Analysing Gerald’s Character | Facing History & Ourselves
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Analysing Gerald’s Character

Students develop their understanding of the character Gerald, exploring the differences between his treatment of Eva/Daisy and Sheila, whilst reflecting on Edwardian gender expectations.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Human & Civil Rights


About this Lesson

In the previous lesson, students explored the differences emerging between the characters and their perspectives, considering what prompted these differences and how they were a source of conflict. Such discussions not only fostered students’ understanding of the characters, they also helped them to think about how and why people possess different perspectives, and what this can mean for society. 

In this lesson, students will continue to develop their understanding of character, focusing on the character of Gerald, whilst exploring the differences between how men and women were expected to behave in Edwardian England. They will begin to explore the range and complexity of human behaviour by assessing Gerald’s treatment of both Eva Smith and Sheila: in some ways, Gerald’s treatment of the women in the play is reprehensible, but in other ways, he has behaved considerately, particularly when one considers the gender dynamics of Edwardian society. Discussing this conflict, whilst thinking about the gender dynamics of the period, gives students the opportunity to reflect on modern society: the ways in which gender expectations have changed and the ways in which they have not. 

The activities in this lesson refer to pages 33–40 of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.

  • Analysis (Lit-AO2, Lang-AO2)
  • Clear and Coherent Writing (Lit-AO4, Lang-AO5/AO6)
  • Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
  • Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1, Lang-AO1)
  • Spoken Language Skills (Lang-AO8, Lang-AO9)

Students use evidence-based reasoning to make predictions about what will occur in the scene using the words provided in a word scramble. On reading the play, students employ their critical reading and comprehension skills to discuss and assess Gerald’s behaviour, applying their knowledge of the sociohistorical context of Edwardian England and the expectations for different genders. Students then evaluate Gerald’s behaviour, critically engaging with the text by discussing and debating what his choices tell us about his character. This gives students an opportunity to share their views publicly and to listen to the views of others, thus strengthening their spoken language skills. Students then engage with the text on an analytical level: they use quotations from the play to create a stick figure, symbolic representation of Gerald; they rearrange and dissect an analytical paragraph; and they make claims concerning Priestley’s presentation of Gerald, selecting evidence to support their claims. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.

Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification.

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

  • How do the societal expectations for men and women differ in Edwardian England and modern society? What are the consequences of these differences?
  • How does Priestey present Gerald in An Inspector Calls?
  • Students will explore the character of Gerald, analysing what his behaviour suggests about his moral codes and values.
  • Students will identify and discuss the different societal expectations for men and women in Edwardian England and modern society.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 6 activities
  • 6 teaching strategies
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 1 handout
  • 1 extension activity
  • 1 homework suggestion

In Edwardian England, the expectations for both genders differed greatly. Whilst women of a certain class were expected to be chaste before marriage and to not engage in any sexual relationships out of wedlock, this was not the case for men. It was accepted that men might take mistresses or have many relationships with women before marriage, but if women engaged in such behaviour they would have become social outcasts. 

This freedom to be sexually active meant that many men sought out prostitutes. Whilst it would not have been appropriate to discuss this behaviour openly, it was a known and accepted truth, which explains why the Palace Variety Theatre, ‘a favourite haunt of women of the town’ (p. 34), was a place visited by the men of Brumley.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This lesson uses the Four Corners teaching strategy to help students discuss social inequality. Before class begins, familiarise yourself with the strategy and set up the room in advance. To prepare your classroom space, create four signs that read ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’, and hang them in different corners of the room. Consider printing the signs on coloured paper or card and, if your school has a machine, laminating them so you can reuse them for Four Corners and Barometer discussions this year.

