Sheila Birling is a character that goes through an intense and rapid character development throughout ‘An Inspector Calls’, transitioning from a naive and privileged upper-class selfcentred young lady to a woman who is able to stand up to her parents and present her own opinions representing Priestley’s ideologies of socialism. In Act 1, Sheila appears very naive and obsessed with her engagement.
She also goes to lengths to impress Gerald by flirting with him and joking to show him that she is entertaining and a good wife “[with mock aggressiveness]: Go on, Gerald – just you object! She is playing the traditional role of subservient female in the 20s but because she is using mock aggression she gives off the impression that she is flirting with him by showing her strong personality, which is ultimately quite shallow and vain. She also shows how much she appreciates him by focussing on her ring and talking about finding new dresses for Gerald that he would like to see her in. “[Noticing that Sheila is still admiring her ring]. ” She is too enraptured by her ring and admiring her engagement than listening to her father talk about politics, showing she cares more for her materialistic things than a fully formed opinion.
Shelia is seen as emotionally intelligent and literate but she is conforming to the role of a traditional woman’s education. She also tries to please to her father when he points out that she isn’t listening, saying “I’m sorry, Daddy. Actually I was listening. ” Her use of ‘daddy’ gives the impression that she is seeking to please her father even if she has to lie to him, showing blind devotion or naivety. “[She looks attentive]”Here, she may not be attentive and is only seeking her father’s approval.
She has a high, perhaps false, respect towards men, alluding to the fact that she is quite sheltered and follows the traditional gender roles. She has a short temper and is quite demanding of things and is extremely expectant. She has a strong personality regarding what she wants for herself, especially regarding Gerald, “… possessively]: I should jolly well think not, Gerald. ” Her use of ‘jolly creates an oxymoron which makes her appear joking whilst being quite serious, showing a manipulative side which is reflected when she allows Eva to be fired out of spite.
In in Act 2 and 3, after being affected by the inspector’s blunt speech about Eva’s death and Sheila’s responsibility, Sheila no longer blindly follows her father and shows him little respect in listening to his opinions, now having formed her own. “The point is, you don’t seem to have learnt anything. ” She said when her father was casting off what the Inspector had said, showing that she has learnt a lesson and is a changed woman. She is certain in her language, ‘the point is’, reflecting how much she has matured.
She also gets angry and turns on her father saying“… it’s you two who are being childish – trying not to face the facts. ” Her language has become more certain and stern, she is no longer afraid to stand up to her parents, mightier than her own parents are, which means she has broken out of the box of social constructs of women in the 1920s and becoming her own independent person comparable to feminism personified.
She also no longer holds Gerald in high esteem and denies his second proposal, “… ather respect you more than I’ve ever done before… ” Her language is confident and composed. When her father tries to stand up for Gerald and try and save his business deal she cuts into his speech and tells him “Don’t interfere, please, Father. Gerald knows what I mean, and apparently you don’t. ” She doesn’t let her father defend Gerald and acts more mature than he is by saying that she understands something he doesn’t, which shows incredible growth in maturity from the start of the play.
Her relationships also change drastically from the beginning of the play. In Act 1 she is seen flattering her parents, talking with upper class formality by saying ‘daddy’ when talking to Birling so she seems sweeter, she is also very flirtatious towards Gerald. One of the biggest changes in relations is with Eric, her brother. In Act 1, she is quite stern with Eric and is annoyed at how drunk and loud he is. “[severely]: Now – what’s the joke? ” when Eric laughs loudly.
In the beginning of the play she and Eric are very contrasting characters in terms of ideals as Eric is more socially aware and she is against Eric’s attempt to gain attention and ruin her night. She continues to squabble with him throughout the night, but she shows some guilt at telling her mother that Eric is a drunk, but believes that it is best for him to tell her, showing he does care for him. “I don’t want to get poor Eric into trouble [… ] He’s been drinking too much for the last two years. ” However, by the end of the play she and Eric have become much closer and agree with each other’s views.
They are both intensely rooted to socialism and Sheila herself could be seen as a representation of feminine socialism in comparison to her mother who representation of capitalism. This particular change occurs in Act 3 as the family fights after the Inspector left. Both Eric and Sheila fought for learning from the experience whilst their parents are steadfast in covering up what happened. She is sympathetic to her brother and they seem to connect for one of the first times ever, symbolising her growth as a person.
“[Eagerly]: That’s just what I feel, Eric [… ] they don’t [… understand. ” She shows great change in her disposition by becoming eager of talking about social justice with her brother, Eric and Sheila are united in their socialist views and guilt over Eva against their parents, disregarding their parents. In Act 2 and 3 she becomes very independent from her parents and Gerald. She fights against her father and Gerald’s views and stays firm in her own which is something a woman in the 1920s would not do, highlighting her representation of socialism and equal rights to everyone. She shows great maturity in Act 2 after the Inspector interrogates her.
She is compliant to talk to him showing both her guilt and naivety, and after this she advises her parents and Gerald to do the same as she has realised that the Inspector has another agenda. “… can’t you see [… ] you’re making it worse? ” She also shows extreme remorse and understanding of her actions unlike her mother, which shows she is more than a shadow of her mother and is becoming her own person. She becomes more serious and no longer jokes around with her family, but acts hysterical, understanding the seriousness of the situation and in how much danger she could potentially be.
Through this she is a voice of guilt and rationality, guiding the others, including the Inspector during the interrogation. “Go on, Mother. You might as well admit it… ” Overall Sheila develops greatly as a character throughout the play from someone who is quite selfcentred and ignorant to an opinionated, caring woman. In Priestley’s mind she is a representation of socialism and feminism and this is presented through her development into a less judgemental person throughout the play.