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Sheila says, “it doesn’t matter much who made us confess” because I think she feels that it matters more what they have all learnt from this, and that they will never do it again. She becomes suspicious of the Inspector when Eric mentions, “You told us that a man has to make his own way… we weren’t to take any notice of those cranks who tell us that everybody has to look after everybody else… and then one of those cranks walked in – the Inspector.
She realises that it was a very strange coincidence, as she says, “(sharply attentive) Is that when the Inspector came, just after father said that?” and begins to doubt the identity of the Inspector. Between them, the Birlings conclude that the Inspector may not have been what he seemed. Then Gerald returns from his walk with the news that he has discovered that Inspector Goole was not a real police inspector.
Mr. and Mrs.
Birling and Gerald take this news completely differently from Sheila and Eric. Mr. Birling says, “This makes a difference, y’know. In fact it makes all the difference.” He is shown to believe that, as Inspector Goole is not a real police inspector after all, everything is all right. He and his family did not make their confessions to a police inspector after all, so they will not be in trouble with the law and publicly humiliated. Therefore, Mr. Birling is highly relieved and feels that everything is fine again.
However, Sheila and Eric are both portrayed as still feeling guilty and partly responsible for the death of Eva.
The reason that they are bothered by the whole incident is that they feel extremely remorseful and hate to think that they had caused the death of a young girl. So for them, the fact that the public is not going to know all about it is the least of their troubles. Sheila says, “(bitterly) I suppose we’re all nice people now,” which I think sums up how she feels very effectively. What I think she means by this sarcastic comment is that to her, the fact that the Inspector was not a real inspector does not change anything that she did in the past, and admitting it only revealed what she did to the others.
Between Act One and the end of Act Three, Sheila’s character changes considerably. She becomes a much stronger individual – from “I’m sorry, Daddy. Actually I was listening,” to “(flaring up) I’m not being childish. If you want to know, it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts,” and I think she has learnt a lot about herself. She has realised the potential her actions could have, and is deeply shocked by that. She has also realised that her parents seem to care more about their reputation than the life of another human being, and she knows all the facts about Gerald’s affair and can decide for herself if she should forgive him.
Sheila’s reaction to the whole story is different from all the others in the play. For one thing, she immediately tells the whole truth about her part in the incident without trying to cover up what she did or make herself seem less guilty. For another, she alone realises the extent to which the Inspector has power over them, and how knowledgeable he is – for example, at the end of Act One, Gerald says, “We can keep it from him” and Sheila says, “Why – you fool – He knows.” She also is the only one to understand properly the lesson to be learnt by all this, without thinking of the family’s reputation or trying to protect herself first. Her mother in particular reacts completely differently from Sheila. She resists the Inspector’s inquiries and beliefs instead of accepting that she is wrong – she says, “I think I was justified.”
I think that Priestley meant to portray Mrs. Birling as the person who refuses to accept what she has done and respect the Inspector the most, because she never really shows any regret for her actions. She says a lot to put across her views on the situation, for example: “You’re quite wrong to suppose I shall regret what I did” and “I accept no blame for it at all”. However, Mrs. Birling comes off extremely badly in the end, after describing the punishment that the father of Eva’s child should receive, before discovering that this person is her own son, Eric. This indicates that Priestley thinks anyone with the same point of view as Mrs. Birling deserves the shock and disgrace that she brought upon herself.
Eva Smith has supposedly committed suicide as a result of actions taken by each one of the people present, but towards the end they begin to question the truth in what the Inspector has said. I think that whether or not she actually exists in the story, we could interpret her character as an embodiment of the Gerald and the Birlings’ guilt. I think this because when the sins that each of them committed are brought together, it is possible that they could amount to a young girl killing herself, even if this did not actually happen.
Overall, I think that JB Priestley is saying that we should treat each other with equal respect, regardless of social class or background, and wealthy people should not abuse their position for power over others. I think the Inspector’s final speech is very powerful, especially, “… their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body.”
This is a summary of what JB Priestley and the Inspector believe in, and I think that Priestley could have created the Inspector as a representation of himself and his own views. He gives the Inspector “an impression of massiveness” and throughout the play he seems entirely powerful, calm and in control. I think that Priestley wants the Inspector to have a mysterious air and represent himself and his socialist views being correct, rather than the Birlings’. I think that Priestley intended the audience to come away with a sense of unity between everyone, whether rich or poor, and an understanding of the impact a small action of theirs could have on somebody else’s life.
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