Saimah Anwar “An Inspector Calls” How does Priestley use the character of Sheila Birling to deliver his message to the audience? J. B Priestley wrote this play in 1945 a period after two appalling world wars- The Holocaust and the Atom Bomb. He set his play in 1912 when class and gender were what ruled society- along with money of course.
Through his play Priestley encourages people to seize the opportunity the end of the war had given them to build a better, more caring society and put an end to the “Golden Age” Which Winston Churchill of the Conservative party favoured. However Priestley favoured Clement Attlee of the opposing party Labour; he thought Labour were more fair and equal and spoke the truth, Priestley thought many people had forgotten the truth, that the rich had all the power and the poor had nothing during the “Golden Age. His play “An Inspector Calls” serves to remind people that the “Golden Age” was not as carefree as Churchill made out; in fact, it was the rich who held all the power over the poor. Society was ruled by money, class and gender! “An Inspector Calls” is based around “Everyman”- a morality play. The story of “Everyman” is that you should do good deeds throughout your life because friends, wealth and prosperity don’t go with you when you die, but your good deeds will!
It is also about every mans journey to repent their sins, so they may pass into heaven. “An Inspector Calls” uses the inspector to portray the guilt and responsibility of each character where as “Everyman” uses death. An excellent saying which is said by the inspector, Symbolizes the moral of these two plays: “You can never escape your actions” The inspector’s main objective is to make the family realise what responsibilities they have and that their behaviour has an influence on others.
Furthermore: sin, power balances, death, family life, wealth, class, responsibility and guilt are all important themes in “An Inspector Calls. ” All these themes are portrayed throughout the play to show the audience what it was like in 1912- socially and morally. Sin is part of all our daily lives in today’s generation; the seven deadly sins which the different characters in “An Inspector Calls” are all guilty of are: Lust, sloth, envy, gluttony, avarice, pride and wealth. Sin is a key theme in “An Inspector Calls” as is repentance, this has eligious connotations; the play was written after all at a time when people needed a lot of faith, after two world wars and at a time when nuclear arms were beginning to materialize. In “An Inspector Calls” JB Priestley uses dramatic devices such as lighting and setting to set the atmosphere of a play, for example at the start of the play the lighting is a pink light this portrays a sense of comfort, success and self- satisfaction, ultimately reflecting the characters’ moods and emotions of the celebration occurring.
This could also be related to a phrase, “looking at life through rose-coloured spectacles,” Suggesting that the characters are idealists, their take on life being forever optimistic, therefore the characters’ perception of what actually goes on in their lives is a extensive distance from reality, and what they truly admit to. At the significant moment of the Inspectors entrance, the lighting changes substantially, bringing upon his arrival a sudden change of tone. What was first a comfortable, intimate mood suddenly becomes harsh and informal, bringing an impression of exposure and a revelation of truth.
This is a metaphor used to signify the Inspector shedding light on the lives and doings of the family. Like an interrogation, the harsh lighting represents the Inspector questioning the Characters, removing shadows and uncovering secrets. The use of the doorbell as a device portrays a key moment in the story, as it symbolizes the abrupt arrival of the Inspector. The ring of the doorbell disturbs the family’s festive evening and angers Mr Birling who, full of egotism believes it is official business.
This snatches the audience’s attention and the tension grows increasingly higher, as they wait for his entrance. The audience is aware from the title of the play “An Inspector Calls” that in fact, it is the Inspector who is at the door and they fervently await his arrival. The use of the door-bell is also an example of a double meaning as the doorbell has interrupted the family’s celebratory evening, the Inspector will continue to do so but to a greater degree and with force. This shows the influence and authority the Inspector holds as he enters the household.
Also the furniture set is laid out as it would in an old fashioned rich household, it is orderly this shows that the characters come from an upper-class family and that they like to be seen as well organised throughout the community, the house is also described as being “substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike. ”The initial stage directions give us a particularly in depth visualization of what the room would have looked like, it goes into detail about the champagne glasses, lights, fire place, cigar box, all of which symbolize the wealth the family possesses and it reveals their status.
