J. B. Priestley’s play “An Inspector Calls” demonstrates why it is imperative to look after others in a community, rather that just yourself. Priestley does this by explaining the Birling family who don’t care about community and showing them, each in turn, that because of this they all had a role to play in the suicide of a girl named Eva Smith. I am going to examine the character of Sheila Birling in more depth to observe her reaction when she hears of her involvement and whether or not this experience has changed her view on community values.
However, prior to this, I shall give a brief summary of the play. The play, “takes place in the dining room of the Birlings’ house in Brumley, a fictional industrial city in the North Midlands. ” The Birlings are of the higher middle class and can afford to live in luxury. Their house is sturdy and they can afford pretty clothes and real wood furniture. “The general effect is substantial and heavily comfortable, but not cosy and homelike. ” The family are celebrating the engagement of Sheila Birling to Gerald Croft and a good time is being had by all.
Arthur Birling had been giving Gerald and Eric Birling a speech, “A man has to make his own way – has to look after himself – and his family too, of course, when he has one – and if he does that he won’t come to much harm. ” After this is said, as if on cue, a police Inspector named Goole arrives and informs the family that they have all had some part to play in the chain of events which lead to the suicide of a girl called Eva Smith. The arrival of the Inspector at this specific moment is very fitting as it draws the reader’s attention to the Birlings’ view on society and how ridiculous it actually is.
The remainder of the play is describing the role that each of the characters plays in the death and what happens after the Inspector departs. At the beginning of the play, Sheila Birling is a typical wealthy factory owner’s daughter. She knows what she wants, but doesn’t work to acquire it. She is engaged to Gerald Croft of Crofts Limited, another factory in Brumley. She also shares the same outlook on society as her father and the remainder of her family. Perhaps this is because she has never been in any situations which would contradict it, or perhaps she is just too concerned with her own interests to bother thinking about it.
She believes that if you look out for yourself and no-one else and if everyone did this life would be ideal, but in reality this can never be the case. The arrival of the Inspector is quite exciting to Sheila as she is, in general, quite an inquisitive person. She wants to know what’s going on. She is, “rather distressed” when she hears about the suicide and she doesn’t like the fact that her father had sacked the girl from her job at his factory and began the chain of events that led to her suicide.
Sheila first realises she is involved in the death when the Inspector, “produces the photograph. She looks at it closely, recognizes it with a little cry, gives a half-stifled sob, and then runs out. ” She is obviously one of the characters in the play who doesn’t try to deny having played any part in the death of the girl. This is obvious from her reaction. Sheila had not known Eva very well, but well enough to have had a very big influence on her life and death. Sheila had been in Milwards, the shop in which Eva worked after she was sacked from Birling and Company.
It was a job she had only found after some difficultly. Sheila had gone to try on a dress. It had been an idea of her own. Her mother and the assistant had both been against the idea, but she had insisted. It hadn’t suited her at all and she looked silly in it. When Eva had brought the dress for Sheila to try on, she held it up to herself and it suited her. As it didn’t suit Sheila herself, she was jealous and when she caught sight of Eva smiling at the assistant while she was trying on the dress she was furious.