An Inspector Calls by J. B Priestly was first performed in 1945. The play was set in 1912 before the war; it centres on the wealthy Birling family. A visit from the mysterious Inspector Goole proves to be a horrifying experience for the Birling’s as they learn that they have each taken part leading up to the suicide of a woman named Eva Smith. The Birling family are strong Communists and believe that they should not share the money they have earned, they strongly agree with the social hierarchy with successful men at the top of the hierarchy (Mr Birling) and working class women at the bottom (Eva Smith).
Society at the time was indefensible and there was terrible prejudice against women and the working class. Even so, class divisions were also crucial into making sure higher class had much better opportunities than the lower class, the poor were suppressed from the rich. The Birling family use their status, power and wealth to get what they want. In this essay I am going to explore how Sheila Birling develops and changes throughout the play. Character summary
Mr Birling- is a prosperous factory owner his first priority is to make more money and get more power, he strongly believes that “a man has to make his own way” he also is looking forward into receiving a knighthood. Mrs Birling- Wants to stick to the rules. She is only interested in the family-reputation; she is very conservative, old-fashioned, selfish, cold-hearted and looks down on the working class. Sheila- at the beginning she’s snobbish, egoistic and lacks confidence, but in the end she thinks more clearly, critical, accepts criticism, nice, honest and responsible: she likes to change herself and feels sorry for what she had done.
Her readiness to learn from her experiences of great contrast to her parents. Eric- makes jokes, behaves silly, lives an easy-going life, and doesn’t care about anything. He behaves half shy and half assertive, towards the end though he starts thinking and accepts his guilt, he also becomes more mature. Gerald- Is good-looking, rich and clever. He’s engaged to Sheila and also son of an industrial company. He doesn’t change a lot during the story; stays a capitalist (just interested in money and profit). He seems to agree completely with Mr. Birling, quite the same attitude of living.
Inspector Goole- (Goole= Geist; spirit in death) isn’t a real inspector; more something like God because he makes them all feel guilty. His manners are quite extraordinary, rude and assertive. One of the main reasons to visit the Birling family is to make them realise, what responsibilities they have and that their behaviour has an influence on others (opposite to Mr. Birling’s moral). At the beginning of the play the Birling family are celebrating the engagement between Sheila and Gerald Croft. The Birling family all crave and value power, wealth and money especially Mr Birling.
‘Gerald I’m going to tell you frankly… your engagement to Sheila means tremendous lot to me… your father and I have been rivals in business… Crofts Limited are both older and bigger company- and now you have brought us together… ‘ This quotation shows that Mr Birling is happy that his daughter is getting married but it comes across as though the only reason Mr Birling is so pleased is because the rivalry between the two companies will no longer be competing which would benefit his business i. e. more money and higher status.
When we first meet Shelia she is immature, snobbish, egoistic and lacks confidence dramatically. ‘Oh- it’s wonderful… isn’t it a beauty? I think it is perfect, now I really feel engaged. ‘ This quotation shows that she is very materialistic and cares about the ring rather than someone she loves and trusts. ‘Yes go on mummy. ‘ This proves that she is very childlike and still depends on her mother, she has lived a very sheltered life and wants her mother’s approval for everything she does, and she is not independent. Even though Sheila is a grown woman she still has sibling rivalry with Eric.
‘Don’t be an ass Eric. ‘ This quotation shows that even though they have both grown up they still bicker like children and do not get on; Sheila is against Eric rather than with him. The stage directions tell us that Sheila is young, pretty and excited which indicates something good has happened in the Birling household. ‘ (half serious, half playful) This stage direction shows us that Sheila is insecure and is suspicious of Gerald but has no confidence to speak out- she pretends she is only joking as she doesn’t want to cause trouble.
It makes the reader feel annoyed at Sheila for not confronting Gerald and being confident in herself; however it also makes the reader feel sorry for her as she hasn’t got the inner strength to say what she really feels without being held back and worrying of the possible outcome she might be facing. Sheila does not change or develop here. When the Inspector arrives and questions Mr Birling, Sheila responds shocked by the suicide but also she seems quite jealous of the girl and asks questions about her.
‘What was she like quiet young… pretty? ‘ This quotation shows us that Sheila is jealous and insecure; she wants everything too be perfect for her. It also shows her selfishness, a poor girl is dead and all Sheila cares about is whether the girl (Eva Smith) was better than her, Sheila is lacking sympathy and at this point Sheila is jealous and insecure and she also shows she is starting to recognise the girl and reconciling the past. The Inspector then turns on Sheila who is the only person who does accept some of the blame.
Sheila tends to over-react with things and when she thought a dress she tried on at Milward’s looked better on the shop assistant (Eva Smith) than it did on her she became very angry, this was clearly shown when she says ‘when I was looking at myself in the mirror I caught sight of her smiling at the assistant, and I was furious with her. I’d been in bad mood anyhow. ‘ This explains how Sheila abused her status and forced the manager to either sack Eva or she would never shop at Milward’s again. She was jealous of her. After Sheila confessed to her part you start to see noticeable changes in her. ‘… if I could help her now, I would.
‘ This shows us that Sheila knows what she has done wrong and takes responsibility for her actions, she is becoming more independent and mature. This also shows she does regret her actions. Sheila is starting to change and develop. The Inspector then turns on Gerald, Sheila already knows and understands what is going on, this shows us that Sheila is being perceptive and being more independent with life without her mother’s approval. There is by now an evident tension between Sheila and Gerald which becomes heightened when he admits that he had had an affair with Daisy Renton (Eva Smith) in the spring of the previous year.
Whilst feeling angry with Gerald for his involvement with the girl she does have a certain respect for his openness and honesty with his admission. She also becomes wiser and does not value the same things she once valued before, she is not materialistic. She hands him the ring (stage directions). This stage direction tells us that the relationship between her and Gerald is over, she is more confident to follow her heart rather than materialistic objects. At the end of Act 2, she is the first to realise Eric’s part in the story.
Significantly, she is the first to wonder who the Inspector really is, saying to him, ‘wonderingly’, ‘ I don’t understand about you’ She warns the others ‘he’s giving us the rope – so that we’ll hang ourselves’ and, near the end, is the first to consider whether the Inspector may not be real. These quotations prove to us that Sheila is wiser, mature and not materialistic. Sheila in Act 2 is in total contrast to herself than in Act 1; she no longer values expensive items and is a lot more confident to speak her mind. (Laughs rather hysterically) ‘Why-you fool- he knows. Of course he knows.