises by the Inspector's manner that the unwilling men will be forced to listen to him. The men are slow to realise they might be held accountable to someone below their social status and this disjunction creates some tension in the scene
  10. Who shows any sign of sympathy with Eva Smith?
    After hearing about the terrible form of Eva Smith's suicide, Eric exclaims, "My God!". Neither Mr Birling nor Gerald comment

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