In what ways does ‘Priestly’ present the effects of the Inspector’s visit on Sheila Birling in the play? J. B Priestley uses a variety of dramatic techniques to portray the effects of Inspector Goole’s visit on Sheila Birling. These devices include dialogue, physical action, stage directions and dramatic tension. Priestley places Sheila at the moral centre of the play. The Inspector’s visit takes her through an array of emotions in a very compressed time span which heightens Sheila’s anxiety and speeds her transformation.
The action is played out in real time i.e. the events unfold on stage exactly as they would in real life. Many modern dramas have copied Priestley’s theatrical technique (“24” TV series, and some episodes of E. R). At the beginning Sheila is shallow and “very pleased with life and rather excited”. She later admits that she had been “confident and pleased with herself”. We know this, as she likes money and possessions- Gerald Croft’s ring (“Oh it’s wonderful”) and clothes. But from this beginning, when this rich family are celebrating Sheila’s engagement (which is more like a company merger in Mr.Order now
Birling’s eyes), their entire world is turned upside down. Sheila feels everything most deeply and Priestley has the Inspector repeat Eva Smith’s agonising and unpleasant death by disinfectant several times which adds to her distress. Priestley starts Sheila’s transformation half-way into the 1st Act. When Sheila hears of the death she is genuinely distressed but she is still selfish because she is annoyed that her evening has been ruined (“I’ve been so happy tonight. Wish you hadn’t told me”).
Priestley continues the transformation by giving Sheila the beginnings of a social conscience. When Sheila realises that Eva was sacked for asking for a pay rise, she tells her father that it was a mean thing to do. Priestley also brings about her political awareness. The Inspector points out that desperate girls like Eva feed the capitalist free market for cheap labour. Priestley ensures that she takes a compassionate line, even though she has probably never considered the conditions of the workers: “But these girls aren’t cheap labour- they’re people”.
Priestley uses dialogue very cleverly, especially when the Inspector suggests the entire family should try and put themselves in the place of these unfortunate young women in their “dingy little back bedrooms”. He ensures Sheila empathises with Eva. When Sheila realises she was responsible for Eva’s dismissal from Milwards, Priestley introduces physical action. Sheila half stifles a sob and runs out. This tremendous physical reaction is very powerful because it is the first bit of action and it heightens Sheila’s distress.
When she returns she has been crying. Priestley continues her descent into misery so that in pain Sheila asks “So I’m really responsible? ” Priestley makes Sheila confront her own jealousy and pettiness by her acceptance that she had allowed her own bad temper and anger to have Eva dismissed from her job. Priestley shows the class-based economic power that Sheila possessed. By the end of the 1st Act Priestley shows that Sheila is full of guilt and remorse. Sheila realises that Eva’s prettiness made her even more determined to have her sacked.
During this long speech Sheila confesses her own part, and she almost breaks down. It is a speech full of pathos (sadness, sorrow). Priestley uses repetition of words to show Sheila’s anguish and sense of guilt: “I know, I know… I’ll never, never do it again”. This also shows that Sheila is keen and anxious to change her behaviour in the future. Sheila is full of guilt and says “If I could help her now…. ” Before the end of Act 1, Priestley adds to Sheila’s grief by showing that she has been betrayed by Gerald Croft’s disloyalty the previous summer.