Sheila Birling Background
At the start, Sheila is descried as being "very pleased with life and rather excited". She is pleased to be marrying Gerald, though she shows herself to be far from naive with her rather suspicious attitude towards him-she does not fully trust Gerald and she immediately intuits that "Daisy"was the reason for Gerald's being "so busy at the works" all sumer SHe is not a bit surprised, saying "it was obvious from the start". After Gerald's confession, Sheila returns the engagement ring, but admits that now "in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I've ever done before"-because for oonce Gerald has been honest and open, and even shown some remorse.
Sheila is perhaps the most sympathetic of the Birlings, though her own part in Eva's is arguably less defensible than Mr Birling's as she acted out of pure spite, vanity and jealousy: She says that she had a "furious temper" at Eva because a dress "suited her". She was "jealous of" Eva.
When Sheila got Eva sacked she acted out of motives of jealousy, petty spite and hurt vanity.
She is a highly perceptive character who is the first to realise that the Inspector is no ordinary policeman, and that he has an almost supernatural knowledge and omniscient disposition: "Why-you fool-he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet". Simiarly, she is the first to reaise that the father of Eva's baby is Eric and tries to get her mother to stop insisting that he should be held responsible: "(With sudden alarm) Mother-stop-stop!"
Likewise, Sheila regards the Inspector differently from the others-"she stares at him (Goole) wonderously and dubiously". She begs her mother not to patronise him-"You mustn't try to build up a kind of wall between us and that girl". She knows that "the Inspector will break it down". She warns her Mother "He hasn't started on you yet", realising that they are all going to be treated in the same way. Her mood becomes slightly "hysterical"; "he's giving us the rope-so that we'll hang ourseves".
When Birling remarks that Goole did not come to "talk to me about my responsibilities", Sheila responds "Let's hope not. Though I'm beginning to wonder". She alone seems to perceive that Goole is "not just a police Inspector".
Sheila also contrasts sharply with her parents by the honest and realistic way shee reagrds things. She says "We really must drop these silly pretences" and comments that Eric has been "drinking too much for the past two years". She says "we've no excuse now for putting on airs"-ie behaving as if they were socially "better" tan everyone else, including Goole. Mr and Mrs biring are shocked by some of Sheila's honest remarks, because they prefer to live in a world where unpleasant reaities are suppressed or ignored, but Sheila does not try tpo deceive herself.
The way she is tormented by the impact of what she has done to Eva indicates that she is essentially an honest and good-hearted person who has been misled by her own immaturity and momentary selfishness-in contrast to Mr and Mrs Birling, who are selfish and insensitive all the time. Sheia has the courage to admit her guilt and to speak out honestly, even when she knows this is not considered the "right" thing to do (by her parents).
Sheila feels genuine remorse for what she did, and passionately believes that they shoud learn from the Inspector's visit so as never to repeat such a crime. "And don't let's start dodging and pretending now. Between us we drove that girl to commit suicide". Her reaction to the revelation that Goole was not a "real" Inspector is totally different to Gerald's and her parents' : "whoever that Inspector was, it was anything but a joke. You knew it then. You began to learn someting. And now you've stopped. You're ready to go on in the same old way"
Her initial character
Sheila initially abused her power "as a daughter of a good customer" to punish Eva for simply being prettier than her. To her credit, she says "It's the only time I've ever done anything like that, and I'll never, never do it again to anybody," so we may assume that her nature is not normally bad (unlike Mr and Mrs Biring). Mr Birling regards Eva as "cheap labour", but Sheila insists that "these girls aren't cheap labour-they're people". She has far more conscience than any other character (though Eric is equally remorseful for his part in Eva's death).
Her remorse is Priesley's way of showing that human beings do have a good side to their nature, and that if there is hope that people will one day develop a social conscience and awareness that "We are members of one body", then it is amongst the younger generation.
Priestley uses her to show that the younger generation have the capacity within themselves to change and develop their characters; they wilfully accept responsibility, feel guilt and sympathy.
- "Except for all last summer, when you never came near me" foreshadowing and dramatic irony. Shiela half expects that there was another woman.
- "Oh I wish you hadn't told me" she doesn't want to know about the dead girl, because it spoils her happy mood. Naive, ignorant.
- "You talk as if we were responsible" foreshadowing- they are!
- "It was a mean thing to do" she hypocritically criticizes Mr Birling without realising it- she thinks herself innocent.
- "But these girls aren't cheap labour- they're people" young generation's view very different.
- "So I'm really responsible?" she is kind hearted.
- "I expect you've done things you're ashamed of too" to Gerald- yes he has! Foreshadowing.
- "It didn't seem to be anything very terrible at the time" shows her gap in social status, doesn't understand the value of a job.
- "Why- you fool- he knows" very important line- Shiela is aware that the Inspector has information
- "He means that I'm getting hysterical now" surly and bitter toward Gerald.
- "I know I'm to blame" only character to accept blame so far.
- "I feel you're beginning all wrong. I'm afraid you'll say something or do something that you'll be sorry for afterwards" foreshadowing.
- "You mustn't try to build up a wall" trying to articulate her feelings/suspicions.
- "He hasn't started on you yet" foreshadowing.
- "It was my fault that she was so desperate when you met her" makes a connection between their actions.
- "Mother-stop!" realises that her mother is walking into a trap. Here is the only point where she tries to keep information from the Inspector.
- "You don't seem to have learnt anything" Shiela has become the conscience of the family.
- "It doesn't make any real difference" she has learnt a lesson.
- "It's you two who are childish- trying not to face the facts" she is accusing to her parents, defying the hierarchy.
- "I suppose we're all nice people now" still feels guilt and understands the consequences of her actions.
- "You're just beginning to pretend all over again" she has seen that they are at fault.