In extension of this lesson, students rearrange and dissect an analytical paragraph. The arranging process can help them with their analytical writing skills as it gets them thinking about how to organise ideas and what sorts of linking words they can use to join sentences and ideas together. The dissecting process is a powerful way of helping students understand the different components of a strong analytical paragraph.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Part I Activities

  • To assist students with the vocabulary they will encounter in the next section of the play, introduce potentially unfamiliar words to them in a word scramble and prediction exercise. 
  • Project or write the following words on the board and ask students to write or discuss with a partner a prediction for what might happen in the next section of the play based on these words:
    • Induce (v.) – to persuade someone to do something
    • Haunt (n.) – meeting place/territory
    • Carcass (n.) – a person’s or animal’s body (living or dead)
    • Notorious (adj.) – famous/well known (often for a bad reason)
    • Womaniser (n.) – a man who has short sexual relationships with lots of women
    • Inevitable (adj.) – certain to happen/unavoidable
    • Gallant (adj.) – brave
  • Give students five minutes to write or talk before giving a few students the opportunity to share their predictions with the class. The class can then vote on whose prediction they think might be the closest.
  • Assign or have five volunteers take the relevant props from the prop box and assemble at the start of the class to perform the next section of the play. You will need students for the following roles: Mrs Birling, Inspector, Gerald, Sheila, and Mr Birling.
  • Read the section from Mrs Birling: ‘Over-excited. And she refuses to go’ (mid p. 33) to ‘We hear the front door slam’ (end of p. 40). You may wish to arrange the classroom so that you have a mock stage at the front, so students can perform the scene to the class. 
  • After having read this section of the play, project the following questions one at a time onto the board and facilitate a short class discussion:
    • What does it suggest about the society of the time that ‘respectable’ men and important social figures visit the Palace Variety Theatre, ‘a favourite haunt of women of the town’ (p. 34)?
    • What are the similarities and differences between how Gerald treats Sheila and how he treats Daisy? Why do you think these differences exist? 
    • Draw a quick universe of obligation diagram in your books with four concentric circles and write Gerald’s name in the centre circle. Where do you think Daisy falls in Gerald’s universe of obligation? Where do you think Sheila falls? What makes you say that?
    • On page 38, Sheila states that she respects Gerald more once he has been honest. Why do you think this is the case? What can Sheila’s statement teach us about the act of taking responsibility?
  • Explain to students that they will now be engaging in a Four Corners debate about Gerald. Remind your students of the class contract before you begin, and reiterate the importance of respecting the opinions and voices of others. You might also address ways for students to disagree constructively with each other, encouraging them to speak using ‘I’ language rather than the more accusatory ‘you’. 
  • Next, project the following statements one at a time and give students five minutes to consider what their position for each statement will be and why, noting down their ideas in their journals. This reflection time can help students gather their thoughts and encourages the quieter students to speak up because they can read from their notes. 
    • Gerald was a positive presence in Daisy Renton/Eva Smith’s life. 
    • Gerald has little to be ashamed of. 
    • Gerald’s treatment of Sheila is worse than his treatment of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.
    • Gerald is a respectable man.
  • After students have considered their personal response to the statements, start the Four Corners activity. Read one of the statements aloud and ask students to move to the corner of the room that best represents their opinion. Once students are in their places, give them one minute to talk with others in their corner, explaining why they chose this response. Then, ask for volunteers to justify their position. When doing so, they should refer to evidence from the play. Encourage students to switch corners if someone presents an idea that causes a change of mind. After a representative from each corner has defended his or her position, you can allow students to question each other’s evidence and ideas. Before beginning the discussion, remind students about norms for having a respectful, open discussion of ideas. 
  • Ask students to return to their seats and give them a couple of minutes to independently respond to the statement Gerald behaved considerately using ideas from the debate and the play.
  • Explain to students that they will now consider the different social expectations of men and women, in both the Edwardian era and present day, and the impact that such expectations have on people’s behaviour.
  • Project the following prompts and ask students to discuss them in pairs using the Think, Pair, Share strategy:
    • How do the treatment of and expectations for men and women in the play differ? 
    • What are the differences between how Sheila and Eva are treated? What factors might account for these differences?
    • Given what you know about Edwardian society, why is Sheila’s behaviour towards her parents and Gerald surprising in this scene? In what ways is Sheila’s character changing and what might be causing such change?
    • Are there double standards in society today in how men and women are expected to behave? Explain your answer. 
    • If there is time, invite some students to share their ideas with the class.

Part II Activities

  • Explain to students that they will be thinking about what Gerald’s behaviour suggests about his character with the intention of writing an analytical paragraph that responds to the following question: How does Priestley present Gerald in An Inspector Calls
  • First, project the following statement and questions on the board, and ask students to respond in their journals

    When the Inspector asks Gerald if Daisy Renton became his mistress, Gerald replies, ‘I suppose it was inevitable’ (p. 37).

