Uploaded by ashvikmandhani


How is Sheila presented in ‘An Inspector Calls’? (Level 8-9)
By Rhona Johnston
In Priestley’s play ‘An Inspector Calls’ Sheila is arguably one of the most significant
characters in conveying the playwright’s messages. Although, at the start of the play Sheila
shows some signs of a left-wing ideology, Priestley uses her as a device to show how a
woman in 1912 may never have had the exposure to reality she needs in order to enforce
her opinions. Her character is a symbol of his belief in the “famous younger generation” to
change their country’s deeply engrained capitalist thoughts on social equality, and begin to
mirror his own – as a cofounder of a socialist party.
One of the most obvious features about Sheila is how she is infantilised by her family and in
extension, by society. Even in the first stage direction, she is described as a “pretty girl”,
implying that even as an engaged woman she has restrictions similar to that of a girl. This
perhaps juxtaposes her mother’s and father’s ideas that Eva - a woman of similar age –
should be responsible for herself, but Sheila not so. Their only difference being their
position in 1912’s hierarchical society. In addition to this, Sheila refers to Mrs Birling as
“mummy” which is somewhat the sociolect of a child. However, this infantilisation of
herself was very normal for a woman of her age of an upper-midddle-class upbringing. On
the other hand, to contradict this is the implication, even to start with of a more forceful
personality. She speaks to Gerald with “mock aggression” which could portray how she
wishes to express her opinion strongly, but understands Gerald’s supposed superiority to
her. Sheila’s speech is also litters with tag questions, for instance “do you?” showing her
checking herself, and a need for validation.
Another characteristic of Sheila is her initially narrow-minded priorities which mirror he
elitist upbringing and how blatantly unaware she is to the world beyond her own. For
example, she says “now I really fell engaged” after Gerald gives her the ring. We can infer
from this that she needs the materialistic symbol of her ring to truly feel secure and content
in her engagement. As well as this, one of the first questions she asks about Eva is
“pretty?”. This highlights that she is only interested in the attractiveness of Eva, perhaps
because she wants to compare it to herself. That fact that it’s a minor sentence emphasises
that she only cares about this one feature – certainly not the pain that Eva had to go
through. This side of Sheila conveys to the audience how women like her were taught to
compare themselves to others and value their importance (to men) over anything else.
An extremely significant turning point is the gradual metamorphosis of Sheila is the
entrance of the Inspector. After properly “coming in” the room for the send time she almost
immediately opposes her father with “these girls aren’t cheap labour”, This is Sheila
beginning to understand the world away from her rose-tinted view on life. In addition to
this, her idiolect slowly begins to transition to a more mature and perceptive way of
speaking. She stops using tag questions as she begins to search for answers, not approval,
Priestley highlights how young girls may only need a feminist role model like the Inspector
to make the “impression” they need to make a change for the better including a more equal
Sheila is vital in the attempted breakdown of irresponsible conservatives like her parents as
she contradicts them and challenges their “authority” and “power”. She tells them “it
frightens me the way you talk” which implies with the verb “frightens” that their actions are
extremely harmful. This mirrors the Inspector’s message that they will be the cause of “fire
and blood and anguish” and emphasises her now socialist ideology. She also changes Mrs
Birling’s maternal title to “mother” which contrasts heavily with “mummy”. This implies
that she will no longer conform to the sexist standards and how she has matured. She also
doesn’t submit to Gerald’s patriarchal dominance, rejecting him with “no, it’s too soon”
which suggests how she has the power to oppose him, and now he is left begging for her
“respect” not the other way around.
In conclusion, Sheila’s change for the better throughout the play is a metaphor for her
generation of women’s ability to fight for equality, in a world without the vote. Perhaps
Priestley’s message to his 1945 audience is they can progress even further. Characters like
Mr and Mrs Birling cannot exist in his perfect world and need to be opposed by women like
How is Sheila presented in ‘An Inspector Calls’? (Level 7-8)
By Rocc Oxley
Priestley initially presents Sheila as a naïve, entitled “pretty girl” whose worth is determined
by her appearance, who transforms into an empowered, confident woman. Her
metamorphosis develops from an infantilised capitalist into a passionate socialist. These
qualities, developed throughout the play by Priestley, are used to represent the younger
generation’s desire to have an equal society where age, gender and class are not a
determiner for the value of your life.
