An Inspector Calls is a fascinating thriller by J. B. Priestley with an even more mind-boggling ending. Have you ever wondered what the ending meant? Or who the inspector is? The story is engaging and gradually works its way up to the climactic ending. But after reading it, I felt both exhilarated and baffled. Below are some thoughts on the ending. For an analysis of the character of the Inspector, check out my post An Inspector Calls Character Analysis: Who was the Inspector? You can also find more information on the dreaded Mr Birling and capitalism on one of my posts.

So what is the ending of An Inspector Calls and how it be explained?

The Inspector leaves the Birlings who then take it upon themselves to call up the police force to inquire about an Inspector Goole. However, no such person exists according to the police. The older Birlings breathe a sigh of relief, thinking that it was all a big prank, whilst the younger members think on the errors of their ways. Just then, Arthur Birling receives a telephone call from the police informing them that a young girl had died and that the police were on their way to question them. The Birlings have not gotten away with it after all!

The question is, what on Earth was going on? There are several ways of looking at it.

  • The Inspector was a supernatural being (kind of like the ghosts who visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol) who took it upon himself to show the Birlings the error of their ways and to get justice for Eva. This can be explained by the Inspector essentially knowing that the Birlings would be questioned and the fact that Eva had not yet been found when the Inspector came to question the Birlings.
  • It doesn’t matter who or what the Inspector was. It was all just a plot device to make the reader think about the social issues. The Inspector may not have even been a real person. He could just be a symbolism of justice against the suppression suffered by the lower classes.
  • Crazy theory here and quite dark, but if you look at it from a completely different angle you could say that the Inspector was in on it. Think about it, some random guy shows up, guilt trips the Birlings into thinking that they are guilty of something. The guy disappears and next thing you know, the police are calling about Eva. The so-called Inspector knew about Eva before anyone else did. Could he have somehow been involved and covered it up to look like something else?

I’m more inclined to go with the first two theories. Either way, An Inspector Calls has a powerful message and the ending with the Birlings not getting away with it makes for a very good one.


30 thoughts on “An Inspector Calls: Ending Explained

    1. Hey I am isla in inspector calls there is something mr goole says he says there are millions and millions and millions of Eva smiths and John smiths , now my theory is that inspector goole is obviously not an inspector so I think he was that John smith eva / daisys dad or father and he knew about these birlings and what they did and he found Eva / daisy dead and wanted to avenge her by going out to the birlings home and exposing their secrets and ways to the family and when he got home he then called the hospital with a suicide .

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  1. At the end, I was expecting Goole to take Eva by the hand and lead her to heaven. Much the same as Robert Redford did with Gladys Cooper in a Twilight Zone episode.

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  2. Good theories. I felt since Inspector Goule knew what was going to happen even before they did and all the events relating and leading to it, he must be DEATH in a human form. Eva was able to see him right before she was going to die and the nurse could not see him after that. It was like Death came at the right time and took Eva with him. I felt moved by how kind and warm they had portrayed the inspector when he stood looking at her with a sad look and holding her hand after she died. I am so used to seeing death as cold imagery.

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    1. That’s a really good way of looking at it Preethi. The inspector can be seen almost like an avenging angel seeking justice. I see what you mean by the imagery and how he is portrayed as reacting differently to various characters.


  3. This brings back such amazing memories, we did this in English class, set as the play with the positioning of the characters ans I could not wait for the next class it was so thrilling to read. I always had Inspector Goole (possibly Ghoul?) as a calm, measured man and was really disappointed when, years later when my daughter was also doing it in school, we saw it in the theatre and the actor played the Inspector in a bombastic fashion which completely destroyed it for me. It is a brilliant play. Thank you for the memory.

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    1. Yes, I agree, I think Inspector Goole has a lot of control and should be portrayed in a calm and measured way. Glad it brought back good memories!


  4. Enjoyed the movie version, but not a fan of incomplete or confusing endings. Makes me bonkers when writers do this. It is as if the writer did not know how to end their story. I’m glad I can upon these observations. I can stop wondering now, and I can add this to my Disappointing Endings list. Thank you.

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  5. I’ve recently watched the 2015 BBC version for probably the third time. The book is an absolute classic and the BBC rendition was a masterclass in both writing and acting.

    David Thewlis played Inspector Goole perfectly. He showed empathy towards Eva Smith and downright disdain for the truly awful Birlings.

    If you get a chance to see this BBC version then you must take it!

    Five stars. *****

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  6. Good theories. I believed the inspector to represent a supernatural being of some sort…like an angel of justice. He went to the family before the death actually occurred, to trigger a degree of self awareness of their roles in this young woman’s death and to help them atone to some extent….hoping that they would amend their social actions/interactions going forward in the future. After Goole’s departure, and the whole thing was thought to be a hoax, sadly only 2 individuals understood the gravity of the role and were sincerely remorseful( the son and daughter). The others were quite jubilant and happy, more so because their reputations were still intact, until news of the actual death had been received via phone. Great movie.

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    1. I really like your interpretation. You can certainly think of it as a higher/supernatural being who has come to give the wrongdoers a second chance to change their ways. It is really interesting to see the different responses to this accusation from the different characters.


  7. I saw this movie from 2015 yesterday and I was a bit puzzled by the ending, until I read some explainations on the Internet, like yours. : )
    I think that the inspector was some kind of spirit. That explains a lot ! For instance why he did not stop Eva from commit suicide. If he would have been a living person he would have had even more guilt for not trying to stop her, since he knew about her plans ! It would have been a great hypocrisy of him if he would have been a living person. But as a spirit of some kind it makes much more sence.
    But I disagree with the degree of guilt the inspector put on the individuals. Sure they had a part in making her commit suicide but we all got the responsibility ourself for our actions, no matter how tough our life may have been.
    The last thing. If he would have been an angel (in real life) he would not have had that attitude towards the family and not judging them. Real angels don’ t do that. People do.


  8. It’s just a deeper irony in this morality play in showing that the three older characters react with a self serving relief and celebration while the two younger ones are deeply affected and see their chance to change before it’s too late. The inspector has been reading her diary and takes her picture giving them the opportunity to act before the suicide in her diary becomes a fact. The older people are lost. Unfortunately Eric is not able to get there in time to make a crucial difference. It’s a bitter irony indeed.

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  9. I just watched this movie tonight. I really enjoyed watching the son and daughter start soul-searching and pondering their actions. Their lives are now changed forever, for the better. The other characters were hard to watch; how quickly they brushed it all off when they thought it was a scam. But it was a good visual for us on how it looks to others when you lose your conscience. Once we start to brush off little offenses towards others it can grow to something ugly over time.
    I agree with the others that the Inspector was a spiritual being. I think he was her guardian angel and had personally watched all these events happen. They made it look like he read her diary at the end, but she didn’t know they were all related, so it wouldn’t be in the diary. But he knew how it all fit together. Her pain hurt him. He was able to be visible for her to see him in her passing, but then be invisible at the morgue. He also had such love for her – holding her hand and watching over her body. Angels share love and truth so I could see why he wanted to talk to the family. He always asked questions and then stated facts to make them think. He came with a warning to them for how to treat people in the future. That is love for their souls as well. I think that’s why (towards the end) the Inspector told the mother, “Oh I intend to do my duty.”
    His angelic duty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really like how you explained that so well. I do like the interpretation of an angelic figure who comes to warn and change people’s ways for the better.


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