An Inspector Calls

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Inspector Goole Character Analysis

Goole is allegedly a police officer who has come to investigate the potential involvement of the Birlings in the recent suicide of a girl by the name of Eva Smith. Throughout the play, he conducts himself in a manner unsuitable for a police inspector: he takes moral stances throughout his interrogation, usually in support of labor rights, and in the end he universalizes Eva Smith’s case to the cases of many such disadvantaged lower class citizens throughout the country. In the end of the play, it turns that he is not an Inspector after all, and is suspected instead to be a person from the town with socialist tendencies and a grudge against Mr. Birling. The final revelation—the call from the infirmary that there really was a suicide—renews suspicion about the Inspector’s identity, as it makes it seem that Inspector Goole did somehow know what was going to happen, and was not merely seeking to make the Birlings cognizant of their moral wrongs.

Inspector Goole Quotes in An Inspector Calls

The An Inspector Calls quotes below are all either spoken by Inspector Goole or refer to Inspector Goole. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. edition of An Inspector Calls published in 1998.
Act 1 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspector Goole has now come to the Birling home and begun his inquiry. Goole begins by speaking to Mr. Birling about his relationship with Eva Smith, a former employee of his. Birling examines a photograph that Goole gives him, but when Birling's relatives want to look at the photograph as well, Goole prevents them from doing so. He explains that he wants to work with Birling, then proceed to the other family members.

Goole's explanation isn't entirely convincing, but it's designed to justify the slow, theatrical structure of the play itself. One by one, Goole will move from Mr. Birling to Sheila to Gerald, etc.--with each new character, we will learn more about the moral limitations of the Birling family. Of course, Goole's decision to show the photograph to only one person at a time is also practical--as we'll see, Goole is fooling the Birling family into thinking that they've wronged the same person; if Goole were to show the same photograph to two people, his illusion would be dispelled.

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Inspector: There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence, Miss Birling, in every city and big town in this country.
Sheila: But these girls aren’t cheap labor. They’re people.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Inspector Goole (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila continues to voice her support for Eva Smith and Eva's fellow workers. Unlike her father, who considers all his workers mere "objects," to be manipulated and changed as he sees fit, Sheila thinks that workers are human beings, too.

The passage is significant because Inspector Goole hints at the scale of the tragedy involved in Eva's suicide. Eva is just one woman, but she's indicative of a much broader trend in European society. In a country where there's lots of money concentrated in a few people's pockets, millions like Eva are forced to live hard lives, sometimes even ending with suicide. Although the play focuses on only one such worker, Goole makes it clear that "Eva Smith" could refer to any number of different people--a point that will come back to haunt the Birling family in Act III of the play.

Gerald: We’re respectable citizens and not dangerous criminals.
Inspector: Sometimes there isn’t as much difference as you think.

Related Characters: Gerald Croft (speaker), Inspector Goole (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gerald Croft angrily tells Inspector Goole that Goole shouldn't be harrassing the Birling family. He claims that the Birlings are a respectable group--they're not criminals. Goole coolly replies that criminality and respectability aren't so different, deep down. Goole's statement could serve as a kind of thesis statement for the play itself: although the Birlings, and plenty of other families like them, are seen as normal and respectable in their capitalistic society, their money and good manners conceal a secret deviousness and vindictiveness that causes misery to other people, usually without punishment. It seems to be Goole's goal to bring some punishment, or at least self-awareness, to the Birlings.

The passage further suggests the link between capitalism and misery. Birling professes to be a good man and a good businessmen, and yet he only ascends to become wealthy by treating his workers horribly. Perhaps it's impossible to be a great businessman and a moral human being at the same time: businessmen are rewarded for ignoring their workers' feelings and needs.