At the beginning of the play Sheila is presented as a narrow-minded “pretty girl” whose
appearances seems to define her worth. Priestley does this to show how in 1912 women
were seen to be inferior to men as it was a patriarchal society. This creates the idea that
Sheila is a product of a middle/upperclass elitism as she is raised in a sheltered environment
by her socially myopic parents. This can be seen when Sheila says, “now I feel really
engaged.” This ignorant materialism, symbolised by the engagement ring, shows that Sheila
requires an object to feel secure in her relationship. This further gives the impression that
her upbringing has created a bubble around her where she is at its centre. This could make
the audience feel sorry for her as a woman in her twenties feels the need to clings to a
man’s approval to feel happy. Priestley does this to show how toxic her family is and
although she may not, at her core, be an entitled ‘posh’ girl, the claustrophobic
middle/upperclass upbringing has convinced her that is exactly what she is and that’s all she
is allowed to be.
To support this idea of ‘living in a bubble’, Sheila says “Oh I wish you hadn’t told me” which
furthrt presents her to be selfish and superior. She does not care for the details of this
working class girl who has just killed herself, only how it affects Sheila personally. The
personal pronoun “me” gives the impression that it’s all about her and her ‘fragile’ ears
cannot be exposed to hearing such horrific events, when in reality, a woman of Sheila’s age
had to actually go through it. Priestley does this to show her narrow-minded, unquestioning
beliefs in capitalism at the start of the play. In 1912 there was a very hierarchical society
segregated by class and for Sheila, Eva is unimportant as she is far below her.
Progressing into Act 2, Sheila goes on to say “the wonderful fairy prince” of Gerald. Whilst
being sarcastic towards Gerald this metaphor could also suggest Sheila’s immaturity and
childish perception of life. The common noun “fairy” suggests this as fairies are not real;
they are a fantasy aa is her relationship with Gerald which has been constructed on the
basis of economic and social benefits. This further amplifies the idea that Priestley is trying
to show that Sheila is a product of her confining environment. Her true opinions and beliefs
are suppressed and what she is supposed to believe is embedded in her by the middleupper-class older generation who have nurtured her and surround her.
The Inspector’s arrival and his ideological perspective is used to allow Sheila to realise who
she really is at her core. When her father is being questioned Sheila demands “but these
silly girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.” This shows her first signs of a maturing
attitude, compared with the earlier wish that she hadn’t been told details. She is now
standing up for the working class, recognising that they are human beings with the same
rights and value as her. Priestley does this to show that children do not need to feel
suppressed by their parents’ beliefs and are free to think for themselves. It takes the
Inspector’s arrival for Sheila to realise this.
Priestley then goes on to ‘change’ Sheila, allowing her to slowly transform from a narrowminded privileged “girl” to someone who cares about others. The quotation “I know I’m to
blame” shows that Sheila is the first to accept responsibility for Eva’s death whereas
beforehand she hadn’t a care in the world. This shows her socialist voice as she realises
how spiteful and vindictive her behaviour, which she had seen as normal, actually was,
helping to destroy the life of a working-class woman. Not only does she accept
responsibility, she also encourages the family to realise their mistakes, and her with “you’re
pretending everything’s just as it was before”. She has become relentless is her defiance of
her parents’ capitalist views as she doesn’t feel the need to accept that they have to be
right. Priestley does this to present her now more mature and humble perspective on life.
Sheila’s infantilisation shown in the idiolect of “mummy” as the beginning of the play shows
her dependence and childish nature towards her parents. As the play progresses the
infantile language is used less until the audience hear “mother”. This presents Sheila’s
journey to maturity as well as socialism as she now feels empowered enough in what she
believes in to contradict her parents, no longer feeling like a child but a woman who is able
to challenge social norms in 1912. Although not referenced directly in the play the 1945
(and later) audience might see Sheila as part of the suffragette movement working towards
full voting rights for women, achieved in 1928.
