J. B Priestly first describes Sheila as a ‘pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited’. She is of upper middle class, or ‘new money’. Women in Edwardian times did very different things depending on what class they were in. Working class women worked in places such as shops, factories, mines and farms. Upper middle and upper class do not work at all. They will however, be seen doing charity work to look as if doing good for the town. Mostly their days are spent shopping and gossiping. Sheila is the only daughter of Mr Arthur Birling, who is a ‘self-made’ businessman.
He runs ‘Birling and Company’ in Brumley. At the start of Act 1 the family are celebrating her engagement to Gerald Croft, who is an upper class businessman and part of a company called ‘Croft’s Limited’, a company that rivals her fathers. The Birlings are delighted about Sheila and Gerald’s engagement and Mr Birling says, “You’re just the son in law I’ve always wanted”. It becomes apparent they are happy for the wrong reasons. Arthur seems to be more interested in the money and his business then his daughter’s happiness. As it goes along, it becomes increasingly obvious that Sheila is in charge of her relationship with Gerald.
She says, possessively “I should jolly well think not, Gerald. ” When Mr Birling starts one of his speeches he says, “It’s a pity Sir George and Lady Croft can’t be with us”. This tells me that they didn’t really approve of Sheila and Gerald’s engagement. The Croft family, as titled people, considered the Birling family ‘New Money’. More evidence to prove this is when Sheila says, after Gerald gives her the ring, “Is it the one you wanted me to have? ” This statement proves the point because it insinuates that there was an argument over the ring as if it was a family heirloom.
When Sheila gives the ring back to Gerald her father asks her to rethink the decision. This goes back to the fact that Arthur is only in it for the money, as no parent would encourage their daughter to marry someone unfaithful. The Croft family, as titled people, considered the Birling family ‘New Money’. This means that Arthur had made his money through the manufacturing industry. He is also known as a ‘social climber’ having sent his son to university and marrying a woman who is considered his ‘social superior’ He imitates the values of upper class, for example he buys the same port that the Crofts serve in their house.
This is made clear when Mr Birling says, “Finchley told me it’s exactly the same port your father gets from him. ” It also becomes increasingly clear that Sheila doesn’t really trust Gerald. When he explains he was busy at the works, she replies, “That’s what you say”. It is obvious that she doesn’t think this is true. One of her final comments is “I don’t think I will get used to it, so you be careful. ” This is clearly a threat about his affairs and it is very forceful. Sheila challenges Gerald in front of her parents because she wants them to question him and his whereabouts.
However, this backfires as Mrs Birling takes Gerald’s side and tells Sheila he’s probably ‘doing some important work. ‘ This gives an example of the Edwardian family because if an Edwardian husband had an affair, which he usually did, their wives would turn a blind eye so it looked like there were no problems in the relationship. Also, if couples divorced the women had no right to their own property and the father would have sole custody of the children, so because of this there were not many divorces.
She soon becomes quite childish, as when she and Eric, her brother also in his early twenties, argue Mrs Birling has to step in and says, “Stop it, you two”. She uses slang when she tells Eric “You’re squiffy”. More language used by Sheila is when Eric accuses Sheila of bad language and retorts “Don’t be an ass Eric”. Their replies show that the two siblings share secrets with each other and it’s evident their parents don’t know Eric drinks too much or that Sheila uses bad language. In some ways the family are perfect examples of Edwardian society; they don’t want to accept there are problems in their family.
When the Inspector arrives, Sheila is originally in the drawing room with her mother, Sybil Birling. After a while, her curiosity brings her back into the room. She is very nosey and walks in saying, “What’s all this about? ” She asks lots of questions about Eva including how pretty she was and how she died. You can tell that Sheila loves scandal and gossip and has a morbid curiosity. She proves this by saying, “What business? What’s happening? ” She also happens to know about the girl who escaped from Alderman Meggarty with, luckily, only a torn blouse in Act 2.
Sheila has double standards and has one rule for her and a different one for others. For example, when Mr Birling reveals what he pays them, she tells him “But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people”. On the other hand, she has no respect for the lower class because she got Eva sacked. Sheila is like her father in a way, because she thinks working class is not important. This is very hypocritical. Just before Sheila confesses to her involvement in Eva Smith’s death, the Inspector shows her a picture and that leads to her fleeing the room. After a while, she comes back out of curiosity.
Sheila makes her parents believe that she is innocent as she calls them ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’. She expects her mother and father to bail her out of everything because when she starts to explain, she says, “I’ve told my father – he didn’t seem to think it amounted to much. ” This shows that she believes it will be OK because ‘daddy’ doesn’t think it matters. However, she does show her soft side with the words, “I felt rotten at the time and now I feel a lot worse. ” When saying these words she begins to show she can be mature and take responsibility for her actions.
As she tells her story she seems strong-willed as she says, while distressed, “I went to the manager at Milwards and I told him…. I’d persuade mother to close our account. ” This shows that she is willing to take risks and threaten people to get what she wants. This threat would have convinced the manager, because in Edwardian times employees could be sacked easily as there were no employment tribunals or appeals. Her next piece of speech is “It was an idea of my own – mother had been against it, and so was the assistant – but I insisted.
