The meaning of the word catalyst in a dictionary is “substance that speeds up a chemical reaction without itself changing” (Collins gem English dictionary, p 80). The inspector is a catalyst, as he is asking the questions which cause the character he is asking to answer and tell the story of their involvement with Eva Smith and the listening characters to react upon the response, without actually being involved himself. He speeds up the process by having all the characters present when one is being questioned, I can tell this as when he is talking to Mr Birling, Gerald asks “Wouldn’t you rather I was out of this?” (Gerald, act one, p 13), the inspector says, “I’d prefer if you stay.” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 13). I think this is because he wants all the characters to know the whole story of Eva Smiths life from when she was fired by Mr Birling, this way they can all fill in the part where they are involved in order when the inspector asks them to.
I think the inspectors general way of questioning is very clever as he either shows them a photograph or gets them to confirm they knew her by other means such as a changed name is Gerald’s case. Once he has the confirmation he gives them a small amount of information to trigger the characters memory, he then begins to ask his questions which are very short and to the point. After he has asked the question the characters seem to tell him everything they know or knew about her including their input on her life. So really he asks the question then lets the character dig themselves a grave as it were.
This is the basic outline of the inquest in to each character, but of course there are slight variations between each character and small differences. Which is why I am going to examine the way the inspector interacted with each of the characters in turn. Starting with Mr Birling as he has the longest history with Eva Smith and ending with Mrs Birling as she has the shortest history with Eva Smith as she only met her two weeks ago. I will show two things that the inspector did, one is how Inspector Goole drew the truth out of them and two is how he made each of the characters face up to their responsibility concerning the suicide of Eva Smith.
Mr Birling: Mr Birling is the first person the inspector speaks to when he enters the dining room, this is because he is the head of the household and it was customary for people to speak to him first as he was considered the most important over his family and Gerald. Inspector Goole draws the truth out of Mr Birling by telling Gerald, Eric and Mr Birling the details of Eva Smith’s suicide, including all the gory details. This doesn’t have much of an effect on Mr Birling and he seems to show impatience more than anything, “(rather impatiently) Yes, yes. Horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here Inspector” (Mr Birling, act one, p 12).
The inspector informs them that he has “been round to the room she had, and she’d left a letter there and a sort of diary…her real name – was Eva Smith.” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 12). The inspector only asks him three questions regarding Eva Smith, the first one is “Do you remember her, Mr Birling?” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 12), Mr Birling doesn’t remember her much, inspector Goole reminds him that she was once employed at one of his factories; this still doesn’t trigger Mr Birling’s memory so Inspector Goole shows him a photograph. He then says, “I think you remember Eva Smith now, don’t you, Mr Birling?” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 13), this is his second question.
Mr Birling then tells them a small bit of information, which the inspector already seems to know as he confirm the date that Mr Birling says he discharged her on. There is a gap here in the questioning when Eric interrupts and Gerald asks if he should leave, the inspector says no. This seems to trigger an emotion in Mr Birling and he gets protective of himself proclaiming “Look – there’s nothing mysterious – or scandalous – about this business – or at least not as far as I’m concerned.” (Mr Birling, act one, p 11). There is a small part when Eric begins to repeat what Mr Birling had told them earlier about the “a man has to mind his own business and look after his own” (Mr Birling, act one, p 10) speech. Mr Birling doesn’t seem to want to talk about this in front of the inspector so he tells the rest of his story without any interruptions. That is how Inspector Goole drew the truth out of Mr Birling.
Sheila enters the room just as Mr Birling is asking what happened to her after he had sacked her, right on cue in my opinion as this is where Sheila also comes into Eva Smiths life. I think Priestley set it out like this to make things nice and simple for the audience to understand. Sheila seems to genuinely care about the girl, so when she recognises Eva Smith from the photograph the inspector shows her and realises she has destroyed her life after her father has already done so she is so grief stricken she runs out of the room crying. This makes Mr Birling very angry, understandably, as she had been so happy just hours ago. He had tried to get her out of the room as he believed she had nothing to do with the investigation.
When she eventually comes back with tear stains on her face she has calmed down, she first asked if what she did made much of a difference to Eva Smith’s life, she is told that “you’re partly to blame. Just as your father is.” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 23). Its Eric who actually asks what she had done, and Sheila begins to tell them that she had “gone to the manager at Milwards and told him that if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again” (Sheila, act one, p 23). The inspector then asks her questions, partly for their knowledge and partly to make her feel guiltier. Then he asks her “What happened?” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 23), she then tells the whole story and how she only did it because she was jealous. By asking short questions like these inspector Goole was able to extract all the information he wanted from her.
Once he knows the story concerning Sheila he makes her feel horrid by rubbing in the fact that it was so mean, by saying to her, “you might be said to have been jealous of her” and had “used the power you had, as the daughter of a good customer and also of a man well known in the town, to punish the girl just because she made you feel like that”(Inspector Goole, act one, p 24) and when Sheila says “Yes…if I could help her now, I would” (Sheila, act one, p 24) he makes her feel even worse by harshly saying, “Yes, but you can’t, It’s too late. She’s dead.”(Inspector Goole, act one, p 24). By doing this he made her face up to the responsibility she has towards the suicide of Eva Smith.
Gerald; After the inspector had questioned Sheila and had all of the information he wanted from her he begins to tell them what happened to Eva Smith after Sheila had got her fired from her job at Milwards, “She changed her name to Daisy Renton” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 25) then Gerald says (startled) “What?”(Gerald, act one, p 25). This gives him away as knowing of her immediately and the inspector of course notices this and after he gets back from briefly going to find Mr Birling he begins the questioning. “Well?” (Inspector Goole, act one, p 26). Here act two begins. Gerald wants to get Sheila out of the room so he can’t hear his secret, the inspector says she can but she wants to hear the rest of the questioning. Mrs Birling comes in before he has answered so there is a gap in which Sheila and Mrs Birling argue about Eric’s drinking.
After inspector Goole has explained what everyone knows so far to Mr and Mrs Birling he asks Gerald “when did you first get to know her?” (Inspector Goole, act two, p 33). Gerald first acts dumb pretending he doesn’t know what the inspector is on about, which makes the inspector ‘s job of getting the truth out of them a bit harder, though when Inspector Goole says that he already knew and Sheila gave him away he decides its best to tell the truth, “All right, if you must have it.” (Gerald, act two, p 34). Sheila is more of a hindrance then a help to the inspector as she wants to hear all about it and Gerald is rather put of with her around making comments like “Well, we didn’t think you meant Buckingham Palace.” (Sheila, act two, p 34).
He tells his story, with the inspector turning on anyone who got in the way, for example with Mr Birling, when he says (angrily) “I really must protest -“, (Mr Birling, act two, p 37) “Why should you do any protesting? It was you who turned the girl out in the first place.” (Inspector Goole, act two, p 37). I don’t think that the inspector needed to make Gerald face up to any responsibility as he was probably the one bright spark in her life since when she was fired, he took pity on her and liked her. The only thing he needs to feel guilty about in my eyes is the fact that he cheated on Sheila. I think that this play is more about the Birling family characters facing up to responsibility more than anyone else, and that they are the main ones who need to feel guilty, not Gerald Croft.