After the Inspector’s departure Birling admits that he has “learnt a loti?? from his visit. However, he immediately singles out Eric as “you’re the one I blame for this [the scandal]i?? , so he still seems to have little notion of community as he should, if he had learnt anything, be saying “we’re the ones to blame for thisi??. Instead he seems to be shifting blame from himself. We can also see that as soon as the characters begin to construct doubts about the legitimacy of the Inspector he tries to find a way out of his predicament.
As the story unravels he becomes “excitedi?? on discovering that the Inspector is not real and soon he has managed to put the whole episode out of his head, despite protests from Eric and Sheila who try to tell him that “you still haven’t learnt anything. i?? Birling is far more concerned about what may happen if the news comes out in public than whatever he did to Eva Smith and makes fun of Eric and Sheila for “not being able to take a jokei??. However, the phone call he receives at the end of the play is not at all funny to him.
To sum up, from the play we can see that when Birling preaches his “every man for himselfi?? philosophy he is very assured that he is right. The Inspector’s questioning manages to make him change his mind slightly although he is still sure of what he believes in. When he sees a chance to get out of the embarrassing situation he has been put into he grabs it with both hands and manages to forget the lesson he has learnt during the evening. Sheila is probably the character who changes the most during the play.
At the start of the action she is very happy about her engagement, “pleased with life and rather excitedi??. However, even at this point we pick up some of the qualities in her that are so marked later in the play, such as her clear stating of opinions which can be seen when she half-teases Gerald about his absence during the summer and her opinion of wine drinkers. Sheila’s reaction on receiving her engagement ring from Gerald show her state of mind: “Sheila: Oh – it’s wonderful! Look – Mummy – isn’t it a beauty? Oh – darling!
i?? Sheila appears to be inattentive over her father’s speeches at the dinner table and has to be told to listen. This suggests that she neither find his opinions interesting nor agrees with them, which may point to her future conduct in the play. Sheila’s explanation of her conduct when interviewed by the Inspector shows how naive and thoughtless she was up to that point. However, unlike Birling she feels very upset about her conduct, shown by her running out of the room sobbing when first shown the photograph of Eva Smith.
She also swears that she will “never, never do it [behaving like that towards others] again to anybodyi??. This is a turning point in the play for Sheila. Almost at once she sheds her image of being a naive and ignorant young lady and takes on the most profound understanding of the Inspector’s message. During the rest of the play she often makes several cutting remarks during the other characters’ i?? interviews’ with the Inspector.
For example, when the Inspector is talking to Mrs Birling she warns her mother not to block herself from Eva Smith in her answers to his questions: Mrs Birling: … And in any case I don’t suppose for a moment that we can understand why the girl committed suicide. Girls of that class — Sheila : Mother, don’t–please don’t For your own sake, as well as ours, you musn’t. — Mrs Birling: Musn’t – what? Really, Sheila! Sheila : You musn’t try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl. If you do, the Inspector will just break it down…
Incidences such as this, where Sheila is clearly contradicting the opinion of her parents, lead Mrs Birling to remark to the Inspector that “You seem to be making a great impression on the childi??. The Inspector’s response, that “we often make an impression on the young onesi?? is proved to be true. The younger characters – Sheila, Eric and to an extent Gerald, are able to see the Inspector’s message realise that he is right. However, the older characters are too entrenched in their beliefs and still stubbornly cling to what they believe in.