This tells me that she can be quite manipulative and one particular part of the quote is ‘mother had been against it. ‘ This part of the quote stresses parental control as Sheila’s mother, who is her husband’s social superior, didn’t approve and effectively dresses Sheila. When Sheila says “She was the right type for it, just as I was the wrong type” it tells me that she is very self-centred and if the spotlight is on someone else she gets upset and angry. On the other hand, she knows when she gets angry and says, “I was very rude to the both of them. ” Sheila recognises her emotions but sometimes can’t control them.
She gets jealous and says, ” If she had been some plain, miserable little creature, I don’t suppose I’d have done it. ” She is clearly jealous of Eva’s looks and so she acts in this way. Selfishness also plays a part in Sheila’s confession as she says, “I couldn’t be sorry for her. ” This statement insinuates that she was too busy feeling sorry for herself and her dignity was almost gone. For this she blamed the girl. Finally, she uses her social class to her advantage and even admits it as when the Inspector asks, “So you used the power you had, … to punish the girl. In defeat she admits “Yes, but it didn’t seem to be anything terrible at the time. ”
At this point she fully faces up to the part she took in Eva Smith’s death. Analysing Sheila’s Confession Sheila’s confession is a big part of the play. In the version of the play, done by the National Theatre Production, a lady named Annabelle Mullion played the part of Sheila Birling. In the play she is portrayed as a lady in her early twenties. She is also a tall, slim girl. Annabelle wore a long, white evening dress. It was fashion for upper middle class to wear formal evening gowns at important events.
The dress is worn to stand out against the black background. Also, white is seen as the colour of purity and innocence, which is ironic because Sheila is anything but innocent. She wears the dress to imitate a debutante, a young unmarried girl from a titled background. To go with the dress, she wears long white gloves and discreet, tasteful jewellery. In the National Theatre Production the setting is a doll’s house, which is situated above an Edwardian slum. There is a lot of allegery in this part of the play. The doll’s house symbolises that the Birlings don’t live in the real world and they live like the ‘perfect family’.
The house can easily broken; so can the Birling’s dreams. It also symbolises that if the family, and the house, do get broken, the Birling’s will end up in the slum. In Sheila’s confession she is in the foreground, which would be the slum and she is made to confess to the audience. At the start of the speech there is spooky music as the Inspector pushes Sheila to the front of the stage. Sheila has to confess to the audience but also to face the truth and her guilt. She starts the speech with caution, as though she doesn’t want a part in it.
Annabelle’s voice comes out shaky and uneven to show that Sheila is nervous. To avoid making eye contact, she plays with her hands. The Inspector is in half-spotlight to remain mysterious and the spotlight is totally on Sheila. Annabelle talks slowly so people can appreciate her side of the story, but also she is thinking very carefully about what to say to keep her out of trouble. However, when she explains what happened as the girl bought the dress up, she keeps eye contact with the audience. She does this to gain people on her side and that happens a lot in the play.
When Sheila says “had held the dress up”, Annabelle imitates holding a dress up. The hand gestures she makes are clearly nervous as she is trying to justify her actions. The next part of the speech, “She was the right type for it, just as I was the wrong type” is significant because to make it seem like it was inevitable she laughs nervously after saying ‘she was the right type for it. ‘ At the word, “Well” she realises she is not winning and so she sounds childlike and spoilt. So she shifts the blame when she says “I caught sight of this girl smiling… as if to say ‘Doesn’t she look awful'”.
Sheila is disrespectful as she always refers to Eva Smith as ‘this girl’ but in Act 1 she tells her dad that “these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people” “I caught sight of this girl smiling at Miss Francis – as if to say: ‘Doesn’t she look awful’ – and I was absolutely furious” She shouts this particular part as she remembers, and relives, how angry she was at that moment in time. She also tries to shift the blame onto Eva and this would make her feel better as it wouldn’t be her fault. At one point she says, “impertinent – and – and … How was I to know what happened afterwards.
She gets emotional at this point as she realises the full extent of what she did and that is why she pauses. By this point she is desperately trying to get out of it but knows no one is buying her story. However, she knows the audience is looking at her in disgust and she also knows she is running out of excuses. She has three justifications for her actions. They are: she didn’t know what the consequences would be, that she wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t pretty (‘If she’d been some miserable plain creature, I don’t suppose I’d have done it’) and “But she was very pretty and looked as if she could take care of herself.
I couldn’t be sorry for her. ” In a way these are desperate pleas so she can get people back on her side. Finally, she says to the audience, “Don’t you understand? ” This is one last bid to get sympathy. When she says she didn’t mean to do it, she shows some true emotion and she looks totally crushed. At the end of the scene all the lights are on her and the Inspector stands at the back of the stage looking mysterious. When the cameras “talked” to Annabelle Mullion, who plays Sheila Birling, she explained some things.
She realised that Sheila has tried to forget about the situation until the Inspector arrives. She also believes it is Sheila’s curiosity that brings her back to the stage. She is scared and worried so, to protect herself, she comes back accusingly. The Inspector starts to feel a bond with Sheila, because she is the first one to confess to what she has done and he feels endeared to her. They soon become allies and together they get the others to confess to their actions. To play the part Sheila used a special technique. She used this to portray the emotions well during the confession.
First, she said, the actors, who were being the audience, pretended that they liked the character. By this, Sheila told the story as if she was telling a friend. However, when she got about halfway through, the audience turned on her. This would make her feel accused and a horrible person so she would start shifting the blame and trying to get out of it. While rehearsing the play, this worked well but when she was on the stage she had to imagine the audience was doing the same thing. Annabelle Mullion plays the character extremely well and it is easy to understand Sheila’s character and personality.