Throughout ‘An Inspector Calls’, Sheila and Eric do things that seem very erratic and irrational to Mr. and Mrs. Birling. With the coming of the Inspector, both of the Birling children change, and their actions are very unlike those at the beginning of the play.
However, how much is this a result of having Mr. and Mrs. Birling as parents? At the beginning of the play, Sheila seems like a spoilt and sheltered little girl, with a liking for material things. This is shown when Gerald gives her the ring, and she suddenly changes from quiet and serious, to excited with, “Oh-it’s wonderful!
Look mummy- isn’t it a beauty – oh darling”. I think this attitude is completely as a result of having Mr. and Mrs. Birling as her parents. Arthur Birling has shown that he likes to have fine things (i. e. the expensive port) to show how wealthy he is, and as the Birlings are an upper-class family, they most definitely have brought Sheila up with the knowledge that material goods are everything. Even though her and Gerald are engaged, just the fact that she has the ring for it completely changes how she acts.
Another thing, and in my opinion hugely influenced by Mrs.Birling, is Sheila’s treatment of Eva Smith at Milwards. Simply out of jealousy, and the fact that she could do it, Sheila tells the manager that “this girl had been very impertinent”, and threatens to never come back and close her account with the store if the girl is not fired. This is a very nasty thing to do, and even though her mother is there, she does nothing to try and convince Sheila otherwise, showing she does not disapprove of Sheila’s behaviour. However, Sheila is very distressed about it all, and she shows something that Mr.and Mrs.
Birling do not show throughout the play – remorse. She admits that she was wrong (something which her parents cannot bring themselves to do), and feels very guilty for it. She even says that, “if I could help her now I would”. This is an action definitely not affected by her upbringing by Mr. and Mrs. Birling, but by her own social conscious, something that her parents lack. Her social conscious is shown even more when she states that, “but these girls aren’t cheap labour – their people”.
This again shows her breaking off from her parents and becoming an independent person of her own. Sheila also shows characteristics unlike her parents further on in the play – she shows love, or at least a kindness, to her family, something that her parents do not show. Even as her mother is treating her as if she was a child, Sheila still tries to warn her of how the Inspector will twist what she is saying later on. Of course Mrs. Birling ignores her, but Sheila perseveres even if it is a lost cause.
Sheila also shows signs of deduction and intelligence when she guesses early on that the Inspector knows everything about what is going on, and that between them they all killed Eva Smith. She also realises that Gerald had been having an affair with ‘Daisy Renton’ but she does not act shocked like her mother – she takes it all in a stride with a calm dignity that her parents fail to maintain. In my opinion, this is a result of having Mr. and Mrs. Birling as her parents, because she learns not to act like them, something which she might have struggled to do, if she did not have them as her parents.