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An Inspector Calls, written by J.B Priestley in 1945, is a morality play that denounces capitalism and argues that social justice can be achieved if everyone takes responsibility for his actions. The drama also illustrates the clear division between class, the role of women in 1912 and gender equality. – Make sure that these are still relevant. Sheila Birling, one of the major characters acts as a device used by Priestley to convey his message about the importance of social responsibility which is the overarching theme of the play. Socialism was extremely important to Priestley because he became very concerned about the consequences of social inequality in Britain. Priestley was so committed to socialism, that he created a socialist party called the Common Wealth Party. During the 1940’s socialism was growing in popularity, which inspired Priestley to create a play where one of the lead roles conveyed his political viewpoint. Priestley uses the character, Sheila, to convey his own political views about socialism.  Throughout Sheila’s interview, she seems distressed. This is shown through the use of stage directions such as; “(Looks as if she’s been crying)”. This suggests that she feels responsible for her role in Eva Smith’s death and that she has not been fully corrupted by capitalist views. She seemed genuinely concerned about Eva Smith’s death, rather than concerned about the problems she would be facing due to the part she played in the woman’s death. Although her father is an arch-capitalist, Sheila decides to do what is best for society rather than benefiting herself.  This is a crucial message that Priestley wants to convey to his audience.Sheila’s character is used by Priestley to show the differences in the generations and the effect it has on their behaviour.  After Mrs. Birling tells the Inspector that he is having a huge impact on Sheila’s behaviour, the inspector replies, “we often do, they are more impressionable.” This suggests that the younger generation are more open to change and responsibility.  Sheila and Eric are part of the younger generation; and although they may be less knowledgeable due to their age, they are the only two characters in the drama who accept their negligent behaviour. Perhaps Priestley wants the audience to recognise that by teaching their children to have a social conscience, the standard of life will be improved across all social classes.  Furthermore, Mr. Birling is conveyed as an egotistical individual; he only cares about his own well being. This is apparent when he does not hesitate about firing Eva Smith. Sheila is hurt by this.Towards the end of the play, Sheila notices the social injustice towards women. The female characters are portrayed as being delicate; especially Sheila, whom the men try to shelter from Eva Smith’s suicide. This is because men were believed to be superior, whilst women were only seen as housewives. “But these girls aren’t cheap labour – they’re people.” When Sheila realises the social inequality and ignorance in the world around her she becomes more solicitous of the working woman and changes the way she interacts with those less fortunate than her.  She finally notices that the upper-class attitude towards the lower class is inhumane.At the end of the play, Sheila’s character is presented as a strong individual who has matured. When Sheila warns her family that the Inspector is “giving us rope so that we hang ourselves”. She uses a metaphor to create a visual image.  Furthermore, her language becomes bolder, she uses sarcasm and irony.  “I suppose we are all nice people now”. The use of irony represents the tension between the changing younger generation, and the conservative older generation.  Sheila shows the audience that she has matured considerably by bravely taking responsibility for the part she played in Eva Smith’s death. To conclude, Sheila Birling’s character develops in a favourable manner as the plot unfolds and the audience is led to appreciate her strong attributes. Despite her youth, she shows great maturity and decency compared to the older characters – Arthur and Sybil Birling. One would think the older generation with their experience of life, would have reached this conclusion as well. This elevates Sheila in the minds of the audience as they witness these great qualities in this young woman.


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