As his affair is slowly revealed to Sheila he tries to brush it off. However Sheila’s anger rages as she says ‘We can’t leave it at that’. Gerald then tries to calm her down but is immediately cut off. Sheila finds out the events of Gerald’s involvement questioning him however does not get a reply. As Gerald tells her to keep it from the inspector she exclaims ‘Why – you fool – he knows. Of course he knows’. These responses which are expressed by Sheila show a difference in her character. However at this moment her character is quite different. Sheila is quite distressed and anxious. She is not innocent (being partly to blame for Eva’s suicide) and is starting to develop a social conscience and an understanding of the real world.
During the play Sheila responds honestly to the Inspector when questioned. For example, when she is asked about Eva Smith being dismissed from Milwards she explains what happened and does not try to deny anything. She responds open mindedly asking ‘So am I really responsible?’ This shows that Sheila is honest and is not afraid of being blamed. Compared with the rest of the family Sheila never refuses to accept that she has done wrong. This is shown when asked whether it was the girls fault and Sheila replied truthfully ‘No…It was my own fault’.
Compared to Sheila, Mr. Birling responds in a totally different manner towards the Inspector. When questioned he denies any responsibility for the girls suicide. This is made clear when he says ‘I can’t accept any responsibility!’ He also refuses to answer some of the Inspector’s questions ‘I don’t see that it’s any concern of yours how I choose to run my business. This shows that Mr. Birling is more worried about his position in society if accused than about Eva.
Before even being questioned Mrs. Birling denies even knowing the girl building up a wall between her and the Inspector. Even when questioned she refuses to answer or does not answer fully. For example when she says ‘And if I was, what business is it of yours’. However later on Mrs. Birling admitted to refusing Eva help from her charity and sending her away to get help from the father of the child. This shows that Mrs. Birling is a cold, heartless person. Eric behaves in a way similar to Sheila. When questioned he answers honestly and never refuses to comment. He admits getting Eva pregnant and stealing money from his father business. This shows that Eric is quite honest yet distressed by Eva’s death.
Before being questioned Sheila finds out about Gerald’s affair. He tries to hide this revelation from the Inspector however is confronted by Sheila. This shows that he is ashamed of his actions and does not want any one to know about it. At this point Sheila almost takes the role of the Inspector as she starts to question Gerald to find out the truth. The function of Sheila’s character here is to show her reactions and responses to questioning and pressure in contrast to the rest of her family’s. As she is the first person to take responsibility for her actions, and is the first person to be emotionally distressed by the situation, also she sometimes takes the role of the inspector questioning her family.
At the end of Act Two our impressions of her character is still the same. She is mentally stronger understanding the reason for the Inspectors visit unlike the others. She is the only one who knows that the whole family is involved as she exclaims to her mother ‘Mother – stop – don’t you see?’ At this point in the play the atmosphere is quite mixed up. Sheila is rather upset and distressed as she knows her mum is unknowingly blaming everything on her son. Mr. Birling is relaxed however angry with the Inspector.
The use of the photograph develops tension and suspense in the play as it is shown to one character at a time. It is never shown to the audience. This creates tension as everybody (both audience and the characters) are egger to see the victim. We find out later on that the inspector might have been showing a different picture to each person therefore it could not be shown to the audience as this would ruin the plot or the authenticity of the Inspectors initial plan.
After the Inspector leaves, the family start blaming each other, except for Sheila who takes responsibility for her actions and says ‘I behaved badly too, I know I did. I’m ashamed of it. But now you’re beginning all over again to pretend that nothing much has happened’. This shows that unlike the others, she realized what has happened and what she has done. She thinks that her parents are inconsiderate and only think about themselves. This is proved as Mr. Birling then says ‘…There’ll be a public scandal – unless were lucky -and who here will suffer from that more than I will?’ This shows that Mr. Birling is only worried about himself and being publicly humiliated.
Sheila seems to be the only one that has learnt something from the inspectors visit as she then says ‘…I don’t care about that, the point is, you don’t seem to have learnt anything’. This is proved as Mr. Birling later says after learning that the Inspector was a fraud ‘This makes a difference…in fact it makes all the difference’. Sheila behaves in a mature manner as she says ‘…it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face facts’. This shows that Sheila understands that what’s been done can’t be changed.
Eric behaves in a similar way to Sheila. When he starts talking we find out that he also understands and realizes what has happened as he says ‘Your beginning to pretend now that nothings really happened at all… the fact remains that I did what I did. And mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her’. This shows that Eric also realizes that their parents have learnt nothing from the inspectors visit. Sheila’s and Eric’s reactions are different compared to the reactions of their parents as they feel ashamed of their actions towards Eva whereas their parents are only worrying about the public finding out and if the inspector is real or fake.
The fact that the Birlings are of upper class brings a political side to this play. Since Eva is of lower class it brings a feeling of neglect into the atmosphere. Especially Mr. Birling, who refuses to have anything to do with Eva, let alone accept responsibility for her death. J.B Priestly tries to show readers how life was like for the lower and poorer class in a quest to change the way people act and treat the lower class in the was Sheila changes.
Sheila is the character which is explored in this essay. Responsibility is developed through her character as her reactions and responses are compared to her family’s. Although she is the youngest, she behaves in a mature manner answering the Inspector’s questions whereas her family refuses. She understands what has happened and is prepared to admit her faults. She also appears keen and anxious to change her behavior in the future, ‘Ill never, never do it again’.
Change is developed from the beginning to the very end. In the beginning Sheila is carefree, innocent and naï¿½ve. She has no worries or concerns. However towards the end she develops a social conscience and an understanding of the real world. She is emotionally stronger and has doubts about her parents. She has learnt a lot from her experience and even though the Inspector was a fraud she is still aware of her actions. This is Priestley’s intended message to the audience as he wants them to relate with the character of Sheila and change their ways as she does and also develop a social conscience with the view of the poorer classes.