Choose two characters from the play. With careful analysis of relevant sections of the play, show how Priestly wants us to react to them in different ways, and give reasons for these differences. An Inspector Calls was written in 1945 by JB Priestly. In this play Priestly portrays his views through his characters about socialists and capitalists. Two characters in the play that differ from one another are Sheila and Mr. Birling. I have chosen to write about these two as they are from different generations therefore their views and opinions will differ. They both react and respond differently to the inspector and they are affected in different ways.
In the opening scene of An Inspector Calls, Priestly builds our understanding of the two characters through many techniques. Firstly, our understanding of the characters is through the stage directions. At the dining table, Mr. Birling is seated at the head of the table ‘Arthur Birling at one end’. This illustrates his importance to the family and shows that he is the ‘head’ of the house. Sheila is however, sitting on the side of the table. This shows that her status isn’t as high as Mr. Birling. It may also show that Mr. Birling has control over what she does.
In the beginning of the play, Mr. Birling is portrayed to us as being a proud and overconfident man. You can tell that he is someone who is always concerned about his work. His speech shows us that he’s a workaholic. ‘Steadily increasing prosperity,’ this shows that although it’s his daughter’s engagement he is still willing to talk about his work. Mr. Birling is also fairly talkative. This is shown as he has two lengthy monologues which show that he’s a talkative person. Mr. Birling is also shown to the audience as being a formal speaker. You can tell this form the way he talks. ‘I am going to tell you frankly.’ the way in which Priestly chooses the language, tells us that he is a formal speaker.
The way in which he speaks to Sheila also shows that he is an authoritarian. This is backed up by the line ‘are you listening Sheila? This concerns you too.’ This shows that he can tell her when to listen to the things he has to say. Early on in the play, Sheila is depicted as a pleasant young lady, who I about to get married. This opinion that is shown to us is changed as we go further into the play. We see that after the inspector has interviewed her; the truth is let out, making the audience see her in a whole new light. Also Sheila appears to be a very self conscious girl. This is revealed when she tries on different dresses. We can see that she is someone who feels very jealous towards people who are much prettier than her.
This is clear as when she met Eva Smith, she is jealous that Eva is much prettier than she is. Her jealously then leads her to take the actions of firing her from her job. Coupled with the jealousy, the idea of her thinking she is better than others also is the consequent of her getting Eva sacked. The idea of her being able to get Eva Smith sacked shows that she does however, have a say in what goes on in the family businesses. She is also quite curious as she questions the rest of her family as to why the inspector is there.
Priestly influences the audience’s thoughts about the characters in the play. When the inspector comes, a lot of information is brought up and the truth is revealed. From this, we find out how badly Eva Smith was treated in the shop. This makes us change our views on the way in which we look at Sheila as she goes form being a polite young woman to someone who’s very jealous. The thoughts about Sheila change again, when we find out that she is party responsible for Eva Smith’s death.
She says, ‘So I’m really responsible?’ This is followed y the line, ‘No, not really. It was my own fault.’ As the character is saying that she is responsible herself, this is a technique uses to manipulate the audiences thoughts as they would now start to agree with Sheila. Our views are also changed on her as Priestly has carefully chosen what he wants Sheila to say. He gives her lines which will get the audience thinking and make them feel sorry for her, removing the guilt of her shoulders. This is shown in her lines saying ‘It can’t be any worse for me than it has been. And it might be better.’
On the other hand, priestly wants us to react differently to the way in which Mr. Birling reacts. Mr. Birling is very offensive and doesn’t agree with the inspector. He tries to show that he is right and had no part in the death of Eva Smith. Mr. Birling also makes the audience feel that he has nothing to do with it. The audience feel like this through Mr. Birling’s dialogue. He says, ‘I can’t accept any involvement.’ this shows that he denies any involvement in Eva. Evidence is also shown, yet he keeps denying it and refuses to agree, whether it’s the truth or not. He is also described through his dialogue of the play that he is greedy. This is shown when Eva asks him for money. However, he refuses and sacks her as he thinks that she shouldn’t have even had the cheek to ask him. To then remove the guilt of the death of Eva Smith he then says ‘I only did what any other employer would have done.’
The two characters react to the inspector in different ways. Sheila is very supportive towards the inspector and tells him everything. This in a way allows the maturity to shine through Sheila as she is able to let her inappropriate actions towards Eva without hesitation. This also creates irony as; Mr. Birling refuses to agree he had any part to do with her death, showing childishness. Sheila also is known to be ashamed of not only herself, but her family, as she believes they all had a part in the death of Eva. All of the family members led her to her death. She also feels slightly annoyed at the family. In contrast to this, Mr. Birling is very disappointed and angry that the inspector would come and blame the death of a girl on his family.
The different characters are chosen as they are used to enable Priestley to convey his messages successfully and what aspects of society they embody. At the beginning of the play, Sheila is somebody who has views, where she thinks that she is better off than everyone else just because of her dad’s wealthy business, giving her a higher status than any of the other young women. This is changed when Sheila then shares the same thoughts as Priestley. Priestley uses this character in the play to let his own thoughts can be revealed to the audience. She believes that everyone is part of the same community, therefore everyone should work together.
She doesn’t believe that anyone should have a higher status than anyone else; she feels that everyone deserves equal rights. In comparison, Mr. Birling is the epitome of capitalism. He believes that there shouldn’t be equality as some people are much better than others. He seems to care a lot about his status and believes he should get more money for what he does. He also feels that he deserves more than others.
At the end of the play, the characters find out about the inspector coming to them has all been a hoax. The two characters I have chosen; react to this different ways. Sheila has learnt form what has happened and decides she’s going to change. She says, ‘Everything we said happened had really happened. If it didn’t end tragically, then that’s lucky for us. But it might have done.’ She feels relieved but at the same time she feels guilty as what she did to the girl, could have killed her. To make her maturity stand out, Priestley makes Mr. Birling’s character very contradictory to Sheila’s. In conclusion, Priestley uses many techniques to change our minds about the different characters.