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How does the character of Sheila Birling, develop throughout this play?

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An Inspector Calls: J B Priestly How does the character of Sheila Birling, develop throughout this play? 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. ...read more.


(Act 1, page 19) This shows such respect for Eva Smith, and Sheila did not hesitate to stand up for her. When Sheila is shown the photograph of the girl, she recognises it, and gives a 'half-stifled sob' and then she runs out. This is the time that she realised it was her ho had been the customer who had got her the sack, and in an instant, she regrets what had happened. When she returns, the Inspector tells her that she is only partly responsible, and this shows a very caring side to the Inspector, because this is supposedly his job, and he deals with this kind of situation day in, day out, yet he still finds time to care about Sheila's feelings. He does not want her to feel entirely guilty, as he knows that it is not all her fault. Sheila readily agrees that she behaved very badly, and insists that she never meant the girl any harm. Sheila: It didn't seem anything too terrible at the time. Don't you understand? And if I could help her now, I would - (Act 1, page 24) Not only is Sheila prepared to admit her faults, but she also appears anxious and keen to change her behaviour in the future. Sheila: I'll never, never do it again to anybody. (Act 1, page 24) However, even though we have seen this change in Sheila, she goes on to say, Sheila: I've noticed them giving me a sort of look sometimes at Milwards - I noticed it even this afternoon. I suppose some of them remember it. I feel now I can never go there again. (Act 1, pages 24-25) This really brings Sheila's selfish streak back out. Despite just realising that she is responsible for a young girl's death, she is thinking about how she feels too embarrassed to shop at Milwards any longer. ...read more.


Following this, Gerald then questions the fact that a girl actually committed suicide, by saying, Gerald: I say - there's no more evidence we did than there was that that chap was a real Police Inspector. (Act 3, page 66) At first, the family members do not see how this could be possible, but as Gerald then explains how it could be true, they begin to listen to him, and start to understand his point. This shows Gerald's awareness and intelligence at this point in the play. The confirm his beliefs, Gerald then makes the phone call to the Infirmary, and finds out that no girl has died that night from swallowing disinfectant. People react in different ways to this news. Mr and Mrs Birling have learnt nothing throughout his whole experience, Mr Birling: the whole story's just a lot of moonshine. (Act 3, page 70) Mrs Birling: In the morning they'll be as amused as we are. (Act 3, page 71) They are still as they were in the beginning. However, Sheila has changed. Sheila: But you're forgetting one thing I still can't forget. Everything we said had happened really happened. If it didn't end tragically, then that's lucky for us. But it might have done. (Act 3, page 70) Again, this shows maturity and intelligence. Mr Birling and Sheila, both think that the opposite generation is talking nonsense, but the audience know that Sheila is right. She has learnt from her experience - Mr Birling has not. The play ends, with Mr Birling taking a phone call, saying that a girl had just died in the infirmary, from swallowing some disinfectant. In summary, Sheila's mature attitude was shown throughout the play, and her guilt and willingness to learn from her mistakes was also displayed. She came through, as a caring and thoughtful character, and an intelligent and realistic girl. Sheila did put forward her feelings, but unfortunately, her parents would not listen. If the whole family had acted similarly to Sheila, then maybe the outcome would not have been so tragic. Word Count: 3, 491 ...read more.

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