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How the character of Sheila Birling develops throughout the play 'An Inspector Calls'

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How the Character of Sheila Birling Develops Throughout the Play 'An Inspector Calls' 'An Inspector Calls' is set in the spring of 1912 and focuses on an upper middle class family trying to celebrate the engagement of their daughter Sheila, who is in her early twenties. They are interrupted however, by an unconventional inspector carrying out an investigation concerning a working class girl who has, allegedly just committed suicide. As the play progresses it seems that each of the family members have offered some contribution to the girl's death. Essentially 'An Inspector Calls' is an evaluation of the social situation during the early 1900's - despite the fact that it was written in 1945, which was actually a time when class barriers and status power were at their breaking point as a result of world war two. It appears the reason J.B. Priestley chose this scenario as a subject, was to reinforce the fact that communities work better in the post second World War way. Priestley was a dedicated socialist, and it's thought that this greatly influenced the play and its intentions. For the most part, this is communicated through the character of the Inspector, in this essay I'll examine how Sheila Birling changes once under his scrutiny. ...read more.


The reason it makes sense for the upper classes to be targeted is because they're the people with power to change social restrictions. If these people respond to Sheila development as Priestley anticipates them to, then they're likely to conclude that any change in her could apply to them too. In this way Sheila's development is used to reinforce J. B. Priestley's pro-socialist philosophy. Once Sheila's been exposed to the harsher elements of her father's world, her outlook on it is quite dramatically changed; 'I think it was a mean thing to do. Perhaps that spoilt everything for her' there's nothing massively extreme about the speech but I think that the unassuming approach she adopts is more convincing than the 'rather distressed' delivery she had used previously. It's more likely she'll be taken seriously if she voices her opinions reasonably and doesn't perfume them with inarticulate emotion - she responds with maturity and already appears quite removed from her original persona. It makes sense for Priestley to form her into what can be considered a respectable character, as it's believed he wants his viewers to consider her progression something to aspire to. And therefore be reluctant to pick up her discarded image. ...read more.


Sheila is probably the most accessible character in the play because she's exposed to the inspector's - or the writer's - views on society at the same rate as the audience is. I think she exhibits J. B. Priestley's desired change within society; as though her modifications are what he wants to be applied to all that are like the person Sheila represents at the beginning of the play. As a higher class character, she's a particularly good candidate for this because the upper classes of 1945 would be expected to identify with one of their own and as they had enough power to weaken the dominance of social barriers they were the appropriate choice to put Priestley's political beliefs into practice. This process had begun during the war, and the reason the play is set in 1912 is to show the impracticality of that era and make it seem like an unattractive system to return to. While I agree with the majority of what Priestley communicates through this play and think that using a transitional character like Sheila, has the potential to convince a range of different classes that socialism is beneficial, I find something slightly arrogant about manipulating a character into one that speaks you're views and beliefs, and makes them appear superior - hypocritical, almost of someone preaching the need for equality. ...read more.

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