After discussion with those involved in the production of ‘An Inspector Calls’, I have decided to offer you the leading female role, that of Sheila Birling. The role is very challenging one and I would like to give you some idea of the play and Sheila Birlings part in it. The play is set in 1912 and explores the theme of social responsibilities. The Birlings are a prosperous middle classed family and when the curtains open they are at dinner where Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft is to be announced. Gerald comes from an even wealthier and socially superior family then the Birlings. The present and optimistic mood is disturbed by the arrival of an Inspector Goole who is investigating the suicide of a young woman Eva Smith.
Each of those at the dinner table has had some connection with Eva Smith and the Inspector tries to draw them into realizing their responsibility for her death. The inspector’s role begins like a criminal investigation but gradually is how to be a moral investigation. Not every member of the Birling family responds with a sense of guilt, but the younger ones do. But Priestly’s message is powerfully made, the message is that our life’s are bound up with the life of others and we can not be selfish without paying a heavy price.
Much of the focus of the play is on the way in which Sheila changes from a spoiled and selfish young woman into a woman who releases the wrong that she and her family have done to those less fortunate then themselves. At the beginning she’s a young woman very much in love, thrilled with the diamond engagement ring and concerned only about her marriage to a rich young man. Her father makes serious comments on business and politics “that a man has to look after himself and his family by making money.” Sheila has no interest in the convocation. It is at this point that the inspectors’ arrival is announced the timing is dramatic because the inspectors visit will end with the Birling selfish views turned upside down.
The inspector beings to question those who are present about their connection with Eva Smith. Could she have been driven to suicide by some action or conduct by those present at the dinner. Birling is arrogant and admits that Eva was sacked from his factory for taking part in a strike, he justifies his action with heartless argument that it was necessary for the success of his business. Sheila comes in at this stage and begins to be cross examined by the inspector. At first she is unmoved by what has been going on but when there inspector cleverly brings up the questioning around to pointing out her own responsibility. She had been responsible for Eva smith being sacked from a clothes shop because her vanity had been hurt by something that Eva Smith did. Her reaction shows the beginning of the stages by which she matures into a responsible and compassionate woman. She honestly admits her responsibility and makes no effort to hide her feelings of guilt
It’s a different Sheila Birling we see from the one we met at the beginning. You have to bring out this change in a convincing way. The inspectors probing examination begins to extend to others in act 2. The importance of what he does will be shown largely in the way in which you greater and greater understanding hypocrisies of Sheila family and their class. You should be able to show your awareness of the fact that the inspectors seems to have some strange knowledge of the responsibility of each person for what happened to Eva Smith. He knows but he tries to draw from each character an admission of guilt, through he is not successful with everybody. You should show your distress at the way in which the responsibility of each person is becoming revealed and the reluctance of your parents (Birling and Mrs. Birling) top open their minds to the truth.
Sheila begins to learn something new about her lover Gerald Croft; she isn’t too pleased with this. He had an affair with Eva Smith and lied Sheila about his long absences from her. Sheila is sarcastic to Gerald as he begins to reveal details concerning his relationship with Eva. “I’m supposed to be engaged to the hero of it, Go on Gerald”. The cosy world Sheila has been living in is falling apart. But some how instead of braking down she’s coming out of it stronger and understanding person.
She seems almost to be on the inspectors’ side, her parents regard him as meddling in their private affairs. They live in a narrow world and cannot understand the way in which the inspector tries to make them come out of it, look at themselves with greater honestly and change for the better.. Sheila knows that every question the inspector asks is aimed at making [people face up to the truth. The parents’ have been treating her like a child and can not understand the change taking place in her.
The difference between the parents and Sheila is shown when Birling tells the inspector angrily “I don’t propose to give you much more rope”. He’s blind to what is happening around him and how differently Sheila understands is shown by her comment “he’s giving us the rope-so that we will hang ourselves”. Every reply by the Birlings will bring out the truth the inspector wants them to face.