Also the words “but not cosy and homelike. ” could divulge that they are not particularly close as a family; they might just do the minimum to survive and communicate with each other. They do not act like a proper family e. g. going out together and enjoying meals as a family. At the beginning of the play Sheila is depicted as being “A pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited. ” The audience would then think of her as being likeable and generous and the kind of person who is humorous but not sarcastic.
However as we venture further into the play the audience’s opinion of Sheila will drastically change due to the language she uses and how her character reacts towards other characters’ in the play. “Yes, go on mummy. You must drink our health. ” Here Sheila appears controlling, bossy and very immature. She is carefree and young, about to be married to a prosperous gentleman. Priestley’s message here is to show clear class divisions, immaturity and little responsibility for the upper class. Sheila also uses an imperative; “must” which shows her selfishness and bossiness.
Sheila at this stage of the play could be said to resemble or symbolise a young and naive Clement Attlee. (To Eric) “Chump! I can’t drink to this can I? When can I drink? ” This quote shows that Sheila is a little rude and spoilt, acting like a child towards her brother. The audience might start to consider that she is spoilt, rude and outgoing; they will be unimpressed at the use of colloquial language “Chump” which indicates immaturity. This quote may also lead the audience to believe that the upper class is socially superior.
An exclamation mark is used which could connote sarcasm; also she uses a rhetorical question which could show she is uncertain of what she is doing. As we carry on through act 1 Sheila says something insightful to Gerald “Except for all last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you. ” This is the first indication that Sheila is intuitive and that her life may not be as perfect as it appears. This technique is called foreshadowing- which is where the writer is giving a clue about what’s going to happen at the end.
The transformation of Sheila’s character is a subtle adjustment, because if J. B Priestley changed Sheila’s character suddenly it would not be believable, it also shows it is hard to change- but not impossible. As we advance on into the play we see as an audience just how Sheila starts to revolutionize, the start of how JB Priestley is delivering his message through the slightly matured Sheila. “(Rather distressed) Sorry! It’s just that I can’t help thinking about this girl- destroying herself so horribly- and I’ve been so happy tonight. Sheila shows immediate compassion and sympathy for the girl- unlike her father Birling. Sheila is an obvious juxtaposition to Eva, they are similar ages- however one lives an easy carefree life while the other is working class living a nightmare. This quote helps Priestley illustrate the vast difference between the Upper class and Working class, this is a similar kind of situation between Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill, while one wants equal rights the other wants the “Golden Age” to return.
When Sheila learns of Eva Smith’s death and see’s the photo the inspector shows her, but the audience don’t see and neither do the other characters, he could show each of the characters different photo’s and each of the characters wouldn’t even distinguish this witty manoeuvre, this is why the character of the Inspector is crucial to the play, he makes them believe even though it is not true. This could be staged with the rest of the characters on one side of the stage and in shadows (not complete) and the inspector and Sheila on the other side with radiance shining upon them; this could embody the truth and lies.
We also start to recognise that her father has stereotypical and pompous views; this makes Sheila distance herself from him as he is reluctant to amend his unorthodox opinions and actions. (To Birling) “I think it was a mean thing to do. Perhaps that spoilt everything for her. ” This quote shows Birling’s contribution in the plot. Priestley’s message from this quote is he is not stereotyping all upper class people, people are all diverse and several are eager to modify their ways as Sheila is herself, the modal verb “Perhaps” shows choice and a gradual change of heart. Mr Arthur Birling uses a lot of dramatic irony (which shows that he is not always right. ) For example the titanic quote “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable. ” But as we know it was sinkable. With the play being published after two world wars and the sinking of the Titanic, Priestley makes the audience determine their view on Arthur of that of a fool. As we progress on into the play Sheila’s change of character can be clearly distinguished from her former vindictiveness. “But the girls aren’t cheap labour- they’re people. ”- Shows her character is changing because she can sympathize with the victim.
