Comparison Of The Attitudes Of Arthur Birling And Sheila Birling From An Inspector Calls By J.B. Priestley
Comparison of The Attitudes Of Arthur Birling And Sheila Birling From An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestley
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
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
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Sheila and Mrs. Birling of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls
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Sheila and Mrs. Birling of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls
In my opinion, the two characters with the most contradictory ideas,
attitudes and responses throughout the whole novel are Mrs.Birling and
Sheila, Mrs.Birling daughter.
At the beginning of the play the first descriptions of Sheila and
Mrs.Birling are different. They have different opinions on importance
and life. After the Inspector arrives both women react in a different
way to the news; one is distressed and the other unfazed. They seem
to be on diverging terms with each other. Mainly in the way each
confess their connections with Eva Smith and the way they behave after
the Inspector leaves. At the beginning of Act 1, Sheila is a very
different person from the character at the end of Act 3. She has just
got engaged to Gerald Croft, and is very excited about her future. She
can only think of herself, and has no other worries. As the play
begins the home is described as heavily comfortable but not cosy and
homelike. This reflects the mother, Mrs.Birling, who is a rather cold
woman and her husband's social superior, whereas Sheila is a pretty
girl who is rather pleased with her life. For example, when the
Inspector arrives, Mrs.Birling grandly says to him, “My husband was
Lord Mayor”. Sheila does not follow her mother's ways because she
decides to give back her engagement ring to Gerald. Even when he
tries to give it back she refuses. Gerald is Sheila's social superior
but she seems to be a person who would only marry for love and not for
money or status. On the other hand I think that Mrs.Birling would
marry for power and money.
Sheila’s whole outlook on life is very positive. Everything is perfect
for her, and she has never suffered lack of money. She is somewhat
spoiled and expects everything to go right for her.
Another example of contradiction is the change in language. Throughout
the play Mrs.Birling language does not change at all she continually
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uses the words “rude” and “impertinent.” However Sheila's language
changes from scurfy, to a more serious tone towards the end of the
play which, echoes the Inspector's tone. For example she says, after
the Inspector has left, “Mother hardened her heart.”
After the Inspector arrives and delivers the horrific news of Eva
Smith's death both women react differently to it. When Sheila enters
the room after the inspector has arrived, she doesn’t know he is
there. She acts surprised to see him, and says“Oh- sorry. I didn’t
know.” She asks what the Inspector is doing there, saying,
“What’s all this about?” She does not expect it to be anything either
very unpleasant, or anything involving her. When her father says,
“Nothing to do with you, Sheila. Run along.” it shows that he is
trying to protect her from having anything to do with the situation.
Again, it seems that Sheila is overprotected from unpleasant things
like this, and always has been. Sheila's first reaction is “Oh how
horrible!” and later she asks questions such as “What happened to her
then?” This shows her distress and real concern for Eva. Later, she
talks “warmly” about what she thinks about Eva's death which is a
“rotten shame.” This shows that she is honest when she says this.
Sheila also says, “These girls aren't cheap labour - they're people.”
This shows that Sheila is broad-minded and can see the problems with
society. All these reactions contrast Mrs. Birling's. When
Mrs.Birling is questioned on her conduct in regard to not giving Eva
Smith any charitable money, she is still unsympathetic towards her,
saying “she only had herself to blame” and when she says “Girls of
that class”, she stereotypes Eva Smith as being poor and therefore
unhappy and that is the real reason for her committing suicide. Sheila
can see the problems with society whereas her mother either doesn’t
know or turns a blind eye to the problems.
Again, Sheila and Mrs.Birling respond differently when they find out
that they have a connection with Eva's death. We can see that Sheila
has become more mature in her attitudes. She has admitted her part in
the death of Eva Smith. Sheila is clearly very sorry for what she did
to Eva Smith, which is obvious when she says,
“I behaved badly too. I know I did. I’m ashamed of it.” She has
learned, from the Inspector’s visit, to be less self-centred. She is
more sensitive towards other people. She is taking responsibility for
Eva Smith’s death and is upset at her parents because they are trying
to pretend nothing ever happened. She is on the verge of breaking down
and she does not make any excuses on her behalf. She tells the
complete truth and even if she told lies no one could contradict her.
On the other hand, Mrs. Birling is trying to avoid getting caught. She
says “I shall be glad to answer any questions the Inspector wishes to
ask me” and she is probably thinking that she can never get caught.
However this changes when the Inspector questions her. She then says,
“I don't think we need to discuss it.” I think this shows that she
knows she is guilty and she does not want to make herself more at
fault than she already is. She does not accept her responsibilities
because she tries to alter the blame on to other people. Finally, she
says “I accept no blame for it al all”, which indicates that she
doesn’t feel any sympathy at all for Eva Smith.
Throughout the whole play I see no resemblance between Sheila and Mrs.
Birling. During the Inspector’s visit, Sheila changed from a selfish,
spoiled, excited, newly engaged girl, into a caring, responsible and
open-minded person. Out of all the Birlings, and Gerald Croft, Sheila
changes the most. She learns from the Inspector, and understands the
purpose of his visit; to warn them of what will happen if they do not
change their ways. She admits her wrong actions, regrets and learns
from her mistakes and therefore she can become a better person in the
future. On the contrary, her mother, who is supposed to be an adult
does not admit her obvious and unashamed guilt and therefore learns