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As part of my controlled assessment task I will be discussing the character Sheila Birling in
1912, just before the First World War took place, written by J.B Priestley just after the
Second World War. In the stage directions at the beginning of the play, Priestley introduces
the character Sheila, The daughter of Arthur Birling as a "pretty girl in her early twenties, very
pleased with life and rather excited." Priestley creates an initial impression of Sheila, but she
soon changes as the play unfolds. In this essay, I will describe the impressions I get of Sheila
throughout Act 1 and how Priestley creates them.
Firstly I get the impression that Sheila and her family are a comfortable middle class family
and are therefore privileged. One of the prominent themes Priestley includes in the play is
power and class by setting the play in the stage directions at the opening of the script. The
Birling family are celebrating in a "fairly large suburban house" with "good solid furniture".
They enjoyed "champagne," "port", "cigar" and "cigarettes". Furthermore, Sheila's
engagement to Gerald (son of Sir George Croft) means a rank higher for their social status
for Sheila and her family as Gerald "might have done better for himself socially".
My first impression of Sheila is that she is a childish, selfish "pretty girl in her early twenties,
very pleased with life and rather excited," enjoying all of the attention that her engagement
to Gerald is bringing her. Despite her being in her early twenties, she is still seen as a child by
her mother. Her mother warns her to "be careful with" the engagement ring. Priestley uses
simple and basic language for Sheila's speech. Such as "I'm sorry daddy". Sheila also uses
slang expressions with her brother Eric like "you're squiffy". Which contrast with her parent's
language with her parent's language and emphasizes her youth.
In addition, Priestley uses easy-optimistic conversation to show how egotistical Sheila is.
Moreover, the lighting at the start of the play is "pink and intimate" to indicate a
light-hearted and cheerful atmosphere.
However, all is not as it seems. Sheila is not as naive and shallow as she first appears. She
teases Gerald over his absence "all last summer", and is "half serious, half playful" about it.
She does not seem convinced that he was "awfully busy at the works." Later, Eric reveals
Sheila has "got a nasty temper sometimes." All of these remarks give me the idea that the
appearance can be deceptive. Is Gerald lying? When did Sheila have a bad temper? Priestley
creates this intuition with his dialogue and the different tones which create subtle hints that
all is not as it seems.
Once the inspector Goole arrives and mentions the awful death of Eva Smith, Sheila's
personality and outlook on life starts to change and she starts becoming less selfish and
more understanding. At first when she meets the inspector her curiosity stands out, and she
soon shows a more caring side to her nature. She is genuinely moved by the news of the
girls death as she says "oh-how horrible!" However, after having "been so happy" tonight,
she wishes the inspector "hadn't told" her. This could be interpreted as shallow and could
emphasize her struggle to change.
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When Sheila hears that Eva smith was fired for asking for a pay rise at her father's works
she shows she can be sympathetic to someone less fortunate than her and is critical to
her father saying "it was a mean thing to do," and that girls like Eva aren't cheap
labour-they're people". This was contrary to the views of her father. At this time in
history people were judged according to their social status.…read more