An Inspector Calls by J.B Priestley was first performed in 1945. The play was set in 1912 before the war; it centres on the wealthy Birling family. A visit from the mysterious Inspector Goole, during the celebration of Sheila Birling’s and Gerald Croft’s engagement, proves to be a horrifying experience for them as they learn that they have all played a part in the suicide of a young girl called Eva Smith.
From the start we see that Mr Birling is a hardheaded businessman and seems to look out for only himself and his reputation. In his speech to Gerald and Eric he tells them “a man has to make his own way-has to look after himself -and his family, of course”. Now this seems to show his arrogance towards others. He is very proud and happy that his daughter is marrying into a higher class and believes he will get more respect.
Sheila Birling is presented at first as a childish playful girl. She is not stupid and we know that she is very suspicious of Gerald’s absence last summer. When on hearing the news, of Eva Smiths death, she is shocked. Through out the play Sheila seems aware of her parent’s ignorance and at one point she tries to stop her mother doing some thing she will regret because she under stand s what the inspector is doing
At the start during the dinner both of the characters are very happy and are drinking and eating. They begin to have a conversation and Mr Birling tells them that “just because the miners came out on strike, there’s a lot of wild talk about labour trouble in the near future.” And then he goes on to say that the war will not happen and that the titanic will not sink. The irony in this is that we know he is wrong even though he is saying that those who that there is going to be a war are wrong.
Priestly uses the dramatic irony of this to show how misguided Birling is and what an irresponsible figure in society he is. He then says that by 1940 there will be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere. Priestly was writing this play in 1934 he knew and so did everyone else at the time that Mr Birling was wrong. This shows us that what Birling was saying was a lie. It showed people how ignorant Mr Birling was. This made you wonder if all of his priorities were wrong.
When we are told the stories of how both characters were connected to Eva Smith. We see although Sheila is caring she treated Eva smith no better than her father did and that what they did to her was quite similar. They both had her thrown out from her job. They both did it for pathetic reasons. Neither of them thought about how the consequences would affect Eva. Mr Birling threw Eva smith out of her job at his Factory because she asked for a small pay rise of just under three shillings. She then got a Job in a shop called Milwards.
This was a respectable shop where many middle class people bought clothes. She was enjoying it there and liked being among the clothes. Sheila Birling shopped there and then Eva Smith brought out a dress that looked beautiful on her. Sheila Birling tried it on and it didn’t suit her at all she caught Eva Smith smiling. She got really angry and jealous and complained to the manager about rudeness and got her fired.
When first hearing of Eva Smiths death Mr Birling seems to care little and is rather impatient in asking what this has to do with him. When Sheila hears of the death she is shocked and distressed. She is interested in how she died. She is very saddened and even says “Sorry! It’s Just I can’t help thinking about this girl-destroying herself.” When this is performed on stage Mr Birling should seem annoyed while the inspector is talking to Sheila. He should walk around them and tap his feet to show that he is getting impatient.
When the Inspector starts Questioning Mr Birling he believes he played no part in this girl’s death he does no care for her at all he even tells the inspector “It has nothing whatsoever to do with the wretched girls suicide.” He calls a girl ,who has just put herself through terrible pain to end her life, a Wretched girl. I think that makes him out to be some sort of monster. Sheila on the other hand is distraught she feels ashamed and responsible for the girls death. She handles the questioning well and without argument. When questioned we can feel that she is telling the truth and that she is ashamed of what she has done. Mr Birling on the other hand will not accept responsibility for her death and at one point threatens the inspector. He feels angry with him for being so upfront with his accusations.
When the Inspector tells them that they are all responsible for her death Sheila doesn’t object and agrees, as she has felt responsible from the moment the inspector showed her the picture. When the inspector has left and has been shown as a hoax Sheila still feels bad about getting a girl fired from milwards. The Inspectors visit really did change her. I think from that moment on Sheila will spend her time helping people and will go on to join many organisations after the war. When her parents just brush aside what they have done to a poor girl, Sheila gets really upset and she tells them the what the inspector had to say was anything but a joke.
He made her feel scared and ashamed of what she has done. Mr Birling on the other hand will not believe the inspector. When the inspector is proved to be a lie. Mr Birling automatically thinks that it is good because his reputation could have been spoilt. He tells them “I’d a special reason for not wanting a public scandal.” That’s all he can think about. He learns nothing he thinks that what the inspector said and believes that none of what he said was true. When Sheila won’t accept the inspectors visit as a joke he thinks she’s Hysterical and need some time to cool down.
Priestley wrote this in 1934 he wrote it to express what it was like at the time. He showed us that it was people like Birling and the class system that help ruin the country for last twenty years. It shows that if more people reacted as Sheila had done and been sorry and regretful for your mistakes, and then maybe the War and the great depression could have been avoided. He tells us that this is what’s destroying society. The message he wanted to convey was that we are all responsible for each other.
When we compare these characters we see although similar at the beginning they are very different. Sheila is although, responsible for Eva Smith losing her second job, a kind person who will try and change what she’s done. Mr Birling on the other hand will continue as he is stubborn and uncaring about the working class. Sheila at the end of the play now sees that we should help each other out. Mr Birling will never change and unfortunately that will be his downfall.