An Inspector Calls How does Priestly develop the Character of Sheila Birling? In an Inspector Calls, Sheila Birling’s character is seen as a child that has been raised into an upper-class family and has become familiar with the luxuries and social standing lower classes wouldn’t dream of obtaining, her spoilt upbringing and deceiving parents have grounded her in a semi-childhood where she is blinded from the injustice of the class system and the treatment of the lower’classed majority of the public.
Priestly, however, decides to inject his own mouthpiece in the persona of Inspector Goole in the hope that in the following hours the Inspector will open Sheila’s eyes and release her from her parent’s muzzle resulting in Sheila seeing the invalid class system and how it only favours the rich. At the beginning of the play, Sheila is celebrating her informal engagement to Gerald Croft, a man who is of higher social standing to the Birling’s while also being the son to Mr Birling’s business rival.
The lighting shown in the setting by the narrator is described as a ‘rose-tinted glow’; this type of lighting can be seen as a physical presence of the upper class’ view. It can be perceived as this because it describes not only the Birling’s mood but also gives the reader the upper class perspective; everything is rosy and perfect/ there is no wrong in there world. Despite the happy union of the two families, the potential of Mr Birling neutralising the business rivalry and looking forward to hopefully collaborating with Gerald’s father is a prospect Mr Birling is looking forward to.
However Sheila displays an intriguing curiosity into the whereabouts of Gerald the previous summer, prior to their engagement. She states in Act 1 Page 3, “All last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what happened to you”. This involvement in Gerald’s business had also the potential to cause a rift which could jeopardise Mr Birling’s plans with Gerald’s father, this already implicates to the readers that Birling will be annoyed with Sheila speaking out of turn and frankly he will be paranoid about the situation.
It also implicates that Sheila disagreed with Gerald’s choice of time spending, and she’d of rather had him by her side, this places Sheila’s spoilt persona on show and is easy for the readers to identity this clear characteristic trait which was a popular trait of the upper-class in the 1920’s. Also supporting the muzzle statement and power Sheila’s parents have over their daughter, her Mother explains to Sheila that, “Men with important work to do”… “Spend nearly all their time and energy on their business”.
Reading between the lines, the reader could understand through Mrs Birling’s choice of language that the word ‘business’ could have several meanings, importantly by the word she could be implying that whatever Gerald does outside the household doesn’t concern herself or anyone else. Sheila portrayed her character as spoilt also when the news of Eva Smith reached her from the Inspector, despite the horrible events that had taken place did upset Sheila, instead of acting remorseful or at least respectful towards Eva, she is still in a half-hearted feeling between understanding the events and her self-centred front stepping in the way.
This is evident in Act 1 Page 17 where Sheila expresses the fact that she, “can’t help thinking about this girldestroying herself so horribly”, the remorseful act Sheila displays is an improvement in her understanding of other actions. However she carried on to negate her remarks on the destruction of the girl by explaining how she, “wish(ed) you hadn’t told me”, because she was ‘so happy tonight’. This indicates to the reader that she is still stuck in a paradox where she doesn’t want to know of any unhappiness that doesn’t involve her however does have a minimal yet needed nderstanding for her actions on others. She displays this opinion because of her parent’s opinions and influence which she has heard and understood, the shared feeling of treating the world like it is for your own and no one else’s shows how the upper-class’ children and upcoming generation are being poisoned by their own opinionated feelings towards the lower and less ‘valuable’ classes. Another characteristic Sheila has acquired from her parents is how responsibility doesn’t belong with the upper class and how it should be down to the lower class and others to look after their own.
This was a mutual feeling amongst the wealthy in Britain during the 1920’s. Sheila displayed her problematic view towards responsibility for others actions when she understands what the Inspector is aiming at her and the family about Eva Smith, she senses an unfamiliar blame being targeted at her and states, “what do you mean by saying that? You talk as if we were responsible”, this quote suggests to the reader that Sheila doesn’t understand responsibility, this is another example of her parents deceiving her through childhood and not explaining the reason for responsibility.
This shows how her parents have almost pulled a veil over her covering her from a normal persons morals, ultimately Sheila’s behaviour has been made from her parents bringing her up with no understanding for the poor, less fortunate and in general people who are not sitting in her wealthy spot in society, the reader can then therefore understand that Sheila is just a child lost in the class system and empathise with her lack of understanding, this behaviour is down to how the Birling’s brought her up.
Her unawareness is also supported by the statement the Inspector uses where he labels children as the ‘more impressionable’, this implies that Sheila would’ve had a better feeling of responsibility if her parents had led her down the right path where morals are needed to understand the world they live in. Relating to how children are very ‘impressionable’ due to their surrounding influences, Sheila has become accustomed to how her parents undermine the poor and struggling lower classes, this does almost rub off on Sheila and is evident when explaining to the Inspector how she was involved in Eva’s death.
She explains how she made the owner of Millwards sack the woman because she had been very impertinent. This was because of Sheila trying a dress that didn’t fit her body but realised it would fit Eva perfectly, despite her appreciating Eva’s figure, she recalls about how Eva was smirking at her. This was Sheila’s excuse for talking about the impertinence expressed by Ms Smith, despite her being unaware of Eva’s financial situation, she had been jeopardised and removed from her workplace by Sheila’s father before Millwards.
Sheila did make the remark that if Eva had been a ‘miserable plain little creature’ she wouldn’t have had her sacked, this is the most perfect and accurate example of how the upper class treated and described the working and lower class, it expresses the fact that not only would she not have got her sacked but she wouldn’t have even went near a woman of lower class, this expresses how Sheila is poisoned by the upper class’ mutually spoilt persona, this trait could only be passed yet again by her predecessors in the upper class.
Sheila’s understanding towards her oppressive actions aimed at Eva whose situation is explained in Act 1 does actually inflict on her opinion towards the lower class. This also relates back to how the Inspector spoke of how the younger majority of the upper class will be more impressionable, this is a direct opinion from Priestly; Inspector Goole is Priestley’s mouthpiece. Sheila understands of every class having to be equal and be less segregated by their rights and wealth and is seen developing this opinion towards the end of Act 1.
Sheila decides to actually step in and judge her father’s actions on Ms Smith and how Eva and her workmates, “aren’t cheap labour – they’re people”, this statement by Sheila is a prime example of the Inspector’s influence on her understanding towards the invalid class system, along with the fact she clearly disagreed with her father and seemed to undermine his opinion, making it evident that er semi-childhood is slowly yet definitely being flawed, she is breaking from her parent’s block. The understanding that Sheila gains from the Inspector’s influence is not only helping her see the class system as wrong and how it helps the upper class systematically but she does also develop an opinion on her previous actions and childish behaviour under the supervision of her parents.
Sheila explains how she must have been seen as, “a selfish, vindictive creature”, expressing an opinion such as this on your own persona and personality is extremely hard and does mean she has almost overridden her stubbornness. This sense of responsibility which Sheila’s gained not only lets her sense her previous spitefulness and downgrading views towards the lower class, but also lets her judge her parents actions as well, this is a subtle hint of her rising authority.