Sheila Birling

A photo of Sheila Birling
Sheila Birling matures during the play

Sheila Birling is Arthur and Sybil's daughter and is in her early twenties. At the start of the play she is celebrating her engagement to Gerald Croft and she is a giddy, naïve and childish young lady. The Inspector arrives and she is very shocked by the news of Eva Smith's death, she is also very regretful of her own involvement in the suicide.

As the play continues, she matures, admiring Gerald's honesty, even though he cheated on her. She shows an assertive side by standing up to her mother and father and she also shows that she is insightful and intelligent - she can see where the Inspector's investigation is going and tries to warn the others.

By the end of the play she has grown up and has realised that her actions can have grave consequences.

How is Sheila Birling like this?EvidenceAnalysis
NaïveAt the opening of the play she appears to be a little immature and easily led. Her behaviour is childish and she very much does what her parents tell her."I'm sorry Daddy actually I was listening." Sheila shows her naivety and lack of maturity in the way she reacts to her father. She is quick to apologise, it is clear that she is keen to behave well. She also refers to her father as 'Daddy', a childish term.
AssertiveAs the play progresses, Sheila’s character develops and she begins to stand up for herself."I tell you - whoever that inspector was, it was anything but a joke."The change in Sheila here is clear. She has become more assertive, using phrases such as 'I tell you'. The events of the evening have made her aware of the serious impact one's actions can have.
InsightfulAt a number of points, Sheila shows that she can see things that the other characters cannot. "Yes, of course it is. That's what I meant when I talked about building up a wall that's sure to be knocked flat. It makes it all harder to bear."Sheila uses the metaphor of a wall that the Inspector will knock down to show her insightful understanding of his methods. She knows that if they try to keep anything from him, it will make things worse. The other characters don’t realise this as quickly as Sheila does.

Social and historical context

Sheila, like Eric, allows Priestley to show his opinions on youth. He felt that there was hope in the young people of post-war Britain. He saw them as the ones who would help solve the problems the country had with class, gender and social responsibility. This is seen in how Sheila is deeply affected by Eva's death, she accepts responsibility straightaway and promises to never behave in such a way again. This is not the case with the older characters, Mr and Mrs Birling and even Gerald do not accept responsibility and we do not get the impression that they will change.

Analysing the evidence

quote
I don't dislike you as I did half an hour ago, Gerald. In fact, in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I've ever done before. I knew anyhow you were lying about those months last year when you hardly came near me. I knew there was something fishy about that time. And now at least you've been honest. And I believe what you told us about the way you helped her at first. Just out of pity. And it was my fault really that she was so desperate when you first met her. But this has made a difference. You and I aren't the same people who sat down to dinner here. We'd have to start all over again, getting to know each other.Sheila Birling
Question

How does Sheila change over the course of the play?

How to analyse the quotation:

"I don't dislike you as I did half an hour ago, Gerald. In fact, in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I've ever done before. I knew anyhow you were lying about those months last year when you hardly came near me. I knew there was something fishy about that time. And now at least you've been honest. And I believe what you told us about the way you helped her at first. Just out of pity. And it was my fault really that she was so desperate when you first met her. But this has made a difference. You and I aren't the same people who sat down to dinner here. We'd have to start all over again, getting to know each other."

  • ""in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I've ever done before" - Sheila shows great maturity in forgiving Gerald.
  • "I knew there was something fishy about that time. And now at least you've been honest." - she is insightful, she knew something was up all along, she is also being more assertive.

How to use this in an essay:

Sheila shows how much she has changed when she confronts Gerald about his affair. We expect her to react very badly, but in fact she is very mature 'in some odd way, I rather respect you more than I've ever done before', the audience admires her for being this forgiving, it shows that she understands that conflict is not the solution to problems. She then shows that she has insight 'I knew there was something fishy about that time. And now at least you've been honest'. At the start of the play she gives the impression that she is a little ignorant of what goes on around her - here she reveals that she knew something was wrong the whole time. She is also being more assertive with Gerald and commenting on his behaviour. She shows that she understands that this event has changed them all 'You and I aren't the same people who sat down to dinner here', the audience is sure that Sheila will go on to be a better person.