Act 2 Quotes

Miss Birling has just been made to understand what she did to this girl. She feels responsible. And if she leaves us now, and doesn’t hear any more, then she’ll feel she’s entirely to blame, she’ll be alone with her responsibility.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Sheila, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gerald tries to get Sheila, his fiancé, to leave the room. Gerald pretends that he's doing so in order to "spare" Sheila from tragic information. But it's perfectly obvious that he's trying to get Sheila out of earshot so that she doesn't hear anything more about his marital infidelities. Inspector Goole calmly replies that the "right" thing to do would be to keep Sheila in the room--if she were to leave now, she'd get the wrong idea and assume that she was solely responsible for a woman's death.

This is one of the key passages in the play, because it says a lot about the Inspector's motives. In one sense, Inspector Goole seems to be trying to cause the Birling family as much pain as possible--although he frames his response to Gerald in moral terms, his real motive is punishment, not kindness. And yet Goole does make a fair point: the  Birlings are all equally guilty of Eva Smith's death (it's not just Sheila's fault). By now, it's pretty clear that Goole already knows that the other Birlings played a part in Eva's suicide--the only remaining mystery is how. By staying in the room, Sheila mitigates her sense of guilt, but also comes to see how immoral her supposedly respectable family really is.

If there’s nothing else, we’ll have to share our guilt.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspector Goole isn't like any police officer the Birlings have ever seen before (an early sign that he's not, in fact, a police officer at all!). He's fond of theorizing and moralizing at the most inappropriate times. Here, he suggests that as the Birling family becomes increasingly aware of its role in Eva Smith's suicide, they'll have to share their guilt. In a way, sharing guilt is what families are meant to do: instead of punishing just one person with the blame, the family dilutes blame by spreading it around and supporting each other.

Goole's statement raises another important question--who is truly responsible for Eva Smith's suicide? By now, it's pretty clear that no single person pushed Eva to suicide; instead, everybody was a little bit responsible, a fact that allows for convincing deniability. (For example, Arthur Birling claims that many other factors must have caused Eva's suicide.) It's as if the Birling family itself (and unrestricted capitalism, which it represents) is one single, evil character--a character that clearly caused Eva's death. 

You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Inspector's questions to Mrs. Birling become considerably more pointed and accusatory. It has come out that Mrs. Birling used her influenced position in a charity to deny care and comfort to Eva Smith (now possibly named Daisy Renton) when she came for help. Smith was pregnant, it's revealed: she wanted charity from Mrs. Birling, but Mrs. Birling gave her none.

Inspector Goole's accusations suggest that Mrs. Birling has committed a grave sin: she refused help, not only to a grown woman but also to a child. Mrs. Birling claims that the woman should have known better, but such an explanation simply isn't satisfactory. While Mrs. Birling objects to Eva Smith for having gotten pregnant without being married, her refusal to help Eva Smith punishes an innocent child for its parents' supposed mistakes. Goole phrases his indictment of Mrs. Birling in highly gendered language: it's particularly bad for Mrs. Birling to deny Eva help, he claims, because Mrs. Birling herself has been a mother. Mrs. Birling refused to listen to one of the most basic instincts in her body--a mother's instinct to help other mothers--because of her narrow morality and her petty emphasis on appearances and class.

Act 3 Quotes

There’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Birling family has descended into arguing. A once-happy betrothed couple has split up, and everyone else is shouting at one another. The Birlings have learned that they're all greedy, drunk, disloyal, and even complicit in a woman's death. Goole listens to the Birlings arguing, and tells them that they'll have to work out their new "relationships" later--for now, they need to focus on Eva Smith.

Goole's statement can be taken in any number of senses. First, it's a sign that the Birlings, in spite of the new information they've received, are still making a big mistake: they're focusing too exclusively on each other's private faults, instead of showing real compassion for the deceased, or accepting the larger social ramifications of their actions (the fact that because they are so wealthy and powerful, they have undue influence over others). Second, Goole's statement reminds us that his investigation has permanently changed the Birling family. It's possible that the family will be permanently disgraced, or fall apart from within. Yet it's also possible that the Birlings--particularly Sheila--will learn from the experience and try to become better people.

