The play includes an anonymous inspector whose actual role never becomes clear, throughout the play. The inspector’s true identity is never revealed during the play, which gives this play an extra edge when compared with others. Although his full role is never revealed, some knowledge and understanding can be built up on the miscellaneous character, through his words and actions. Many different ideas could be presented on the specific use and role of the character.
Originally the audience believed the character was a genuine inspector, however these beliefs change as the play unfolds. It is revealed when Mr. Birling makes a telephone call to the local police station who confirms there is no Inspector Goole. This then opens a range of speculation to the inspector’s actual role.
One of the possible ideas of the inspector’s role was that he was a “real person”. Originally this was the case, however by Act 3 this idea was rubbished when it was discovered that there was no Inspector Goole, with the local police. By the time the inspector was exposed, it was already too late, the story had already unfolded and the deepest secrets of the family had already spilled, and the inspector had left.
It is possible that the man was not an inspector; however he was still a “real man”. He was clearly a fraud as his correct identity was not that of his alleged identity. However his motives of fraud are unclear. It is a possibility that the fraud may have been a business enemy, and his intentions were to extract the scandals in order to ruin the Birlings’ business. The fraud may have been an industrial espionage agent, sent to help to ruin the Birlings’ good name and their company. The character may have also been a blackmailer, knowing the family were not short of money and were particularly wealthy. He may have extracted the secrets in order to uncover the scandal therefore blackmailing the family with the threat of exposing the secrets.
The unidentified character may have had a more evil role than suggested above. He may have been a murderer of some division. The man may have been a back street abortionist who accidentally killed Eva Smith and is now trying to hit upon a scapegoat and to cover his tracks. Again, the man may have been a business enemy who murdered Eva Smith on purpose and has arrived to undermine the Birlings. The character may have been a friend of the girl, and has now arrived to uncover her exact fate, and the reasons behind her death. He may want to make the Birlings deeply suffer for their actions toward her and for their selfish abuse of her.
There is always a possibility that “inspector Goole” is not a real man at all, he may be a supernatural being. He maybe the ghost of Eva Smith and is performing a pre-haunting of some kind. He maybe a messenger from God, sent to teach the Birlings how to behave and to eliminate their arrogant and self-centred behaviour. He may act as the spirit of natural justice, a collective hallucination or possibly a symbol of the Birlings’ guilty conscience.