Character Of Sheila Birling In 'An Inspector Calls'.

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Michael Thompson - 10/05/07

Character Of Sheila Birling In ‘An Inspector Calls’

        Sheila Birling is the upper-middle class daughter of Arthur Birling, the successful businessman. Her character significantly changes and develops throughout the course of the play and it is these changes, as well as her overall character that I shall be looking at.

        We are first introduced to Sheila during the conversation at the dinner table in the Birling mansion. She is extremely happy and full of zest for life. After all, she is in the middle of celebrating her engagement to a well-respected gentleman with whom she is madly in love. This is one of the highest points of her life. Her first interesting statement is, ‘yes – except for all last summer, when you never came near me’. She is talking about Gerald’s attempts to become ‘one of the family’. After which Gerald makes the excuse of ‘I was awfully busy at the works at that time’. She replies, ‘yes, that’s what you say’. Clearly she does not fully believe his story, as this statement is said in a somewhat sarcastic tone of voice which has emphasis on the, ‘you’. However, we later learn that it is during this period when Gerald is having an affair with Eva Smith. Thus we can see that Sheila is relatively sharp, at least where her husband-to-be is concerned. Throughout the play however this statement is reinforced, as we see that it is Sheila who is the first person to understand what the inspector is actually doing during his interrogations.

        She first learns of Eva Smith’s suicide when she re-enters the dining room and finds the inspector talking to Eric, Gerald and Mr. Birling. Immediately she is horror stricken and distressed. She is probably the most distressed of all the family, because she would be of similar age to Eva Smith (and can thus associate herself with Eva more than the others in the family). She begins to change here because the atmosphere of the play is changing. Her happy engagement party has just been soured. She is surprised when the inspector implies that they were responsible but assumes that she is in the clear because she herself has ‘never known an Eva Smith’. Sheila is the only one who believes that Eva Smith, like many other working class girls, ‘are people’ (with the possible exception of Eric). The rest of the family see them as ‘cheap labour’ who should only mix with those of their own class. Clearly Sheila sees this as wrong and this is a characteristic that neither Mr. Or Mrs. Birling shows.

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        We can see that Sheila is extremely spoilt. After all she goes to ‘Milwards’, which has a reputation for being a ‘good shop’, and was there ‘that afternoon’. Milwards is clearly an expensive department store and one which (when the play was set) very few people could afford, least of all young girls. Despite being spoilt however, Sheila does not show signs of being a brat, for she shows genuine sympathy for Eva Smith when she says, ‘it’s a rotten shame’. She is a truly sensitive person and this is expanded on more when she realises that she did in ...

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