Sheila’s comment is central to the argument of the play. The election of Attlee would result in a Welfare State, where working class girls would be treated fairly. The alternative to the Welfare State was the “Golden Age”- where the affluent had all the power and the poor had nothing. Women had no rights- Birling is used as a device to remind individuals of this. The hyphen emphasizes “they’re people” which could show that Sheila sees them as equals unlike her parents and Gerald. Sheila starts to experience guilt as we notice through the next quote. I’ve told my father- he didn’t seem to think it amounted to much- but I felt rotten about it at the time and now I feel a lot worse. ” Sheila’s own admission of guilt makes her appear more human and realistic, where as her father’s reaction is completely the contrary; Sheila speaks a lot of her emotions, where as Birling is withdrawn and uses “realism” in his language and verbalizes provincially. The audience see’s a clear parallel between their manners already. As we see Sheila develops emotionally and morally, her quotes also develop- getting longer. As we come to the end of act 1 we see a definite change in Sheila and her outlook. Why- you fool- he knows. Of course he knows. ” Sheila reacts to Gerald’s admission of an affair. She becomes exasperated when Gerald tries to continue being dishonest and cover up what happened. When Sheila finds out about Gerald’s affair she acts calm and totally the contradictory of what we would assume. To stage this you could have Sheila sitting at one end of the dining table and Gerald standing at the other to show separation, deceitfulness and that Sheila knows and is the one who is control at this point, she quotes “In fact, in some rather odd way I rather respect you more than I’ve ever done before. This shows she is growing up. In the above quote Gerald represents the societal figure of Winston Churchill- old way of life, denying problems and euphemistically “sweeping them under the carpet” and Sheila represents the societal figure of Clement Attlee- want to move forward to a moral way of existing. Sheila has increased her use of imperatives and the “you fool” is a subordinate clause and the hyphens on either side could symbolize anger, dramatic pause or insult.
As we carry on further into act 2 we hear the confessions of Eric and Sybil Birling. The audience is in awe of Sheila and has gained their respect. “Girls of that class” “Mother don’t please don’t. ” Sheila reacts to her mother’s blatant classist attitude. She defends the working class, contrary to the rest of the family’s beliefs. JB Priestley has publicized her like this at this stage because he is trying to reveal to the audience that she has changed and that she has empathy towards the working class and that she wants equal rights.
Sheila also gains further respect by encouraging Eric to confess and it also reveals her ability to stay composed in any situation- we could say she is taking on the inspector’s role. Eric has changed from being a lazy, drunkard individual, who now supports Sheila in her bid to get everyone in their family to feel responsible for the incident. Eric redeems himself by confessing. When Sheila reacts to Eric’s confession she is composed, showing she has matured and accepts criticism, it shows she likes to change herself and feels sorry for what she has done. Her readiness to learn is in great contrast to her parents and Gerald.
In act 3 when the family and Gerald find out that the inspector wasn’t real and that no girl died on the way to the infirmary- Sheila doesn’t modify her feelings which shows she has genuinely changed, she has realized what they all did was immoral and is feeling accountable- unlike her parents and Gerald who think it’s ok to return to their original selves. Inspector Goole’s etiquette is quite extraordinary, rude and assertive. This shows he is in control and knows how to handle the situation. “Don’t you see, if all that’s come out tonight is true, then it doesn’t much matter who made us confess. Like Priestley wants his audience to embrace change in society-Sheila is morally cleansed. The inspector delivers an ultimatum: change or be changed by society. I think the audience will like Sheila and her new attitude; they will show respect for her and see that she is prepared to learn from her mistakes. As she has earned her respect and developed into an important figure for the working class, Clement Attlee has also won the election, which proves JB Priestley’s message was conveyed successfully and that people had not forgotten what the “Golden Age” was like.