The play interrogates the way that people construct, construe, and apply their moral values, especially in relation to legality and illegality. Do actions have moral consequence in themselves, or in relation to their effects on other people; or can we only measure morality in relation to legal rulings? When the legal consequences of the truths revealed by the Inspector’s questioning have been removed (through the revelation that the Inspector is not, in fact, an inspector), there remains a question about what significance and moral weight the uncovered truths hold. The status of their significance changes at each level of revelation: that the Inspector wasn’t an inspector, that the girl wasn’t all the same girl, that the girl didn’t commit suicide.
After the discovery that the Inspector wasn’t an inspector, Eric declares, “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.” After the discovery that there was no suicide, Mr. Birling declares, “But the whole thing’s different now… And the artful devil knew all the time nobody had died and the whole story was bunkum”; at the same time, Sheila insists, “Everything we said had happened really had happened. If it didn’t end tragically, then that’s lucky for us. But it might have done.” The final turn—the police’s phone call reporting a suicide—confirms Sheila’s view that, given the facts revealed by the Inspector, it was only a matter of luck that something tragic didn’t ensue that time—as something tragic did, in fact, ensue shortly after.
While Mr. and Mrs. Birling feel wholly relieved of their guilt by the final revelation, Sheila and Eric insist at each level that the truths uncovered by the Inspector about the family’s actions still remain significant and entail moral consequences. The play’s conclusion suggests the playwright’s sympathy with Sheila and Eric’s view.
Morality and Legality ThemeTracker
Morality and Legality Quotes in An Inspector Calls
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.
If all that’s come out tonight is true, then it doesn’t much matter who it was who made us confess.
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.