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In Sheila and Mr Birling, Priestley has created two characters whose views on social responsibility conflict.

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In Sheila and Mr Birling, Priestley has created two characters whose views on social responsibility conflict. The play points out the need for a sense of personal responsibility in every member of society, not only for individual actions, but also for the way actions affect others. These views are quite strongly voiced by the inspector and Sheila. Sheila has a conscience about her role in the death of a working class girl. Arthur Birling, on the other hand, has opposite views, his driving concern being self-interest. Arthur Birling is a rich and prosperous businessman. He is a 'self made man' and very proud of it. He is very aware of social class; to him it defines the value of human beings. It is clear at times that Mr Birling feels slightly insecure of his position on the social ladder. It is for this reason that he constantly mentions that he was formerly Lord Mayor of Brumley and that he is a local magistrate. He has no concepts of value other than money and position. He regards himself as being reasonable, his priorities are to make money and look after his family, ' A man has to look after him self and his own'. He ensures that his business makes as much money as possible by keeping 'labour costs down'. ...read more.


When shown the photo she reacts much more dramatically than her father. This tells us that she has already realised her behaviour towards the girl in Millwards had been inappropriate and unnecessary. When she finds out that Eva Smith had been made redundant, she is immediately sorry and obviously upset. She is very distressed about the consequences of her actions,' It's the only time I've done anything like that. I'll never, never do it again'. Mr Birling's reaction on the other hand is very different. When the inspector informs him of the girl's death he shows no interest or concern. He impatiently says ' Yes, yes. Horrible business but I don't understand why you should come here'. It is only after some prompting from the inspector that he remembers who Eva Smith was. He recollects how he discharged her from his employment, but he sees no connection between his actions towards the girl and her suicide. As far as Arthur Birling was concerned he was acting just as any other hardheaded businessman would. The girl, in his mind, was a troublemaker, she was asking for more money, she had organised a strike. ' She'd had a lot to say- far to much - so she had to go'. ...read more.


He does not want anything to hinder his chances of a knighthood. Mr Birling has learnt nothing from the evening's events, he has remained self-centred and heartless, a hardhearted businessman. The message that Priestley is trying to convey is that people should feel sympathy and care for each other and they should take responsibility for their actions. He wanted life after the war to be better he hoped that his writing would influence peoples ideas and influence society. He was concerned about the living conditions of the lower classes (the Eva Smiths of the world) and how poorly they were treated by the upper classes. Priestley felt that people should help each other regardless of social standing. From the play he shows that changes are more likely to come from the young rather than the older generation of upper classes. Sheila represents the impressionable young, ready to admit her faults and mend her ways. She is clearly aware of her wrong doings, whereas, Mr Birling represents the older generation of that time who are only interested in making money and their social position in society. Quite clearly Arthur Birling will not change his ways. It will be left to the younger generation to learn from the mistakes of the older generation. They must ensure that they are not repeated, or else they will be taught through ' fire and blood and anguish'. ...read more.

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