An Inspector Calls is about a family which helps towards the death of a young girl, Eva Smith. The name Eva, which is similar to Eve- from Adam and Eve, plus the fact that Smith is the most common English surname, implies that Eva Smith represents every lower-class working girl. Dramatic irony is used in the play, for example when Mr. Birling says that there won’t be a war- when there were actually two- Birling also says that the titanic is unsinkable.
This suggests that he is arrogant, foolish and so over-confident that he thinks he’s always right. J.B Priestley set this play in 1912. As Priestley was in the infantry, I imagine that he set the play in this period because he wanted to express himself with what he saw during the war he says what’s wrong with capitalism, whilst reflecting on socialism. The speech that the Inspector says on page fifty-six is a view of what J.B Priestley really thinks of war.
Sheila is first described as a ‘pretty girl.., very pleased with life and rather excited.’ She’s described as excited and pleased with life as she has just got engaged to Gerald Croft.
Sheila calls her mother and father ‘Mummy’ and ‘Daddy’; this suggests that she’s quite a spoilt girl and that she comes from a rich and privileged family. Another reason to prove that she is spoilt is that when Gerald gives Sheila the engagement ring she gets even more thrilled about the engagement ring, instead of the fact that they’re going to get married. ‘Look-Mummy-isn’t it a beauty? Oh-darling-…’ Priestley uses hyphens to show her excitement.
What’s more is she says ‘Now I really feel engaged.’ She seems happier than before when Gerald had announced that he would like to marry Sheila- as if to imply that all she cares about is the ring. When Mr. Birling starts to speak, Sheila is ‘still admiring her ring.’ She constantly teases, flirts and jokes with Gerald: ‘Go on Gerald- just you object!’ This also reinforces the stage description given at the start of the play.
When Sheila first hears that her father sacked Eva, she gets rather distressed about it. ‘Sorry…this girl- destroying herself so horribly- and I’ve been…’ Priestley uses hyphens to break up her speech to show how distraught she is. On the other hand, she does act quite selfishly. ‘I’ve been so happy tonight. Oh I wish you hadn’t told me.’ This tells us that Sheila’s naive and self-centered.
Towards the end of act one, Sheila becomes more mature, ‘But these girls aren’t cheap labor- they’re people.’ She finally realizes how Eva has been exploited and treated.
When Sheila first sees the photo of Eva Smith, she gives a ‘half-stifled sob and then runs out.’ Realizing that the Inspector knew that Sheila had Eva fired from Milwards all along, Sheila’s attitude changes and becomes more serious. ‘You knew it was me all time, didn’t you?’ At this point she seems much smarter; as she’s started to figure out that the Inspector knows a lot.
From the end of act one and onwards the play gets even more intense and dramatic. When Sheila starts to explain why she had Eva sacked, we begin to see how insecure, small-minded and shallow she was. However, Sheila starts to feel guilty about what impact she had on Eva Smith’s life. ‘And if I could help her now, I would-‘Sheila starts to feel compassion for Eva.
She becomes perceptive and aware that as soon as the name Daisy Renton was mentioned she notices how Gerald was immediately startled. Just as the Inspector mentions Daisy Renton’s name, the play becomes deeper and dramatic. Sheila’s insight and behaviour creates suspense to the play.
When Inspector Goole steps out, Sheila becomes curious about Gerald, ‘How did you come to know this girl- Eva Smith?’ She frequently asks questions about her and implies things. Just at the end of act one, Sheila becomes more conscious about what the Inspector is doing. ‘Why-you fool- he knows.’ When Sheila says ‘You’ll see.’ It adds more tension to the play, because the audience becomes curious about what’s going to happen. Sheila repeats this line twice to show that she knows.
In act two, ‘Sheila stares at him wonderingly and dubiously’ I think this suggests that she’s curious about how the Inspector knows so much about what’s happened, interested about what Inspector Goole has to say and that she wants to know more. ‘(slowly, carefully now) 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. And it’ll be all the worse when he does.’ When Sheila says this it adds drama to the play, because she knows exactly what the Inspector is doing and she knows that he knows what the truth is.
As Sheila can’t take any more lies, she reveals that Eric has been drinking steadily for two years. ‘(rather wildly, with laugh) No, he’s giving us the rope- so that we’ll hang ourselves.’ As Sheila is seen as more intelligent and sharp, she starts to find out that the Inspector knows what each and every person’s role has been towards the death of Eva Smith. And as Mrs. Birling is quite patronizing, ‘Don’t be childish Sheila,’ she consequently doesn’t seem to understand that Sheila’s trying to warn her. Mrs. Birling underestimates her children, especially Sheila, as in that period people were sexist towards women. She treats her children as if they were babies- she even treats Gerald like one. Mrs. Birling is too condescending to even realize what the Inspector is trying to say.
‘…When a man says he’s so busy…I wouldn’t miss it for the worlds-‘Sheila says this to Gerald, almost as if this were her revenge. She becomes much more confident and stands up to her mother. Mrs. Birling says, ‘it would be much better if Sheila didn’t listen to this story at all.’ Sheila replies with, ‘but you’re forgetting I’m supposed to be engaged to the hero of it.’ I think that Sheila’s supposed to say this with a slightly sarcastic tone of voice. As Gerald is honest, Sheila starts to forgive him, ‘That’s probably the best thing you’ve said tonight. At least it’s honest.’
Sheila’s behaviour from act one has certainly changed. The speech made by her at the bottom of page forty-one shows that she has become mature as she takes full responsibility for her actions and that there are severe consequences to her actions. She realizes how privileged she is.
J.B Priestley’s stage directions show the emotions and feelings of the character: Sheila: ‘(horrified)’ and ‘(distressed)’, the stage directions add tension to the play.
At the very end of the play, Sheila becomes wiser and responsible. Sheila says, ‘(tensely) I want to get out if this. It frightens me the way you talk.’ Sheila cries, ‘(passionately) you’re pretending everything’s just as it was before.’ Mr. Birling, Mrs. Birling and Gerald are cold-hearted, selfish, careless and even prejudiced. Eric and Sheila have taken responsibility for what they’ve have done and are sympathetic for Eva.
The message of the play is that whatever ‘class’ we are, however rich or poor we are, we should still respect and try to help each other, as well as promoting the idea of socialism. The fact that Priestley uses the phrases, “members of one body” and “fire, blood and anguish” clearly reveals that socialism is the only way forward and also states that we should take responsibility for our own actions. Priestley tells the audience how not to live their lives. Sheila’s change of behaviour and moods throughout the play adds drama and effect to the play. Her lines and actions add intensity to the play, as it keeps the audience interested because they want to know what’s going to happen next.