You’re squiffy. (Sheila) From these words from Act One, it is clear that Sheila is euphemistic; having been inherited from her parents, she is prepared to ‘sugar-coat’ life and avoid the harsh realities of the world that the family live in. Sheila uses the adjective ‘squiffy’ to describe her brother’s drunken state. The adjective shows how Sheila has been safeguarded from the outside world by her parents. ‘Squiffy’ also indicates a linguistic inheritance from her parents. The phrase shows the audience how Sheila makes light of the fact that Eric is drunk. It also shows the audience how familiar the relationship between Eric and Sheila is. It shows how Sheila had known about Eric’s drinking problem, whilst the rest of the family had not been informed. The Birling family are an upper-class family in Edwardian England; the use of the adjective ‘squiffy’ shows how the family use upper-class adjectives in an attempt to fit in with their class. An Inspector Calls, set during 1912, was written during a time where there was a large gap between upper and lower class people. The upper-class had a much higher standard of living whilst the lower-class had poor living conditions and few opportunities. At this time, women were treated in an inferior way to men. The Edwardian England put emphasis on correct behavior and good manners which is reflected strongly by the family. Whilst Sheila’s family are thick skinned and inward facing, Sheila, different to her parents, has the capacity to change her views, shown by her maturity and outward facing characteristics. During Act One, Priestley introduces Sheila as an innocent young girl without any worries or strife. This is evident as the stage directions describe her as being “a pretty girl… very pleased with life and rather excited. This shows how Sheila had led an easy life without any struggle. One could argue that her life has been too easy therefore infantilizing her. The use of “mummy” and “daddy” suggest that Sheila has been treated like a child throughout the course of her life. These nouns also show how immature and child-like Sheila is. Oh – it’s wonderful! Look- Mummy – isn’t it a beauty?… Now I really feel engaged. (Sheila) From these words from Act One, it is clear that Sheila has a very materialistic attitude. Here, it is clear that Sheila, like her parents, has very capitalist values as she needs an expensive ring in order to ‘really feel engaged.’ The phrase shows how Sheila cares more for the price of the ring rather than the meaning of it. The phrase “is it the one you wanted me to have?” Shows how Sheila cares more about the opinion of Gerald rather than her own opinion of the ring. The phrase also shows off the gender bias of Edwardian England as Sheila’s ring needs to be chosen by a male and Sheila does not get to express her own desires. From Act One, the audience can begin to understand the values and characteristics of Sheila. One of her most pungent attributes being her ability to empathize unlike her father. It also becomes evident that Sheila has the capacity to change whilst her father lacks the ability to change or empathize. Sorry! It’s just that I can’t help thinking about this girl- destroying herself so horribly- and I’ve been so happy tonight. Oh I wish you hadn’t told me. What was she like? Quite young? (Sheila) These words from Act One are indefinite in their meaning. On one hand, these words show how Sheila has the ability to empathize with Eva Smith and her horrific death. The verb ‘destroying’ shows the audience how much Sheila has been affected by the news of the suicide. Sheila’s sudden rush to ask questions also suggests that she is genuinely concerned by the news of the suicide. On the other hand, another interpretation could be argued: that Sheila could be suggesting that the news of the death of the girl has ruined her evening. This shows off Sheila’s naivety as she had never heard of such a horrific act. It is also evident that this is the first exposure to real life out side of “Fortress Birling”. If interpreted this way, these words show the audience how immature, selfish and inward facing Sheila is as a character. If interpreted the first way, it is clear that Sheila can empathize with Eva Smith whilst her father cannot. Mr. Birling sees Eva Smith as one of the ‘several hundred women’ that work for him. This shows off Mr. Birling’s apathetic characteristic; which contrasts with Sheila’s empathetic characteristic. During Act One, Priestley portrays Sheila as a “half serious, half playful” character which is symbolic of her wider life. On one hand, Sheila is a “pretty”, “excited” and “playful” girl; whilst on the other hand she is also “serious” and does not wanted to be treated like a child any longer but like an adult. Here, it is evident that Sheila is caught in the liminal space between girlhood and adulthood. Sheila can be seen as immature and child-like through her actions at Millwards: … if they didn’t get rid of that girl, I’d never go near the place again…(Sheila) From these words on Act One, it is clear that Sheila is being very immature about the situation and was not thinking about her actions. However, Sheila later realizes that she has made an error and felt bad about what she had done – “now I feel a lot worse”. Again, we can see how Sheila has the capacity to learn and change unlike her father, Mr. Birling. The phrase “it was my own fault” shows how Sheila has taken responsibility for her actions whilst her father cannot – “I can’t accept any responsibility”.
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