An Inspector Calls
by J.B. Priestley
Check out the BBC Bitesize website for information on the play at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/dramainspectorcalls/
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Intermediate 1 – SQA past paper question
Choose a character from a play who changes during the course of the play.
Explain what causes him or her to change and say what effect this change has later on in the play.
‘An Inspector Calls’ by J.B. Priestley
You might choose to write about Sheila or Eric for this question. I would choose Sheila because she is the character who seems most affected by the Inspector and who recognises that there is something more to him than first appears.
At the start of the play “An Inspector Calls” by JB Priestley Sheila Birling is excited and happy because the family are celebrating her engagement to Gerald Croft, son of Lord and Lady Croft. However, there is a hint even at this early stage that she has ‘a bit of a temper’.
When Inspector Goole arrives we discover that Sheila had used her position to have Eva Smith fired from her job as a sales assistant at Milwards department store. Sheila was in a bad mood and admits to being jealous of the girl because she was pretty and suited a dress more than Sheila did. Sheila did not stop to think about what losing her job might mean to Eva.
When she learns that it was the last steady job Eva had, Sheila is so upset she has to leave the room. She does return, however, and accepts that her actions were appalling. It is at this point in the play that she begins to change. She learns the lesson of the play that ‘we are all responsible’ for each other and that our actions have consequences.
She gives Gerald his ring back when she finds out that he had an affair with Eva Smith (or Daisy Renton as she called herself then) but she does not reject him totally. She recognises that Gerald was kind and treated Daisy far better than she did. She is wise enough to know that if they are to have a future together they have a lot of talking to do.
Sheila realises that her mother’s attitude to Eva is wrong from the very beginning. Mrs Birling’s superior attitude – she refers to Eva as ‘a girl of that sort’ – is putting up barriers that the Inspector is there to knock down.
Mr and Mrs Birling do not learn any lesson from the Inspector’s visit. When the Inspector is discovered to be a ‘hoax’ and they believe they can avoid a scandal, they behave as if nothing has happened. However, Sheila and Eric realise that they cannot continue to abuse their position in society and look out only for themselves. They have changed and learned about responsibility which is the play’s message.
When the real police inspector calls, Sheila will not try to hide the truth from him. She is not the same person who ‘sat down to dinner’. She is much more compassionate and socially responsible.