This girl killed herself—and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. But then I don’t think you ever will.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

The Inspector comes to the conclusion he's been anticipating this entire time. He's shown the Birling family that they caused the death of Eva Smith: in various ways, each Birling (and Gerald) has ruined Smith's life and pushed her to kill herself. Goole predicts that the Birlings will never be able to forget their sins.

Why, exactly, did Goole come to visit the Birlings? His visit seems far different from that of a typical police officer: he seems more philosophical, and more concerned with morality than with solving a crime. It's as if Goole just wants to teach the Birlings a lesson about the importance of personal responsibility. While Arthur Birling wants to believe that it's "every man for himself," Goole has endeavored to prove the opposite point of view.

There are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Inspector proceeds with his indictment of the Birling family, he gives a kind of "moral" for the investigation. The Birlings have tried to pretend that they're all alone in the world, responsible for each other, but nobody else. The truth, Goole insists, is that all people are responsible for other people. The only way to lead a moral life, then, is to care about strangers, and to treat all people with respect. This relatively personal lesson is then a clear analogy to the class politics Priestley has been alluding to throughout--in pure capitalism, the wealthy only look out for themselves at the expense of all others, while in socialism (the ideology Priestley espoused) everyone supports everyone else.

The passage is also critical because it shows that Goole's motives for visiting the Birling family weren't just moral or criminal punishment. Instead of ruining the Birlings' reputations, he wanted to teach them to be better people. While certain members of the Birling family seem not to have understood Goole's point (Arthur Birling, for example), others, such as Sheila, seem to have gotten the message--perhaps Sheila will try to be a better person from now on.

Whoever that chap was, the fact remains that I did what I did. And Mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her. It’s still the same rotten story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or to somebody else.

Related Characters: Eric (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Inspector Goole
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila isn't the only one who's learned a valuable lesson from Inspector Goole. Eric, Sheila's sister, agrees that it doesn't matter whether or not Inspector Goole was a "real" police officer or not. Goole's credentials don't change the fact that Eric did what Goole said he did: he impregnated an unmarried woman and then abandoned her.

The passage reinforces the possibility that some of the characters will choose to learn from their mistakes. Eric probably won't face any actual punishment from society for his actions, and yet it seems that he'll try to be more morally upright in the future, never again hypocritically claiming to be a "good" man when he's not.

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Inspector Goole Character Timeline in An Inspector Calls

