Compare And Contrast Two Characters From The Play ÅeAn Inspector CallsÅf By JB Priestley Essay, Research Paper
Sheila and Mr. Birling have very different characteristics. Sheila, being a much younger character, is quite impressionable, whereas Mr. Birling is not. SheilaÅfs attitude and views change as the story goes on, whereas Mr Birling refuses to change altogether. Their characteristics are shown in their reactions to EvaÅfs death, and to each other.
Mr. Birling is the father of Sheila Birling and considers himself to have a very high status in society. He is a prosperous factory owner, a local magistrate and ex-Lord Mayor of Brumley. He regards himself as being reasonable, but his first priority is to make money ÅeitÅfs my duty to keep labour costs downÅf and therefore pays his employees no more than the going rate. However, as the play continues further, we are shown how Sheila sees her father being exposed as a Åehard headed business manÅf and as an insensitive character. Sheila on the other hand is shown as being young, attractive, sensitive, an honest character. She is one of the very few characters in the play that is impressionable, and deeply affected by what the Inspector reveals to her family through the play.
Mr BirlingÅfs and SheilaÅfs character have very few similarities. This is shown in the very first act, by the language both father and daughter use. Sheila uses slang, whereas Mr Birling, being a very ÅeimportantÅf and ÅerespectableÅf character, uses no such slang. ÅeYouÅfre squiffyÅf she uses this expression to tell her brother, Eric that he is drunk. Her use of slang expressions, helps to emphasise her youth whereas Mr BirlingÅfs words as well as language clearly emphasise how pompous he is. He is full of Åeself-importanceÅf and feels what he has to say is most important. When he interrupts Eric, Åejust let me finish, Eric,Åf he doesnÅft even stop to consider that Eric may have something of some importance to say.
However, at the beginning of the play, when SheilaÅfs story is revealed, she seems to have very similar characteristics to that of her father. She seems very selfish and full of self-importance. An example of this behaviour, is demonstrated when she gets Eva fired from her job, which was simply, as she admitted later, because she had laughed at her. She felt that she had a very high status in society, which gave her the ÅepowerÅf to be able to do this. This basically mirrors her fatherÅfs attitude, which does not change, at any point in the play.
Very early in the play, when we hear about how Eva lost her job at ÅeMillwardsÅf, Sheila is seen as being insensitive towards otherÅfs feelings. Mr Birling is also shown as being an insensitive business man, which again introduces the ideas of Mr BirlingÅfs first priority, ÅeIf you donÅft come down sharp on some of these people, theyÅfd soon be asking for the earthÅf. He feels his business is so much more important than even just the opinionÅfs of his employees, who he clearly feels, do not have his knowledge of the business world.
Mr Birling, feels that he always knows what is best and likes to be the centre of attention, like when Sheila receives her engagement ring from Gerald, she is very excited about the whole situation, but he begins to draw the attention to himself, by telling everyone about the Titanic, and how technology has advanced, so much, that he can be so sure to dismiss the possibility of it sinking. His interruptions clearly contradict the care and responsibility he supposedly has for his family. ÅeA man has to look after himself and his ownÅf he also likes to boast very much about himself, and how important he is. Mr Birling just wants his family to be respected in society and so tries to encourage them to do things that will help them to achieve an even higher status. For example, he doesnÅft really consider his daughterÅfs feelings towards her marriage to Gerald, he just encourages it as he hopes that it will unite his company with CroftÅfs Ltd, so that they can Åework together for lower costs and higher pricesÅf. This is why it appears that he regards his daughterÅfs marriage as an advantage to his company, almost like a business arrangement.
Since Mr Birling is well aware that GeraldÅfs mother is against her sonÅfs marriage because she believes him to be marrying beneath him socially, he tries to hint that he is expecting to receive a knighthood in the next honours list, in the hope that this may ease the concern GeraldÅfs mother has. Sheila, on the other hand is actually wanting to marry Gerald because she loves and trusts him not simply so it will be an advantage to her fatherÅfs company. This is why she is mature about the breaking up of her engagement and remains calm. Whereas her father tries to discourage the break up for obvious reasons, ÅeNow, Sheila, IÅfm no defending him. But you must know that a lot of young men-Åf He doesnÅft even stop to consider his daughterÅfs feelings and just thinks of the effect it would have on his business.
When the Inspector arrives, Sheila is not actually present, but Mr Birling is. The reaction both the characters display when subsequently questioned on their involvement in the death of Eva shows a great distinction between their attitude to life and others Åenot so high in societyÅf. The reaction Mr Birling initially displays changes within a few moments. At first, he and Gerald joke about the reasons for the InspectorÅfs visit, as Mr Birling probably feels that he has nothing to fear because of his high status and contacts. However, after the Inspector reveals how Eva Smith died, and how this was in some way related to Mr Birling, he refuses to accept his responsibility and thinks that he has an honest approach to life. He tries to justify his actions by telling the Inspector about his refusal to listen to EvaÅfs request for a wage rise. ÅeI refused of courseÅf and seems genuinely surprised when the Inspector questions his actions, Åedid you say why?Åf. Mr Birling seems offended by the Inspectors questioning, and also a little bemused at the Inspectors tone of voice. Here he shows how he thinks very few people are at his Åebusiness levelÅf and so very few can understand his actions. He points out yet again, that he knows the Chief Constable. Mr Birling mentions that he is friends with the InspectorÅfs Chief Constable, to almost threaten the Inspector, although the Inspector seems to ignore this fact.
