During the key scenes in particular and the play in general the reactions of the younger and older members of the Birling family differ dramatically from one another to the ‘investigation’ of Inspector Goole. Priestly wanted a very specific set to be seen by the audience so that a particular impression is seen. They are perceived as an upper class, aristocratic family. From the start of the Play the audience is drawn straight into the family’s custom. It shows us the importance of class and manner. The play was written in 1946 and set in an evening in spring 1912 apparently on the eve of the sinking of the Titanic. The family are all in evening dress of the period, sitting around in the dining-room of a fairly large suburban house.
This is how the family member’s attitude differs when the inspector questions them. Mr and Mrs Birling are the upper-class older generation. They feel nothing for the dead girl and show no remorse or guilt. They don’t see Daisy Renton/Eva Smith as the same as them and they think that she isn’t capable of having the same feelings or relationships as them. In contrast, Eric and Shelia show the opposite emotion. They feel sympathy for the girl and try to empathise with her. They feel guilt and want to try and change what they have done.
Sheila, Mr Birling’s daughter is celebrating her engagement to Mr Gerald Croft. She wants to change herself and feels sorry for what she had done. Her readiness to learn from experience is in a great contrast to her parents. Shelia goes through the biggest arc, she starts off as a young, vain girl with negative characteristics, and with help from the inspector she slowly starts to turn against her family, and learns from her mistakes. She doesn’t want to know anything that will affect her way of living, however once she hears of Eva; she has to know the truth and where she comes into it. “Yes I expect it would. But what happened to her then?” Sheila starts to face the consequences and becomes ready to accept guilt.
However Mr and Mrs Birling, Mrs Birling in particular is very snobbish, cold, and evil. She Judges others by their standing in the community, profession and title rather than who they actually are. The younger Characters try to empathise for the dead girl whereas the older generation don’t seem to care. Gerald and Mr and Mrs Birling try to figure out how they can escape their responsibilities, they try to hide things under the carpet and act as they are respectable people.
Mrs Birling Thinks that the matter isn’t important, she doesn’t see the lower class the same as her. Mrs Birling’s behaviour changes as she tries to figure out inspector Goole, Thinking she is better than him she tries to put him down. And she attempts to give herself more status. As she attempts to shift the blame for the girl’s suicide the outcome blames the farther of the unborn child. At this point the tension is heightened by the dramatic arrival of Eric.
Compared to Eric; the youngest of the family. Who is portrayed as a drunkard and womaniser. Eric being a alcoholic reflects his weakness as a character. He is nothing more than a younger version of Alderman Meggarty. He shows that the younger ages have the longest journey because he, as one of the main culprits has done a lot of damage. It affects Eric and Sheila badly because they can see that their part in all of this has caused such a horrific end for a girl they looked down upon. They side with the inspector to help open up the older generation. They are offering hope to the future so that time can change itself.
Eric’s mood in the opening minutes is jovial and lenient; however this alters when he thinks that his father and Mr Croft know something about him. He becomes uneasy and shows signs of having a guilty conscience. He shows sympathy to Eva when he hears that she lost her job in the Birling factory. He responds to Gerald’s “couldn’t have done anything else” with” he could. He could have kept her on instead of throwing her out. I call it tough luck.” Eric differs from his farther, Mr Birling had to make his way up the social ladder, whereas Eric was born into wealth and privilege, and so he lacks the instinctive ‘self made man’ outlook of his farther.
Sheila contrasts sharply to her parents by the honest and realistic way she regards things. They are on high moral ground and show no compassion what so ever for the situation. Whereas; Sheila is possibly the most sympathetic out of the Birling family. She is a highly perceptive character and is the first to become conscious of the ‘inspectors’ abnormality, she is aware of the mystery surrounding him and soon realises his supernatural knowledge and understandings, yet realises there is no point in hiding any of the facts from him. “Why-you fool-he knows. Of course he knows and I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t yet”
Sheila regards the ‘inspector’ differently from the rest of her family, she warns her mother not to demean him-“you mustn’t try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl. If you do, then the inspector will just break it down.” (pg 30) Mr and Mrs Birling are taken aback by some of Shelia’s honest, truthful remarks. They prefer to live in a world where atrocious realities are suppressed or ignored; nevertheless Shelia does not try to deceive herself. She proves she is an honest, good-hearted person. Who has been mislead by her own immaturity and momentary selfishness because the way she is tormented by the impact of what she has done indicates this. In distinction to her parents who are insensitive and selfish all of the time.
Resembling Mr Birling who is determined that the ‘inspection’ will not become a public scandal. “Yes, and you don’t realise yet all what you’ve done. Most of it’s bound to come out. There’ll be a public scandal.” “And don’t let’s start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove that girl to commit suicide” Sheila says because she passionately believes that the family should learn from the ‘inspectors’ visit.