The timeline below shows where the character Inspector Goole appears in An Inspector Calls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Edna enters and announces that a police inspector by the name of Goole has called on an important matter. Birling instructs her to let him in, and jokes... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
When Birling presses the Inspector on the reason for his appearance, he explains that he is investigating the suicide of... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald and Eric attempt to look at the photograph as well, but the Inspector does not allow them, preferring to work on only one line of inquiry at a... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
At the Inspector’s prying, Birling admits that he does remember Eva Smith, and that he had discharged her... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the girl’s suicide, because her time at his business long preceded her death, but the Inspector disagrees, explaining that what happened to her at the business might have determined what happened... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...in with a reference to his father’s previous pep talk, and Birling explains to the Inspector that he had recently been giving Gerald and Eric some good advice. Then Birling describes... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
After the Inspector expresses allegiance with Eric’s disapproval, Birling inquires how well the Inspector knows Chief Constable. The... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...the same position, he would have let them stay. Birling chastises Eric, then asks the Inspector what happened to the girl after he let her go. Sheila enters the room; when... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
When Birling and Gerald chime in that there’s nothing more to be revealed, the Inspector asks if they’re sure they don’t know what happened to the girl afterward, suggesting that... (full context)
Class Politics Theme Icon
The Inspector reminds the family that Eva Smith used more than one name, and then tells them... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...asks what the girl looked like, and then sobs and leaves the room when the Inspector shows her the girl’s photograph. Birling scolds the Inspector for upsetting his daughter and their... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald asks the Inspector if he can look at the photograph, but the Inspector reiterates his preference for maintaining... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Sheila re-enters and asks the Inspector if he knew all the time that she was guilty. The Inspector says that he... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...her and had looked better on the girl. When Sheila effusively expresses her remorse, the Inspector harshly responds that it’s too late. (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
The Inspector continues on with his narrative of the dead girl’s difficult travails, now adding that after... (full context)
Act 2
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...the end of Act 1, except that the main table is slightly more upstage. The Inspector remains at the door, and then enters the room and looks expectantly to Gerald. Gerald... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...offends her and she accuses him of judging her to be selfish and vindictive. The Inspector offers his interpretation that Sheila simply doesn’t want to be alone with her responsibility and... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...Mrs. Birling strides in. She has been informed of the proceedings, and insists to the Inspector that the family will not be able to assist him any more. Sheila begs her... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...again warns her mother against building a wall between herself and the girl that the Inspector is bound to tear town. Mrs. Birling continues on in this vein, taking offense at... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that Eric has refused to go to bed as his father asked him, because the Inspector has requested that he stay. He asks the Inspector if this is true, and then... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Birling takes offense at the Inspector’s tone and handling of the inquiry. The Inspector coolly proceeds to ask Gerald when he... (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Gerald apologizes to the Inspector, but Sheila insists that she rather more deserves the apology. The Inspector asks firsts whether... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...he doesn’t think so, before he walks out the door. Sheila points out that the Inspector never showed Gerald the picture of the girl, and the Inspector responds that he didn’t... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Inspector shows the photograph to Mrs. Birling, who denies recognizing it. The Inspector accuses her of... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...and there is some question about whether Gerald has returned or Eric has left. The Inspector continues his interrogation of Mrs. Birling by identifying her as a prominent member of the... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mr. Birling asks why his wife should answer the Inspector’s questions, and the Inspector informs him that the girl had appealed to the Women’s Charity... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Inspector asks Mrs. Birling why the girl wanted help, and Mrs. Birling initially refuses to answer,... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Inspector states that he thinks she has done something very wrong that she will regret for... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
The Inspector adds that it was because she was pregnant that she appealed to the Women’s Charity... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...girl money, but that she didn’t want to take it because it was stolen. The Inspector asks Mrs. Birling if it wasn’t a good thing that the girl refused to take... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...her mother, and asks her if she doesn’t see what’s going on, right after the Inspector voices his eagerness for Eric’s return. When the door slams, signifying Eric’s return, Mrs. Birling... (full context)
Act 3
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...Eric is standing near the entrance of the room and asks if they know. The Inspector confirms that they do, and Sheila reveals that their mother placed blame on whichever young... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
The Inspector leadingly asks Eric if the girl found out that his money had been stolen, and... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
The Inspector states that he does not need to know any more, and reminds the family that... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
The Inspector deduces a moral from the investigation—though Eva Smith has gone, there are millions and millions... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...her parents are acting as though nothing has happened. She then wonders aloud whether the Inspector wasn’t actually a police inspector at all. Birling judges that it would make a big... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Edna announces Gerald’s entrance. Gerald inquires how the Inspector behaved with them since his departure, and then he reveals that the Inspector wasn’t a... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...anything to do about it. Birling agrees with his wife, and adds that that the Inspector may not be the end of it. (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...know that they’ve all committed offenses to the same girl, suggesting that the photographs the Inspector showed the family members might actually have been distinct photographs, and not of the same... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald asks what happened after he’d left. Mrs. Birling recounts that the Inspector accused her of seeing Eva Smith only two weeks previous, and that she had assented... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...he knew is dead, even though he has no evidence for it apart from the Inspector’s testimony. (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Birling triumphantly continues to hypothesize that the Inspector simply shocked them into submission with his initial description of the girl’s suicide, in order... (full context)