To conclude, Sheila doesn’t conform to the Birling family pattern of incredulity and
unwillingness to accept responsibility. Instead, she realises the hugely damaging effect that
the hubristic bubble of the upper-middle-class has on the working-class and wider society.
How are men presented in ‘An Inspector Calls’? (Level 7-8)
By Joey Norman
Priestley uses the men of the play to emphasise the power and control of the patriarchal
society that the Birlings inhabit. Within all four (speaking) men of the play we see different
forms of power and control in the way they behave. In Mr Birling we see his desire for selfgain blind him to his social responsibilities. In Eric we see him strive for power over Eva,
arguably, to make up for the lack of power he has in his own family. In Gerald we see
manipulation in the power he possesses and when he treats Eva as a disposable object. Even
in the Inspector we see him start to break down over the lack of power he has over Mr and
Mrs Birling when they continue to demonstrate a lack of responsibility.
Priestley’s first character who is explored is Mr Birling who is used by him to highlight the
corruption that patriarchal views had on prosperous men of the time period. Priestley
needed Mr Birling to act as the polar opposite of how he (Priestley, as represented by the
Inspector) wants the world to be in order to create a divide between the different
generations in the play. One side is the selfish, arrogant personality which creates a
contrast to the more responsible, caring views of someone like Priestley. Priestley uses a lot
of dramatic irony at the start of the play in Mr Birling’s portentous speech. This includes
“everything to lose and nothing to gain by war” and “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable”. He
uses real events to show the audience that right-wing men like Mr Birling think they run the
world because they believe they understand everything going on it. The repetition of the
adjective “unsinkable” when describing the Titanic with the emphatic adverb “absolutely”
shows Mr Birling’s arrogance that Priestley is clearly trying to put at the forefront of the
audience’s mind.
Priestley further highlights Mr Birling’s arrogance with the repetition of words including
“practical” and “hard-headed” when Mr Birling talks about himself. These adjectives
suggest to us that Mr Birling thinks highly of himself due to his position within society. It is
this feeling of power that he thinks he has compared to everyone else which blinds him to
his responsibilities. The only reasons that Mr and Mrs Birling will not accept responsibility
for their actions is because they are worried that they will lose the power that they have
earned. It is even Mr Birling’s announcement of his knighthood opportunity which prompts
the timely arrival of the Inspector and spirals the family reputation into the ground. The
potential of a knighthood covers Mr Birling’s eyes to the responsibility he must take for
causing the suicide of a young, innocent and hardworking girl.
In contrast to the irresponsible and egocentric Mr Birling is his son Eric. Eric does not worry
about his reputation, unlike his mother and father, because unknowingly to them, he is
viewed as less of a naïve child than his parents think. Eric’s lack of control drives him to
drink away his insecurities which leads him to his disputable behaviour in the town at night.
It could be said that Eric’s drinking issues derive from the insecurity he gets from his family.
Eric’s lack of respect towards and from his father drives him to feel insecure about himself
and leads him for a thirst for power of someone, someone who turns out to be Eva Smith.
At the point where Eric meets Eva she is desperate for help and Gerald and Eric both
provide her with some form of support, even if this includes just standing “her a few drinks”.
In return, Eva Smith fuels the boys with self-worth, confidence and power which they desire.
This because both of them have succumbed to the male-gaze regarding Eva Smith as both
are using her for their own gain. Both of the younger men bring her down to no more than a
pretty object which makes them feel in control and dominant over a ‘lesser’ human being.
Priestley uses the male-gaze in order to highlight the patriarchal society that existed in
1912. This could be interpreted as Priestley blaming men for women becoming a
marginalised fantasy that men can influence and dominate. This is seen through Birling
using Eva as “cheap labour” and nothing more than a “pretty face”. Furthermore, this is also
seen Eric and Gerald who constantly refer to her appearance considerably refer to her
appearance more than her personality. This is seen in the constant repetition of “pretty” to
describe, and Eric only seeing her as an objectified “good sport”.