Over the entire play Mrs Birling’s character develops very little. She is not on stage for a large segment of the play, and when she does her character seemingly does not change. However there is a some small changes in the way she treats the Inspector. After the revelations about Eric she becomes quieter and less abusive to him. I think that Mrs Birling is even more of a social climber than Mr Birling and to continue the earlier metaphor of the ladder she would be the one hanging on to Mr Birling’s ankles with all of her strength.
She is only a member of the committee that rejected Eva Smith because she wants to appear a nice, kind public figure. I think that she is possibly the guiltiest figure in Preistley’s eyes because, as I said earlier, she is the one who ad the chance to save the girl and she was the one who pushed her over the edge by her heartless and baseless rejection. Eric is a very interesting character. He is portrayed as a kind, good-hearted figure, if a bit reckless. He obviously has difficulty asserting himself towards his parents as he shares a difficult relationship with them.
They treat him with no respect and act as if he is very young indeed. However, he shares a close relationship with his sister, though he does get irritated with her when she tells them that he drinks. He is a very moral man, who shows a strong reaction to Eva Smith’s death: Eric (involuntarily) “My God! ” Although his father is a right-winger, Eric is the opposite of him. He believes there was no reason to fire Eva Smith and that they should have kept her on. Overall he is a very individual character. When Eric leaves his mother and father cannot imagine why he has left, while his sister just thinks he has gone to cool off.
One marked contrast between the Inspector and Birling is that Birling refuses Eric a drink, again treating him as a child, while Goole demands that he is allowed one. He then describes his relationship with the girl and when he begins he is slightly casual, using words such as “squiffy”. After that, though, he gets slightly more serious. When he gets to the piece where he got back to her room he breaks down for a moment showing a very strong emotional feeling about what he has done to this poor girl: “Eric Yes. And that’s when it happened. And I didn’t even remember – that’s the hellish thing.
Oh – my God! – how stupid it all is! ” He describes about how next time they met he couldn’t remember her name or where she lived. The next passage relates how, at the time, he was prepared to take advantage of the girl’s weak condition. This shows another morale side of Eric; the spoilt boy, well adjusted to getting his own way. One interesting point in this is that he says that he will not go to a prostitute, but that Birling’s friends are quite ready to. This shows that Preistley’s disgust at the double standards abundant in the upper echelons of the society at the time.
It describes how the rich businessmen, so full of supposed morals, used prostitutes, something supposedly against their ethical code. Continuously through the play, Eric is shown to be opposed to his father and his father’s friends. When Eva tells Eric that she is pregnant, Eric reacts badly, but says this was because he had no one to talk to about it. I think Preistley was trying to get across that the rich had become so emotionally unattached that they cannot communicate with their own family. When he comes to the theft of i??
200 from his father’s office he does not admit it is wrong because the money was taken for a desperate cause – that of a pregnant women. This shows that Eric was prepared to break set society rules for what he thought of as the higher good. At the end of the play, Eric joins Shelia in the admittance of their guilt and how it does not matter whether there is a scandal as they have still done wrong. In Eric, Preistley shows a moral character, set against his parents, only bent on appearing good in public. Shelia, the daughter of Mr and Mrs Birling is used as a direct contrast to Eva Smith right the way through the play.
Shelia had successful parents and has lived in luxury since she was born. Eva’s parents were probably unable to provide even the most basic of upbringings for her. While Shelia is rich and has a high chance of making something of her life, Eva’s biggest success before she died was that she managed to get a job at a high quality store. I think Preistley’s problem is not with Shelia’s character, but with her position in life. I think this because he has written Shelia as a person who cares innately for someone she has never met and whom probably many girls of her position would have rejected as too low a class to even think about.
When the Inspector starts to interrogate her she is very honest and is very upset when she realises that it was her that got the girl fired from Milward’s. One thing that the firing shows about Shelia is that she did things impulsively, without thinking of the results. I think that if she had reflected on what firing might do to the girl she would not have spoken to the manager. Another thing that is interesting is that she is a bit of a spoilt brat as her only reason for being angry with this girl is that she looked better in a certain dress than Shelia.
Her reaction to the realisation of what she has done is a direct contrast to her father. She knows what she has done is wrong and is still upset over it. Her father however just doesn’t care. He will not even admit that he has done wrong at all. She even goes so far as beginning to think that she is horrible for suggesting to Gerald that he is accusing her of being the same. Again and again, Shelia says how she feels responsible and that the girl’s death is her fault. She is shown as a very honest woman who tells her parents and the Inspector how her brother drinks, but only when she thinks that it is necessary to do so.
Although she is very kind, she is not completely forgiving and is still angry with Gerald for having an affair though she does however recognise that Gerald is not all bad and although he walks out she says that she probably respects him more than she ever has for the honesty that he showed. At the end of the play Shelia has changed a lot. I think that the element of her character that appeared at the shop has almost disappeared and she is now much more wary of her parents and fianci??. Overall she is another one of Preistley’s moral characters and, as with Eric, shows an opposite response to her parents.
She, like the rest of the moral characters has imperfection, moments of selfishness that cannot be hidden. Generally though she comes out of the play liked by the audience and respected. Preistley’s aim with Shelia is to show that no human can be perfect but that some people are better than others. Gerald is an interesting character from a moral prospective. He appears at some points to be kind and gentle and at others to be almost like Birling in his attitude towards everyone. In his engagement to Shelia he shows himself to be a very ‘by-the-book’ man, following the customs of his age.
The conservative side of him appears early in the book when he agrees with Birling that the girl should have been fired as she asked for a better wage. He is also very pompous when he hears about how Shelia got the girl fired from Millwood’s out of pure spite and jealousy. The good side of him starts to show through when he appears reluctant to lie to Shelia when talking about his affair. He has realised she needs to know the truth and tells her it. Unfortunately, straight after this Gerald tells Shelia to try and keep this quiet, as he is more worried about public scandal than private ruin.