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In the play “An Inspector Calls” by J.B.Priestly, Shelia Birling is presented as being honest, perceptive and open to Socialist ideas. Her presentation changes as the play progresses and she changes from naïve innocence to a more mature and pro-socialist woman with a deep understanding of her capitalistic society’s flaws.
At the start of the play, Shelia is portrayed as being naïve and oblivious to the struggles of the working class, but she shows remorse when her own guilt is exposed. The stage directions tell us that she is “very pleased with life” and is young, attractive and has just become engaged. However, she does not know about the struggles of the working class and soon expresses horror at her father’s treatment of Eva Smith. Although she has probably never before considered the impact of her decisions on the working class, she shows compassion immediately she hears of Eva Smith’s death. She first exclaims “How horrible!” and proceeds to tell her father “But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.”
However, when the Inspector reveals Shelia’s role in causing the chain of events that lead to Eva Smith’s suicide, Shelia is horrified by her own part in Eva’s story and is moved to tears. She feels full of guilt for her jealous actions and blames herself as “really responsible.” Shelia acknowledges her blame and admits to her jealousy actions, marking her as more progressive and open-minded than the older generation consisting of her parents. Shelia is starting to change and becomes increasingly sympathetic and pro-socialist as the play progresses.
As the Play continues, Sheila is presented as being increasingly perceptive and we can see this when after her interrogation, she changes and in a sense begins to adopt the Inspector’s character. When the Inspector starts questioning Gerald and Mrs Birling, Shelia not only insists on watching, but also helps the Inspector by filling in minor details and asking questions of her own. We can see this shortly before Gerald’s questioning, Shelia tells the Inspector “I don’t understand about you” then “she stares at him [The Inspector] wonderingly and dubiously” and when Mrs Birling enters “briskly and self-confidently, quite out of touch with the little scene… Shelia feels this at once.
” Shelia is also the first one to realise the Inspector’s semi- omniscience, saying that “No, he’s giving us the rope – so that we’ll hang ourselves.” Shelia insists that Mrs Birling must not “build a wall between us and the girl” as “the Inspector will just break it down,” The effect of these stage directions and dialogue, is to emphasise how Shelia is becoming increasingly perceptive and begins to see through her family’s translucency. We can tell that Shelia is becoming increasingly perceptive and can see how the entire family is involved in this scandal.
– Sheila acknowledges the Inspector’s. Realises everyone is to blame, and by not accepting the blame they are digging their own graves. Superior to her family in the sense that the knowledge has hit her; she knows that her family have done wrong.
You not only knew her but you knew her very well.” – Perceptive; Knows that everyone is to blame; becomes perceptive.
already aware of her actions and how they are wrong. She is willing to change her views but there is a sense of holding back throughout the play, like how she feels the need to share the blame. This is her internal conflict between the views she has been brought up with and the views she knows are right.
Priestley uses Sheila to show how the younger generation can change views & realise their mistakes.
Shelia’s transformation from an immature girl to an emphatic and mature woman during the course of the play is used as evidence that the younger generation can stop and prevent tragedies such as Eva Smith’s death from happening. Priestly uses Shelia to show that people can change from their capitalistic and materialistic society. ways to a more Socialist and equal society. He does this by showing all the disadvantages of following the capitalist ways by using Sheila as an example and by this, it makes the audience realise the way they are living has a serious effect on the working class (the death of eva smith) and that they should change their ways (like Sheila did) and they will have more sense of morality in their conscience.
She admits her guilt, saying that “It was my own fault” and “I’ll never, never do anything ”