    • ‘Inevitable’ means ‘unavoidable’ or ‘inescapable’. What does Gerald’s use of this adjective suggest about how he views his role in the relationship with Daisy?
    • How might his response reflect the context of the time? 
    • Do you think the affair was ‘inevitable’? What makes you say that?
  • Next, divide students into pairs or small groups and pass out the handout Gerald's Character Quotations. Ask them to cut up the quotations, identify when in the play they were said, and then categorise them under headings of their choice. 
  • If you need to give students the headings or get them started by modelling with one heading, you might consider some of the following options, though only do so if absolutely necessary as students should have the challenge of coming up with the categories themselves to capture the range and complexity of Gerald’s behaviour:
    • Kind
    • Powerful
    • Naive 
    • Selfish
    • Normal
    • Considerate 
    • Irresponsible
  • After students have finished grouping their quotations, invite them to share their headings with the class, collecting them on the board. 
  • Finally, lead a brief class discussion using the following questions: 
    • Gerald could be described as both considerate and inconsiderate. Why is this the case? 
    • What kind of power does Gerald have over Eva Smith? Is this similar to or different from the power he has over Sheila Birling?
  • Guide students through the steps of the Stick Figure Quotes teaching strategy to help them deepen their understanding of Gerald’s character. You may wish to model some ideas on the board with a ‘think aloud’ that incorporates the following examples: 
    • Coming out of Gerald’s head would be a halo made from Sheila’s statement, ‘You were the wonderful Fairy Prince’ to highlight the fact that Gerald enjoyed being Eva Smith/Daisy Renton’s saviour.
    • Gerald’s feet would be very large to highlight his power over Eva/Daisy, and would contain the quotations: ‘Daisy knew it was coming to an end’/‘I broke it off indefinitely before I went.’
  • Give students an opportunity to share their work and to see the work of others in a Gallery Walk where students leave their books open on their table and then circulate around the room. Then, lead a class discussion on the following questions:
    • What have you learnt from creating a stick figure for Gerald?
    • How does your stick figure help you understand Gerald’s moral compass?

Extension Activity 

  • Explain to students that they will be rearranging the sentences of an analytical paragraph that makes a claim about Gerald’s behaviour. The sentences have been cut into strips and mixed up, so students need to consider how the writer might be developing their argument and using transitional words and phrases to highlight the connection between the claims, evidence, and analysis. 
  • Give students the Gerald Model Paragraph Sentence Sort handout to complete in small groups, which is a cut-up version of the following analytical paragraph about Gerald:

    In An Inspector Calls, Priestley presents Gerald as naive and immature. When Sheila asks him about his relationship with Daisy Renton/Eva Smith, Gerald responds by saying, ‘for God’s sake – don’t say anything to the Inspector’. This quotation suggests that Gerald is naive because he does not realise, unlike Sheila, that the Inspector already knows, and that he gave himself away when the Inspector announced Eva went by another name. It also suggests he is immature because he is not willing to take responsibility for his actions; instead, he wants to keep his relationship a secret. This is reinforced by the use of the phrase ‘for God’s sake’, which is an exclamation that people often make when they are annoyed, as it shows that he is lashing out at Sheila rather than taking responsibility for his actions. Priestley’s presentation of Gerald like this links to the context of the time because it is clear that Gerald was not expecting to ever have to be honest about his affair with Daisy – whilst affairs were not approved by society, it was accepted that men had them, which is why Gerald never felt the need to tell Sheila why he never went near her ‘last spring and summer’.

  • After they have completed this task, ask them to identify the different elements that combine to make the analytical paragraph:
    • Claim
    • Placement of evidence in the context of the play
    • Evidence 
    • Analysis
    • Zoom
    • Link to context
  • After students have attempted the task, project the PowerPoint slide of the paragraph with its identified parts on the board and lead a discussion to clear up any confusion and give students the chance to share their thoughts or any queries they might have.

Homework Suggestion

For homework, ask students to complete the Developing Analysis Grid handout for Gerald, making one claim about Priestley’s presentation of Gerald and selecting one piece of evidence to support this claim.

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts that students use throughout the Analysing Gerald’s Character lesson plan.

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