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Shelia Birlings Character Throughout the Entirety of the Play ‘An Inspector Calls’

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The play ‘An Inspector Calls was written about a wealthy family named the Birlings, they were a heavily industrial family, who seemed to have little morals. The play was written by J.B Priestly after World War Two had taken place, this was because Priestly wanted to show the contrast between social roles in women at the time. However, despite this, he decided to set his play before World War One to accentuate his point further. Certain characters such as Eva Smith are used to build melodramatic tension, the use of this creates irony, however Eva as a character is also used by Priestly to convey his socialist messages. The socialist message is also shown by exploring Mr Birling and the Inspectors' views on the future, this includes Sheila's response to the situation.

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The character of Sheila evolves throughout ‘An Inspector Calls”. She is a frivolous young woman, who can also come across as being naive. Towards the beginning of Act 1, Sheila comes across to the audience as being a spoilt young child who has materialistic traits. We can see that she had a clear childlike mindset which makes her appear self-absorbed. However, as the play continues to progress, the reader can begin to see her character develop. Towards the end of Act 1, we notice that Priestly uses Sheila to present several of his personal views on life such as his socialist views. A sense of feminism is portrayed through this. Between the themes, of socialism and youth we notice that Sheila is a dynamic character who holds a lot of purpose throughout the play. Sheila impacts her family’s actions later in the play and also changes Eric's opinion on his actions.

In Act 1, there is a logical quote that states, ‘these girls aren’t cheap labor- they’re people’, Sheila expresses her emotions vividly through the use of this quote, it could also have several meanings including the fact that it conveys morals. The phrase ‘these girls’ out of the quote is giving the less fortunate woman who has to work hard, larger value again. This also suggests that Sheila was putting all other women on an equal level to herself. The use of this begins to portray a large socialist message. The word ‘labor’ also suggests that women worked very hard for almost nothing in return. Finally the wording of ‘they’re people’, is written in italics in the playwright, at this point, the audience starts to witness a turning point in Sheila's character. We notice that she has slightly matured as a woman and we also notice that her own opinions change which then challenges her parents' ways of life.

However, disregarding this, the quote ‘yes- except for all last summer when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you.’, is almost a sense of juxtaposition. We as an audience begin to notice that Sheila and Gerald's relationship is not at all perfect. The stage directions say ‘half-serious, half playful’, this comment also suggests Sheila can be caring and also thoughtful at times. Despite this, the sentence starting with ‘yes’ almost gives a demanding tone, which then sets a bad sense throughout the rest of her speech. Sheila's actions during this begin to demonstrate a strong attitude, this can then be linked to the theme of youth. Relating to this. The audience can understand that Sheila is a young woman who experiences life normally.

As the play continues into Act 2, the role of Sheila changes even further. During this act, we are introduced to Inspector Goole who discusses with the Birling the death of Eva Smith. The inspector interrogates the family and almost blames them for her death. The quote ‘I know I’m not to blame…That would be horrible.’, begins to show that Sheila disregards the idea of being responsible. As we begin to break the speech down into more detail, we notice that there is a selfish tone is present throughout. ‘I know I’m not to blame, reveals the idea of her being immature and irresponsible because she can’t process the information. Continuing the phrase ‘desperately sorry’ is a prompt towards sarcasm. Later in the phrase, there is repetition with ‘I can’t’ and 'I won’t’, using this signifies to the reader that she’s slowly understanding the severeness of the situation and the great difficulty it will cause.

However, in Act 3, is when Sheila's character develops and the audience can see that she has changed since Act 1. We notice she changes from being very naive to self-conscious of her actions. ‘Between us, we drove that girl to commit suicide’, contrasts with her tone at the beginning of the play. Sheila isn’t just reminding herself but her demanding tone when stating her emotions reminds the rest of the family of their mistakes. Towards the end of Act 3, Eric begins gaining a closer relationship with Sheila for the first time in the play due to their shared outlooks on life. 

The two characters feel this way as they are the only two who feel sympathetic and regret past decisions. There is a clear change in Shiela's attitude here as she is now more mature. Due to her discussing her feelings, her relationship with her parents begins to get damaged. This is because they’re switching roles, Sheila decides to grow up and face the facts whereas Mr Birling pretends everything is okay. This then allows Sheila to recognize her faults and their failure to acknowledge their own.

Sheila's character changes throughout the entirety of the play because Sheila learns from Inspector Goole and begins to notice the purpose of his visit. In Act 1, she was a selfish and childish character who had a very egocentric attitude. Then in Act 2 and 3, she hears all the horrendous things her family had done and disregarded the idea she had involvement. Towards the end of the play, her outlook changes as she takes responsibility for her actions, the use of these things shows to the audience that there was a vivid change in her character.

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