Compare and contrast the ways in which Sheila and Mr. Birling react to the Inspector and explore how they respond to the idea that they are responsible for the death of Eva Smith. Before the inspector arrives in the play, the four members of the Birling family along with Gerald Croft are peacefully sitting at the dining room table eating their dinner together, celebrating the engagement of Sheila and Gerald. The mood is shown through the light family exchange. Mr. Birling, at the same time, is showing his naï¿½ve view of the world’s current events – “Germans don’t want war.” “Nobody wants war, except some half civilised folks in the Balkans.”
As the book is set in 1912, we the audience know that two years later there will be a war, a world war. This is what makes us think that Mr. Birling has an inappropriate view of the world. Priestly presents Birling from the beginning as one who is detached from ‘real’ world events and someone whose perception is faulty. All the characters are sitting in their best clothes and the food is excellent. Arthur Birling has got some special port to drink and toast with, even the bickering between brother and sister, Sheila and Eric is friendly. Priestly is showing us this so we can see how smug and secure the family are and how this changes throughout the play from the questions the Inspector asks.
The two families, the Birlings and the Crofts seem well-matched as they’re in the same line of business. Mr. Birling is particularly pleased by this family connection as this will make the profit of his business rise also. Sheila adores her new engagement ring “I’ll never let it out of my sight.” This is ironic as later in the play, when Gerald reveals he had been seeing Eva Smith, Sheila takes off the ring and puts off the engagement. After a good evening meal with loved ones, the stresses of daily life seem unimportant. At this point everyone is content and behaving, saying the right things. The future looks rosy.
When the Inspector arrives, Mr. Birling’s initial reaction is that he’s calling about his duties as a J.P. However when Mr. Birling realises that he’s not here about that we can see aspects of his character from the responses he gives. “(rather impatiently) Yes, yes. Horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector” – This tells us that he does care for the situation, but he doesn’t want anything to do with it.
Also he’s in a dismissive mood as he doesn’t want any police around his property because he hopes for a knighthood. When the Inspector asks Birling about his work and previous employees he gets a bit rattled. This is when he works out that the Inspector has called because of something regarding his work. When Birling seems moved he reacts by saying – “(rather angrily) Unless you brighten your ideas, you’ll never be in the position to let anybody say or to tell anybody to go. It’s about time you learnt a few responsibilities.”
When he first talks about Eva Smith he compliments her, saying things like: “She was a lively good-looking girl” and “A good worker.” Then he says that “they suddenly decided to ask for more money – I refused of course.” Birling is showing that he was alright with Eva Smith until she asked for more money, that’s when his view of her hardened. The way that the Inspector goes about his business infuriates Mr. Birling.
The Inspector hints that he knows more than he’s telling. He implies that Sheila, Eric and Gerald also know something about this girl and he rarely answers questions precisely. “It might be” his business, he says. Arthur Birling justifies his own action of sacking Eva Smith because she was one of several workers asking for a pay rise. He then says that when he refused to pay, she went on strike with the rest of them. Some of the workers returned to work at the old pay rate because they needed the money so badly. But Birling sacked four of the five ‘ring leaders’ and it just happened that Eva Smith was one of them. By this point, Priestly is portraying Mr. Birling as a normal businessman doing his job.
Sheila’s responses to the Inspector go on to tell us how Eva Smith obtained a job at one of her favourite clothes shops: Milwards. And how when she was trying on a dress, the shop assistant (Eva Smith), had made a gesture about how she looked in it and Sheila interpreted it as her saying “Doesn’t she look awful.” She then demanded the girl be sacked or she would never return to the store. Once Sheila hears about her death, she, along with Eric become on her side, unlike Arthur Birling. Eric says that Eva Smith shouldn’t have been sacked for showing a bit of spirit and asking for a raise. Sheila agrees with Eric that “these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.” Sheila’s responses start to change when her fiancï¿½, Gerald Croft, recognises the name “Daisy Renton” and finds out that Daisy Renton and Eva Smith are the same person.
Then he tells Sheila that he had been seeing a girl called Daisy Renton when he should have been seeing her. Sheila changes from being a mild, well-behaved and blushing bride-to-be from in Act 1, into a determined and stubborn woman, in a way, similar to her parents. Although her overall presentation in the play is not is not like those of her parents. First, she insists on staying in the room, and then demands more details from Gerald about his affair with Eva/Daisy. After that, she goes on to warn her mother not to avoid the questions which the Inspector asks and she becomes more like the Inspector herself, hassling Gerald and her mother at key moments.
She turns into the strongest member of the family, with the confidence to interrupt and pass judgement on both her mother and Gerald. Evidence that the Inspector uses to hint that Sheila has contributed to Eva Smith’s death is that she had her turned out of her second job and that Arthur started it all by sacking Eva Smith in the first place. The Inspector likes to remind them of that as he keeps on mentioning what they’ve done and how everything is linked to them.