An Inspector Calls is a play written by J.B Priestley in 1945 after World War 2 but was set in 1912 just before world war. The plot of this dramatic play is based around a normal, respected family who are visited by an inspector about the death of young girl, Eva Smith, and how each family member plays a role in her death. This is an incredibly thought provoking and profound play. This essay will explore how the differences between the two characters Mr Birling, the head of the family, and Sheila (his daughter), are presented and why they are important.
Mr Birling is a very arrogant man who is pleased with his achievements in life. He is seen informing Gerald that “there is a fair chance that I might find my way into the honours list. Just a knighthood, of course”. Birling is trying to impress Gerald by telling him that it was almost certain he was getting a knighthood. Saying that there was a “fair chance” proves that he was not definitely on the honours list yet but the fact that he was telling him already means that in his mind he thought that the knighthood was his. Also despite Birling acting nonchalant about the knighthood “just a knighthood, of course” we know that this is extremely important for him because of his self-made wealth which is why he told Gerald; so he could impress his family, the Crofts. Additionally, the way he says “of course” implies that he is trying to tell everyone that he is only fulfilling what is expected of a man of his prestige. The writer is telling us that even the rich had requirements to fulfil to be accepted in society.
In the beginning of the play Sheila is portrayed as a vain and conceited girl. We realise this, when the inspector asks her reason for complaining about Eva, when she says “I caught sight of the girl smiling at the assistant”. This is Sheila’s reasoning for getting Eva fired; she thought she was laughing at her. At this point Sheila looks very vain because she assumed Eva was laughing at her, as if there couldn’t possibly be anything else she could be “smiling” about and that the world revolves around her. Another way to look at this is that she expects everything to be about her and go her way indicates how childish and immature she still is. J.B is trying to get the point across that the upper class were valued customers and if they were unhappy it was other people’s jobs to keep them satisfied. Mr Birling uses his power to influence situations that are not in his favour. This is proven when the Birling informs the inspector that the chief constable is “an old friend” and that he sees him “fairly frequently”. Here Mr Birling is asserting his authority by showing his personal relationship with the inspector’s superior therefore trying to prevent the inspector from delving into the situation in the same determined manner. Also this shows Mr Birling’s annoyance at the inspector for taking charge of the situation which he is not used to because he is usually the one in charge. By using the phrase “old friend” Mr Birling is trying to get the point across that he has a lot of influence over the chief and the inspector’s fate could lie in the hands of Mr Birling. Another way this can be looked at is when Mr birling is saying that he sees the chief “fairly frequently” can be interpreted that Mr Birling is not as close with him as he makes out to be. This could also be a way of convincing himself as well as the inspector that he is powerful and does have connections in high places. Here we can see one of the most important themes in this play; class. Priestley is trying to get the message across that the upper class could influence the middle and lower class with their status, money and power. Sheila uses her power and influence over people for the wrong reasons. This is made known when the inspector tells Sheila that she “used her power to punish Eva Smith because she made