Sheila Birling’s a central character in J.B. Priestley’s play “An Inspector Calls”. At the beginning of the play, Sheila is portrayed as a somewhat superficial and naive young woman, content to live in her sheltered upper-class world and unconcerned with the impact of her actions on others. However, as the play unfolds and Inspector’s investigation into the death of Eva Smith/Daisy Renton progresses, Sheila undergoes a significant transformation.
Through the course of the play, we see Sheila become increasingly aware of her privilege and the responsibility that comes with it. She shows genuine remorse for her past actions, particularly her mistreatment of Eva Smith, and begins to challenge the attitudes and behaviour of her family members. Her desire to make amends for her mistakes is seen in her insistence that others take responsibility for their actions, and her refusal to participate in the family’s attempts to cover up their involvement in Eva Smith’s death.
Ultimately, Sheila emerges as a character who has learned from her mistakes and is committed to making positive changes in her life. Her transformation serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy, compassion, and personal responsibility in creating a more just and equitable society.
|TASK: Before you look at the analysis, make a list of the characters that you remember from the play. For each one, briefly answer the following questions:
- The Birlings’ daughter, is a young, beautiful and intelligent girl who is also slightly spoiled due to her privileged background.
- Sheila shows her capacity for jealousy when she is irritated by Eva’s effortless beauty while working as an assistant in the local department store. Sheila perceives Eva’s actions as rude and uses her social status as a respected customer to have her fired from the job.
- Upon reflection, Sheila realises that her own insecurities led her to feel upset and that Eva had done nothing wrong.
- Sheila is a dynamic and complex character who, despite her wealth and privilege, harbours a true sadness about the state of the world. Her empathy for Eva, and by extension, the plight of the lower classes, makes her admirable and noble in the end.
- Typically, the audience views Sheila as the most sympathetic character, who has made mistakes but shows maturity in owning up to them and changing her ways
- Sheila is intelligent enough to recognise the cumulative effect of the family’s actions: “Probably between us we killed her”.
- She becomes confrontational and interrogatory towards the rest of her family, like the Inspector himself, once she has acquired a strong moral perspective on the situation.
- She seems childish at first, but matures as the play carries on – she is the most receptive to the Inspector’s messages, and therefore the quickest to admit fault and reform.
- Sheila represents the potential of the younger generation to break old habits and form a new way of living, one that is more respectful of humanity in general and less entrenched in old class structures.
- Sheila also demonstrates the potential for intelligent young women to become significant members of society, with their own voices and opinions being important for social reform.
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