After studying the play, An Inspector Calls, by J. B. Priestly, we now know that Sheila Birling’s character, changes a lot throughout the play, but how, why, and when does it change? The play opens, with the celebrations of the family, for the engagement between Gerald Croft and Sheila Birling, in the Birlings’ dining room, in Brumley, 1912. During their party, Inspector Goole arrives, bringing the news of the suicide of a young girl named Eva Smith. She had swallowed some disinfectant and died. Each connection alone was not too terrible, but putting them together, they amount to a lot.
Two years earlier, 1910, when she worked at the Birling Factory, Eva Smith, had been dismissed by Arthur Birling, for asking for a pay rise. She soon got a job, working as an assistant at Milwards, an admirable shop. After just two months of working there, through one of Sheila’s bad tempers, she got the sack. She then became Gerald’s ‘mistress’, and for a while, she was happy; but that was all to come to an end in September 1911, when Gerald called off the affair. Two months after that, she met Eric Birling, and she becomes pregnant.
She has no money, and will not accept Eric’s, as she knows it was stolen. She then goes to Mrs Birling, who works for the Charity Committee, for help, and she is turned down. Finally, she had had enough, and she took her own life, and this is when the Inspector arrived. He forced the knowledge upon each one of them, that they each held some responsibility for her death. When the Inspector leaves, it is thought that maybe he was not a real Inspector, and it is revealed that no girl named Eva Smith had died that night.
Mr and Mrs Birling, and Gerald, then act as if nothing has changed, but Eric and Sheila’s faith in their parents, is destroyed, along with their happiness. This shows, that some people change, and others do not. The message that J. B. Priestly was trying to put across, was that all actions have consequences, and unfortunately for all involved, the actions carried out by The Birling family and Gerald, built up, to have disastrous ones. The film made in 1953, by Guy Hamilton, showed Sheila as a pretty, well adjusted to life, young girl. This was reflected in my reading and understanding of the play.
Guy Hamilton, put her across, in a different way to what I originally thought she would be like. When I first read it, she seemed like a happy, but fairly self-centred young girl, and conscientious, but from watching the film so early on in my studies, my view of her was altered. I think that J. B. Priestley wanted us to think that she was selfish, because then, the changes that we see in her during the play would be more dramatic. In act one, the Birlings and Gerald, are celebrating in the dining room. The easy, light-hearted conversation shows Sheila, as excitable, youthful, and enthusiastic.
They are laughing and joking, and everyone seems relaxed. Then Gerald says that he has been trying for a long time, to enter this family, and Sheila’s reply, is the first indication of what her character is like. Sheila: “Yes – except for all last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you. (Act 1, page 3) This shows, that Sheila is still thinking about the past. At the time when it was going on, she had not found out what Gerald had really been up to, and now that it is nearly a year later, she is still curious.
This shows that there is not complete trust in their relationship. When Gerald produces an engagement ring, her reaction was, Sheila: Now I really feel engaged. (Act 1, page 5) This shows just how spoilt she is. She could not feel the true feeling of love, or being engaged, before she had something material, to signify it. It takes rings, clothes, and fancy foods, to feel happy about getting married, and this is what it is like for everything in her life. A sign of how nai?? ve the family is, is when Mr Birling mentions the Titanic.