“An Inspector Calls” Plays by John Boynton Priestley

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Priestley utilizes the character of Sheila Birling to express his own opinions and attitudes. In a character study, one can analyze Sheila’s actions and dialogue by referring to the text. For instance, in a half serious and half playful manner, Sheila remarks, “Yes except for all last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you.” This quotation exemplifies how Priestley uses Sheila to convey both minimal and extensive insight into her character. The presence of stage directions in brackets further enhances the performance aspect of the line.

There are several reasons for this. One is that in Act One, Sheila disguises her true emotions by joking about her words. Another significant reason is that as the youngest member of her family, she is consistently excluded from serious discussions. Moreover, whenever she has something important to say, either her mother or father always hushes her or prevents her from participating.

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Sheila’s tendency to present serious matters as jokes in order to be heard makes it difficult to understand her and for her to be honest. The family is filled with numerous secrets, and it appears that using playfulness as a defense mechanism against the truth is common, particularly for Sheila. In his 1912 book, Priestley utilizes the character of Sheila Birling to express his stance on how people, especially young women, were treated during that time. According to his interpretation, women or young ladies were viewed as delicate and sensitive individuals, often excluded from certain events or conversations because they were deemed unsuitable for them to hear, comprehend, or handle. While all the Birlings are important characters in the play, Sheila stands out as the young lady of the family, although she is often treated more like a child.

The fragile woman, destined to be married and remain silent. “BIRLING: It’s none of your business, Sheila. Go away. INSPECTOR: No, wait a moment, Miss Birling. “Her Birling, her father is attempting to remove Sheila from the scene, from the inspector, from the current situation. While he appears to be protecting her by pushing her away, another person who is neither a family member nor a friend nor even an employee wants her to stay. You can observe the contrasting treatment she receives from this stranger and her immediate family, who refuse to allow her to hear anything for reasons only known to them, while a complete stranger holds a completely different opinion. Naturally, Sheila now becomes involved, adding unnecessary emotion that doesn’t help her father.

The inspector and Sheila both ask questions, demonstrating that she is childlike in her unhelpful questions, tears, and responses. Priestley believes that wealthy young women are always trying to prove themselves, and when given the opportunity, they become what others expect them to be. Sheila interrupts to confirm this belief.

And if you truly loved me, you wouldn’t have said that. You heard that nice story about me. I caused that girl to be fired from Milwards. And now you’ve made up your mind that I must obviously be a selfish and entitled creature. “English Coursework… An Inspector Calls. This is a lengthy quotation, but it is important to include all of it as it brings about a significant change in Sheila Birling’s character. It is evident that she is no longer making jokes about her feelings. She is now being direct and to the point. From this, one can infer that Priestley believes it would require something substantial or shocking to make people realize their mistakes and become stronger. What Priestley is trying to illustrate is how the class Sheila belongs to considers themselves superior to the rest of society, and they act accordingly.

Sheila leverages her mother’s status as a top customer account holder at Milwards to have Eva Smith dismissed, insinuating that the business would collapse or fail without her. Priestly aims to depict how individuals, especially women in the 1900s, use money or rely on someone with money to hide their true intentions.

In this case, Sheila’s mother, Sybil, serves as the catalyst for her character development. Sheila has grown into a more resilient individual who has embraced her mistakes and the consequences without shedding tears. This transformation is a testament to her determination to prove herself as a mature young lady while asserting her individual strength. By the time Act 3 unfolds, Sheila’s character has undergone a remarkable evolution. She has become not only stronger and more assertive but also possesses a newfound wisdom. The arrival of the inspector plays a significant role in this change, as Sheila begins to shift her focus from self-centeredness to concern for others.

In this passage, Priestley explores the transformation of a young woman, who is now behaving in a manner that her family could never have anticipated. Despite their initial preconceptions, especially her father’s, she is demonstrating maturity and coping well with her circumstances. Priestley uses this example to convey that young women in 1912 were not always what society expected them to be. To earn respect, they had to prove themselves or acquire knowledge, which varied across different social classes, from Sheila’s privileged background to Eva Smith’s disadvantaged one. Priestley also highlights a contrasting attitude towards parents and children. He believes that wealth can be beneficial if in the right hands, allowing for growth and change among the young and affluent. This offers an opportunity to deviate from the stereotypical behavior exhibited by rich people during this era, encouraging them to treat others with respect and utilize their resources wisely. However, Priestley acknowledges that it can be challenging to change one’s deeply ingrained perception of wealth, especially if it has been influenced by a singular perspective throughout one’s upbringing.

Despite being young and still influenced by the world, there is still hope. In my opinion, Priestley perceives individuals like Sheila as having dual personalities. On one hand, she is portrayed as a young girl who is expected to listen but not be heard, always being left out and overlooked. On the other hand, she is seen as a cunning individual who uses her knowledge of her mother’s influential position at Milwards to wield power and threaten others. She goes as far as trying to get a girl fired simply because she was more attractive in a hat. This behavior reveals how young children can be shaped by their surroundings, such as observing their parents’ actions. Perhaps Sheila learned such manipulative behavior from witnessing her mother’s actions while growing up.

As this play was written almost 100 years ago, Priestley likely held different views on people and the world compared to contemporary opinions. The current generation is also distinct from the past, as individuals are no longer solely judged by their social class but also by their appearance, style, and potentially wealth, although to a lesser extent than in the 1900s. This English Coursework focuses on the play “An Inspector Calls” and employs Sheila as a character to highlight one of Priestley’s particularly strong perspectives on society and its inhabitants.

Everyone, from small children to the elderly, does wrong at some point in their lives. This includes even the quiet individuals you see at school and on the streets. They have all done wrong against someone, and only they know how bad it truly is. Just like Eva Smith, who didn’t know that her actions would lead to her own death. In this play, Priestley aims to demonstrate that one hurtful word from you to another person can destroy them completely.

Every action or comment we make has the potential to completely ruin someone’s life in a matter of seconds. Priestley’s attitude towards people is that we should be cautious and thoughtful about what we say and do, as one heated moment can have lifelong consequences for someone. With regards to Mrs Birling and Sheila, there is a clear intention to teach them a lesson. It is important to recognize that not everyone genuinely cares for others; while they may appear remorseful and sorry in a particular moment, those feelings fade much faster than others may expect or believe.

By illustrating the cruelty of the world and how wealth can impact our emotions towards others, Priestley emphasizes the diverse attitudes of people. Learning a lesson and recognizing its significance does not guarantee that everyone will do the same. Although we may share the same blood, our minds can think differently. Priestley’s message is that the world is comprised of both good and bad individuals, and it’s unrealistic to expect to change them all. Countless individuals like Eva Smiths and John Browns exist in the world.

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“An Inspector Calls” Plays by John Boynton Priestley. (2017, Nov 12). Retrieved from


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