In this essay I shall discuss the contrasts that have been used in An Inspector Calls. Firstly the contrast, which had stood out the most, was the progress from ignorance to knowledge, this was shown specifically in Sheila; young, pretty and rich Sheila who was show to be ‘very pleased’ with her share of the world at the beginning of the play whereas in stark contrast near the end of the play her character has progressed from naively ignorant satisfaction to opening of her eyes to the facades and indifferent selfishness of the upper classes.
For example in Priestley’s stage directions Sheila ‘bitterly’ reacts to Birling and Mrs Birling’s refusal to take responsibility for their actions and want to avoid ‘scandal’ and climb up the social ladder. Therefore the contrast of ignorance and knowledge is depicted in Sheila as she realizes her and her family’s roles in the suicide of Eva Smith/ Daisy Renton.
Another significant contrast shown in the play is the difference between the older and younger generations. The main differences between the old and young is that the older generation of Birlings just want to wash their hands of this ‘awkward’ business, such as following the Inspector’s departure Birling discusses only the possible shame that could rob him of his ‘almost certain’ knighthood but does not reflect on his actions towards Eva Smith.
This illustrates that Birling was only gutted about his potentially lost doorway to success and status, furthermore when Sheila accuses Birling of unconcern towards the tragedy and lesson that ought to be learnt Birling is highly self centered and talks only of himself- ‘who here will suffer more than I will? ’ Mrs. Birling, playing the role of the obedient and supportive wife, also displays selfish behavior talking about the ‘rude’ tone the Inspector used; this connotes that she is highlighting her superior status to the Inspector, suggesting that he ought to treat her with respect due to her class regardless of any unjust acts she had done.
This shows that position and socially acceptable behavior was of more importance than morality and virtue to Mrs. Birling. On the other hand the new generation of Birlings, Sheila and Eric, fully acknowledge the effects of their actions and are affected by their parents lack of empathy towards the tragic end of Eva/Daisy, for example Eric angrily ‘burst out’ that Arthur and Sybil were beginning to ‘pretend’ that nothing had happened. This demonstrates that Eric was aware that his parents had been distressed by Eva’s death but the once the powerful presence of the Inspector had gone they had begun to return to their previous attitudes.
Moreover Sheila supports Eric’s attitude by ‘eagerly’ agreeing with him. They both also addresses the collective responsibility of Eva’s death, for example Sheila says ‘ashamed of us’ and Eric says ‘we all helped kill her’ this illustrates that ironically the younger generation was being responsible and was acknowledging not only their parents wrongdoings but their own also. Thus this demonstrates that the younger generation was more responsible and willing to take the burden of guilt whereas the older generation was lacking empathy and attempting to avoid scandal by pretending they had no blame.