Sheila Birling


Sheila Birling


·        Throughout the progression of the play, Sheila appears to be an accomplice to the Inspector in his quest for the truth/ justice.

·        Her function, in addition to the contribution of Eva’s Smiths death, is to alert the audience to different circumstances experienced by Sheila and Eva – Priestley use this to illustrate evils of the class system.

·        The character Sheila Birling is a dramatic device used by Priestley to not only expose the flaws and tensions between the characters in the play but to highlight the flaws of the early 20th Century society such as attitudes to women and how it varies depending on the social class you belong to.

·        The new generation gives hope for a more equal society.

·        From one level the audience will initially react positively to her because she is young and attractive: ‘A pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited’.

·        However, looks can be deceiving as in Act One she is presented as quite boring and unlikable; a stereotypical ‘rich daddy’s girl’ who is soon going to be a ‘kept woman’.

·        She is very intelligent and intuitive; she knows Eric drinks a lot and knows Gerald is lying about his whereabouts last summer when he ‘never came near’ her.

·        Of all the characters, it is Sheila who develops more as the play progresses.

·        Eric’s observation that she has ‘a nasty temper sometimes’ leads her to demand the dismissal of Eva Smith from the clothes shop.

·        She gains some sympathy from the audience when she acknowledges her role in Eva Smith’s downfall and admits she was jealous of her looks.

·        Although she feels the Inspector may not be all he claims to be, she acknowledges her responsibility and does not try to get away with what she has done, unlike her parents.

·        Her reaction to the photograph is instinctive; she does not deny knowing Eva Smith and her instinctive reaction of running from the room betrays her guilt.

·        Her reaction is indicative of her horror and subsequent guilt at what she has done.

·        During the second act, her guilt and acknowledgement of the family’s collective responsibility is reflected in her support for the Inspector (‘He’ll get it out of you. He always does’).

Stage Directions

“A pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited”

-        Shows the young care-free girl , Sheila once was before finding out about the role she played in Eva Smith’s death.

-        Characteristics which weaken as Sheila comes to terms with her actions and the harsh reality of the real world.

Act 1

“Oh – Gerald – you’ve got it – is it the one you wanted me to have?”

-        Passive. At the beginning of the play Sheila is reliant on the male figures…


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