The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ was set in 1912 before World War I. The time period was called the Edwardian times because King Edward was on the throne. In this time women did not have any significance in society because the laws said that women were the property of their husbands and could not own property or money. Middle class women did not have jobs. Instead they did charity work, which followed the stereotype of women being the cultivators of society. Lower class women, on the other hand, had to go to work. The suffragette movement was the action taken by women to fight for women’s rights in that era.
The play was first performed in 1945 when World War II had just come to an end. During this time, plenty of women of different classes had to go out to work, in order to help their country. This experience gave women a kind of freedom, which they all enjoyed; this changed the status of women in society. The character Sheila Birling is a middle class woman in her early twenties. In the opening notes, Priestly describes her as “a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited”. The impression of her is young and nai?? ve: “Oh – Gerald – you’ve got it – is it the one you wanted me to have?
When she says this, it gives us, the audience, the impression that she likes things to be done for her like a child. At the beginning of the play she is celebrating her engagement to a wealthy businessman, Gerald Croft. Mrs Birling is described as “a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior”. Immediately this creates a negative impression in our minds of Mrs Birling, as the words used to describe her are negative so she seems to be a firm, stuck-up woman. Mrs Birling is an upper middle class woman who married below her class, for Mr Birling’s money. She appears to be in her fifties.
In act one when the inspector arrives, he announces the death of a young woman this is how we hear of Eva Smith. Priestly creates sympathy all through the play for her using the inspector and other characters. Eva is a working class girl and is in her early twenties just as Sheila. My impression of Sheila before the inspector’s arrival is that she is young, nai?? ve and innocent. “Gaily” and “possessively” are used to describe how she speaks which shows us she has the attitude of a child and she also refers to Mrs Birling as “Mummy” showing her child-like innocence.
Her parents refer to her as “Sheila-girl” or “girl” in the beginning of the play. When Gerald gives her the ring she is exuberant and perky; “Oh – it’s wonderful! ” When Sheila learns of Eva’s death she becomes disturbed and feels very saddened by it. Then, when she hears of her father’s refusal to offer more wages to Eva she criticises him and feels his actions towards the young woman were unreasonable. When the inspector questions Sheila, is very open with him, answers all her questions enthusiastically and takes responsibility for her wrong doings immediately.
She has an immense sympathy towards Eva. As the inspector continues to question Sheila, we see her becoming more distressed about the matter, and holds nothing back from him. She takes responsibility for her actions instantly and is truly sorry for her actions. “I’ll never, never do it again to anybody”, and this shows us her realisation of the errors of her ways. When Sheila discovers Gerald’s affair with Eva Smith she realises that a key factor is missing from their relationship, candour, unlike her mother who would chose to forget the incident.
Sheila has moral values and does not want to enter a relationship without honesty present. When Sheila gives Gerald the ring, she has matured and handles the situation with dignity. “Gerald, I think you’d better take this with you”. Sheila has learnt from the inspector’s message because throughout the play she encourages the members of her family to answer the inspector’s questions honestly, especially her mother: “You mustn’t try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl”, though this loyalty for the girl could be fuelled by her guilt.
As soon as the inspector departs, the Birlings forget the inspector’s message of collective responsibility because they discover that the inspector isn’t really an inspector. Sheila is appalled at this behaviour. “You’re pretending everything’s just as it was before”, she says to her family. Sheila scolds her parents for ignoring the inspector’s message because they feel that they can ignore the message of the inspector as their reputation is still intact.
Priestly is trying to get across to the audience that the old are set in their ways while the young, like Sheila and Eric who are the only two who have learnt from the inspector’s message, are young and are open to change. Priestly feels positive towards this character and shows us her transformation from naivety to maturity. Sheila plays two key roles in this play one to show us that the younger generation are open to change and secondly, to help the inspector to expose her family’s hypocrisy. Priestly hopes that the audience will learn from Sheila and relate to her.
I believe she is sorry for her actions because I think she has the most compassion for Eva in the play. “The worst part is . But you’re forgetting the one thing I still can’t forget”. Prior to the inspector’s arrival the family are enjoying dinner. Mrs Birling’s role in that family is to scold and correct, she is a domineering person. She scolds her husband for complimenting the food (which is the role of the guest), “Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things” and this shows us that she has the most power in class.
Mrs Birling’s views on a woman’s role in a marriage are traditional; she accepts the role of being the submissive, accepting wife. She believes in the concept that the woman should be left at home and not question their husbands. She tries to enforce this rule on Sheila by saying, “When you’re married you’ll realise that men with important work to do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on their business”. This gives us a negative impression of her values, which are traditional; she is set in her ways.