An Inspector Calls
In the play An Inspector Calls, Sheila morphs her ideologies from capitalist views of her Arthur Birling to socialist views of the Inspector causing the audience to change their views on her from negative to positive. Before the Inspector’s arrival Sheila is presented as materialistic and superficial proving herself as a part of the Birling family. Moreover, Sheila is also presented as dependant on others, relying on her family and fiancé to make her decisions; this further integrates her into the family unit. The Birling’s are hated by the audience because they strongly disagree with Arthur Birling’s views and his capitalist mentality. This is because he claims that there will be no war and the Titanic is unsinkable. However, the audience, who are watching the play in 1945, have lived through the two horrific world wars and have witnessed the Titanic sink and hence they dislike him for his bold statements. The dramatist presents Sheila in such a negative prospect so there is a great contrast when Sheila moves away from the family unit towards the inspector causing the audience to have a liking towards her. During the presence of the Inspector Sheila is heavily influenced by the Inspector causing her to move away from her family and change her capitalist views to socialist views of the Inspector. Furthermore, most of the audience are socialists due to the elections in 1945 being won by the labour party by a majority vote and due to the fact that J B Priestley was a socialist meaning that his audience were also socialists, therefore, their ideologies are very similar to that of Sheila causing them to develop a liking for her. The dramatist presents Sheila as shifting towards the Inspector because the audience respect him due to their similar beliefs of socialism so when Sheila is presented as similar to him they develop a further liking towards her. After the Inspector has departed Sheila is shown to be much more independent and she is shown to have completely different beliefs to her family and much similar beliefs to the Inspector and the audience. The dramatist does this to show the contrast between Sheila at the beginning and the present. Also, the dramatist shows that the younger generation can adapt and that there is still hope for the future.
This is a preview of the whole essay
Before the Inspector arrives Sheila is portrayed as materialistic and superficial, with a certain respect and likeness towards father, the capitalist Arthur Birling. This capitalistic behaviour is displayed when Sheila is presented with her engagement ring. Her reaction after receiving the ring is “I think it’s perfect. Now I really feel engaged” depicts her as a shallow person because the reason that she feels engaged should be the love shared between Gerald and herself, however, to her it is the expensive ring. This consumerist behaviour, which is a predominant feature of capitalism, shows her similarity with her father, Mr Birling, because he fits the definition of capitalism which comprises of being materialistic and only caring about possessions. Sheila placing the ring over the emotional value of the love supports the idea of her being just like her father and part of the Birling family unit. Moreover, Sheila links the word “perfect” with the ring, illustrating the strength of her lust for luxurious possessing, emphasising the audience’s perception of Sheila as a shallow minded, capitalist individual fuelling their hatred towards her because they disagree with the ideologies and concepts of capitalism. The dramatist presents Sheila as a capitalist and materialist person to put emphasis on Sheila’s transformation of ideologies as she turns in to a socialist.
Sheila is presented as dependant on others, through her inability to form her own decisions. This incapability is reinforced by the fact that she refers to herself in the passive voice; “you got it-is it the one you wanted me to have?” upon the receipt of her engagement ring. By making Gerald the subject, she is putting him above her and objectifying herself, making her appear dim-witted and without any independence. She puts Gerald’s views above her own as she is asking him for an opinion on the ring not taking her opinion on the ring. By placing herself below Gerald, a capitalist, on the social hierarchy Priestley incites revulsion for Sheila in the audience because they do not class capitalism as superior and they believe that socialism is a better belief. Priestley objectifies Sheila in this quotation but a point to be made is that just as Sheila objectifies herself, she is objectified by those of a higher class than her. She is used as an object of trade, like a token by Mr Birling through marriage in order to secure the unification of Birling and co. with Crofts and Co. This induces irony due to the fact that Sheila herself is superficial and materialistic and is then presented as an item of trade between Birling and Gerald’s family thus becoming the material. The dramatist presents Sheila as an object and presents her as dependant to promote the idea of socialism and display that capitalism is wrong as people are being objectified for wealth.
Once the Inspector has arrived, Sheila begins to show empathy for Eva Smith, something which her father and the family unit are yet to display. This can be seen when she says to the inspector, “I told my father-he didn’t seem to think it amounted to much-but I felt rotten at the time and now I feel even worse. Did it make much difference to her?” The words “now I feel even worse” enhance her empathy for Eva Smith, as it shows that Sheila has not only felt upset, but has extended her gloom connoting a sense of true empathy for Eva Smith. The fact that she puts her father’s views aside suggests that Sheila is deprioritising her father’s views and placing her own views above her fathers, displaying that she has lost the respect she had for her father and she is developing her own opinions and ideas, no longer depending on her family. Additionally, Sheila asks for the Inspector’s opinion prioritising is higher than her father’s which further emphasises her movement away from the family unit and her changing beliefs from a socialist to a capitalist. The dramatist presents Sheila to be moving away from the family unit so the audience develop a liking towards her and so they realise that younger generation can change for the better.
As the inspection progresses, Sheila begins to take on the role of the inspector. She begins to ask Gerald questions when they are alone, and at one point she says “Well Gerald?” The dramatist has used her immaturity at the beginning to convey the great contrast in her personality, now being mature and established. This development of her immaturity to becoming mature makes the audience view Sheila more positively. This also shows that as Sheila develops in her ideology, progressing from capitalist to socialist, she is developing in the sense of her maturity and dependence becoming more mature and independent. This makes the audience side with the inspector and Sheila more as not only do they share the views of socialism, they share maturity and intelligence unlike the capitalist characters in the play. Later on when they have finished talking and the Inspector re-enters the room and asks, “Well?” This echo of Sheila’s words shows that Sheila has begun to take on the role of the Inspector. The fact that the inspector has echoed her words also shows that she has progressed to become a more dominant character as the inspector, the most verbally dominant characters in this play is echoing her words. She is no longer relying on other people to gather information for her, she is now able to think and inquire for herself.
After the inspector departs, Sheila is presented as separate from her family and united with the inspector. This is shown by the words “you’re ready to go on in the same way… no because I remember what he said… fire, blood and anguish.” Sheila refers to her mother and father in the second person, “you’re” therefore excluding herself from the family unit. By separating herself from her family, she sides with the inspector and due to the views of the audience, enhances the image of Sheila. This is because the audience are against the views of Mr Birling, anyone who is on the Inspector’s side gets thought highly of by the audience. In addition, we see that Sheila is repeating the words that have been previously said by the inspector, she echoes the words “fire, blood and anguish”. This statement is proleptic as she correctly predicts the future as this statement is describing war and the audience know that there was indeed a war after the period that this drama is set in as they had witnessed two World Wars, only ending the year this drama was written. This is in direct contrast to the quote from Mr Birling where he openly claims that no war will occur, this being an incorrect assumption from Mr Birling, thus offending the audience who had just lived through two wars. Due to this, the audience sides with Sheila and the Inspector instead of Mr Birling, meaning the audience is then able to empathise with Sheila while disliking Mr Birling and the rest of the family unit in which Sheila is no longer a part of.