When the Inspector begins to question Mr Birling, his attitude quickly changes. He becomes impatient with the Inspectors subsequent questioning and so again he reminds the Inspector of his ÅepositionÅf in society.
SheilaÅfs reaction however, is quite different to the one her father displays, as when Sheila enters the room to find out about the death of Eva, Mr Birling is annoyed with the Inspector for telling Sheila such a story. Sheila finds out about the death and shows a lot more sympathy than her father had displayed. When she finds out about the involvement of her father, she is quick to be critical of him, and not to protect him. This shows that although Mr Birling may think that they are a close family and protect each otherÅfs interests, SheilaÅfs words contradict this, ÅeBut these girls arenÅft cheap labour- theyÅfre peopleÅf she is very quick to defend the girls rather than defend her own family. She does not try and protect her father, who said this comment instead she argues against it. She maintains this attitude throughout the play; she is very quick to protect Eva Smith and not any of the other members of her family. She is the only character who shows any genuine sympathy for Eva, ÅeI canÅft help thinking about this girl _ destroying herself so horribly _ and IÅfve been so happy tonightÅf. She actually says this even before she learns of her involvement in her death, which basically summarises how sympathetic she is in contrast to her unsympathetic father.
I think Priestley uses Sheila to keep reminding the reader of EvaÅfs horrible death; also as she is one of the very few ÅeopenÅf characters, she is able to do this well as she expresses her feelings. Like when she says ÅeI felt rotten at the time but now I feel even worseÅf.
Unlike her father, when Sheila hears of her involvement in EvaÅfs death she is ready to admit to her wrong doings and express her guilt freely. She actually says ÅeSo IÅfm really responsible?Åf and doesnÅft try and excuse her actions to get herself out of trouble. This shows that her character is extremely remorseful, unlike her fatherÅfs character who is very unrepentant, is not ready for one moment to admit even part blame, whereas on the other hand Sheila accepts full responsibility.
I think, as the Inspector knew that Sheila, being a younger character, was most likely to admit her blame and accept the consequences of her actions. It was only right for her to know that she was only partly to blame, which is why he encourages her to stay and listen to what he has to say so that she doesnÅft feel entirely responsible. Mr Birling is not encouraged to stay, since he is simply annoyed by the subsequent questioning put across to him and his family.
Sheila, is very quick to realise the Inspectors motives, and tries to warn the other members of her family not to lie about their previous actions, as she knows that the Inspector is going to get to the bottom of the situation and make them all realise their involvement in EvaÅfs death. She knows that he is going to expose everything and even tries to make the situation better by attempting to hurry up the questioning – ÅeYou see I feel youÅfreÅcÅf. She even tries to warn her mother about not immediately admitting her responsibilities.
When Mrs BirlingÅfs story is revealed, both Mr Birling and Sheila continue to display different reactions. Sheila continues to show her sympathy for Eva, whilst her father continues to defend him and his familyÅfs ÅepositionÅf. This is shown when all he is worried about, is the possible scandal if the Åepress take this upÅf. Whereas Sheila says she thinksÅf Åeit was cruel and vileÅf. This again emphasises how ÅeunrepentantÅf Mr Birling is and how Åeremorseful and sympatheticÅf Sheila is. Mr Birling also says ÅeIs there any reason why my wife should answer questions from you, Inspector?Åf, trying to bring his high social classification, into the matter to threaten the Inspector. Sheila, on the otherhand has dismissed her social class, as soon as she hears of how her ÅeprideÅf got in the way of a womanÅfs job.
Even after the departure of the Inspector, and when they all find out that the Inspector was a hoax, she is unable to accept her parentÅfs attitude and is both amazed and concerned that they havenÅft learned anything from the whole incident. She is one of the few to realise that even though the Inspector is a hoax, the family have still behaved in an entirely unsuitable manner. All Mr Birling can say to the attitude of his daughter when he finds out that the Inspector is a hoax, is that Åethe famous younger generation who know it allÅf.He amuses himself by thinking back to the faces of his children when they were exposed to the causes EvaÅfs death, adding Åethey canÅft even take a joke.Åf This shows how he continues to ignore the shameful things his family has done. He refuses to learn of his responsibilities to others less fortunate than himself and is still unsympathetic, unlike Sheila, who displays exactly the opposite attitude to her father. Her readiness to learn from the experience proves to be a great contrast to that of her father.
The message conveyed to the readers is that the older generation in this time, are only ever interested in making money and about their position in society. Priestly shows his hatred of the behaviour and attitudes of the Åeupper classÅf by choosing Mr Birling to represent such a character. Sheila on the other hand, is left to learn from the mistakes of the older generation and ensure that they are not repeated. I think Priestley uses Sheila to keep reminding the reader of EvaÅfs horrible death. She is one of the very few ÅeopenÅf characters, and is able to do this well as she expresses her feelings, such as when she says ÅeItÅfs the only time IÅfve ever done anything like that, and IÅfll never do it again to anyoneÅf. Priestley uses Sheila, to some degree, to show sensitivity towards a girl of the lower classes. Throughout the play, she is there to remind the readers of how her family treated and spoilt the life of a young girl, simply because she was of a lower class. Sheila is used as a ÅevoiceÅf throughout the play, which is obviously what Priestley intended. He clearly must have felt that it was important to convey the message of how poorly the Åelower classÅf were treated by the Åeupper classÅf.