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How does Priestley present the character of Sybil in An Inspector Calls?

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Introduction

How does Priestley present the character of Sybil in An Inspector Calls? Sybil Birling is introduced later on in to the Inspector's questioning than the rest of the characters, entering the room in act two in a manner described ?briskly and confidently? by the stage direction. She is aware of the developments of the night, due to her husband informing her privately, but seemingly unaffected by the gravity of the situation. Though Sybil is a female - and in the terms of that era's social attitudes, the property of her husband ? she is described by Priestley as Arthur's"social superior", and is a woman of some public influence, sitting as chairman on the town's Women's charity organization and having been married to a former Lord Mayor. While Mr Birling still possesses a local accent, Mrs Birling speaks in RP English, indicating that she has lived at the top end of the social scale for all of her life, and not had to work her way up (like her husband). ...read more.

Middle

In the same way as her husband, her high social standing gives her an inflated, and incorrect sense of her own opinions. When the Inspector details the fact that Eva was pregnant with the baby of a man who abandoned her, Sybil blames ?the drunken young idler?, ?who was the father of the child she was going to have?. However, the person she is describing in such derogatory terms turns out to be her own son. This highlights the double-standards of the upper classes, as she attempts to retract the remarks when the father of Eva's child is revealed. Though Mrs Birling does indicate sympathy at the tragic fate of Eva Smith, her insistence that she is not responsible for it in any manner and the prejudice displayed in the girl's charity plea shows that the death does not have anywhere near as much impact as it does on the younger members of the family. ...read more.

Conclusion

Sybil appears out of touch with reality - a common criticism of the upper classes - as she claims ?I can't believe it ? I won't believe it? when she finds out that Eric is the father of Eva's baby. Sybil, like her husband, treats the younger members of the Birling family as children, telling them to calm down numerous times during the Inspector's questioning, and calling Sheila ?childish? when she claims that Inspector Goole has taught the family a lesson. Mrs Birling is even more uncooperative with the Inspector than her husband, and does not see her actions in dealing with Eva at the charity as significant whatsoever, despite knowing the girls final fate. Sybil is a woman who has spent her whole life in luxury, and Priestley uses this fact as a way of showing that those who spend the longest at the top of the social scale are the most morally corrupt. ...read more.

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