They were very happy when celebrating their engagement at dinner at the Birlings' home in 1912, Arthur Birling, a wealthy mill owner and local politician, and his family are celebrating the engagement of daughter Sheila to Gerald Croft, Birling's competitor's son. In attendance are Sybil Birling, Arthur's wife and Sheila and Eric's mother, and Eric Birling, Sheila's younger brother, who has a drinking problem that is discreetly ignored. After dinner, Arthur speaks about the importance of self-reliance. A man, he says, must "make his own way" and protect his own interests.
Inspector Goole arrives and explains that a woman called Eva Smith killed herself by drinking strong disinfectant. He implies that she has left a diary naming names, including members of the Birling family. Goole produces a photograph of Eva and shows it to Arthur, who acknowledges that she worked in one of his mills. He admits that he dismissed her 18 months ago for her involvement in an abortive workers' strike. He denies responsibility for her death.