When the Inspector enters, Mr. Birling is presented as polite and welcoming to start with, saying, “Have a glass of port – or a little whisky?” but then begins to behave impatiently. He says, “Yes, yes. Horrid business. But I don’t understand why you should come here, Inspector – “. The Inspector has an “impression of massiveness” and takes control of everyone, whether they want to be taken control of or not. Sheila is presented as very shocked and compassionate towards Eva Smith, who has committed suicide, and feels that her father’s treatment of her was “a mean thing to do.” She asks questions about Eva, such as “What was she like? Quite young?” which shows that she genuinely cares about her. This is a much more concerned reaction to the news than that of any of the other Birlings.
Sheila then discovers that she also contributed to the death of the girl by ordering her to be fired from her job as a shop assistant, and feels desperately guilty about it. She says, “It’s the only time I’ve ever done anything like that, and I’ll never, never do it again to anybody.” This shows that she feels extremely remorseful, but has accepted the part she played in it and feels terrible about it, which none of the others really do. They try to shift the blame onto other people, so that they do not have to face up to what they have done. I think this shows that the way Sheila is portrayed is as a stronger person than the others are, as she takes full responsibility for her actions, instead of trying to pretend that she was not involved.
Sheila begins to be suspicious of Gerald because she recognises his startled reaction to the name ‘Daisy Renton’ when the Inspector mentions it. She guesses that Gerald had an affair with Daisy the year before, and he confirms this. I think by the end of Act One she has already become more mature and shrewd in understanding what is happening more clearly than any of the others, and she realises the power and influence the Inspector has over them. For example, when Gerald says, “We can keep it from him”, Sheila “laughs rather hysterically” and says, “Why – you fool – he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don’t know yet. You’ll see. You’ll see.”
At the beginning of Act Two, Sheila’s attitude has changed considerably. Her character is presented as resigned to the worst but determined to sit it through, and she has lost all her usual meekness to assertiveness. She says, “It can’t be any worse for me than it has been – and it might even be better,” and, “Then I’m staying.” Sheila begins to question Gerald because I think Priestly wanted her to appear hurt and upset about Gerald’s affair a year before. She says, “I want to understand exactly what happens when a man says he’s so busy at the works that he can hardly ever find time to spend with the girl he’s supposed to be in love with.”
I think that the point at which Sheila shows that she has started to realise that they are all guilty is when she says, “And probably between us we killed her.” She understands that the Inspector has a great amount of power over them and is going to convey the true story to them. Her mother does not feel the same way – she says, “Sheila, don’t talk nonsense” when Sheila mentions her thoughts. Sheila is now beginning to behave much more assertively to her parents and almost helping the Inspector to probe for confessions from Gerald and especially Mrs. Birling. For example, she says, “Go on, Mother. You might as well admit it” and “Of course, Mother.
It was obvious from the start. Go on, Gerald. Don’t mind Mother.” This suggests that she has decided that she is not simply going to agree with her family’s point of view any more – she wants to make her own judgements without the bias that her parents have. I think that she understands a lot better than the others do that if they behave as though it is beneath them to look after people less wealthy than themselves, it will only be worse for them in the end. I think that Priestley might have created Sheila’s character to show that the people who would not accept responsibility for what they had done came off a lot worse than Sheila, who admitted it without trying to cover up the facts.
When Gerald has finally told everything about his affair with Daisy Renton, Sheila comments, “At least it’s honest.” She is presented as angry that the rest of her family are not being honest because she knows that the Inspector is determined to make them confess in the end. She feels that it is pointless trying to cover things up and it is much easier just to tell the truth it the first place. After Gerald has told his story, Sheila says, “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.” She feels that she knows the whole truth about Gerald now and therefore knows him better than she ever did before. I think she still loves him because he has accepted his mistake and told her the truth, so now she knows for sure where she stands.
In Act Three, Sheila is feeling impatient and annoyed, in particular towards her mother. She feels that Mrs. Birling deserves what she has got and says, referring to Gerald, “Because Mother’s been busy blaming everything on the young man who got Sheila into trouble, and saying he shouldn’t escape and should be made an example of-“. Sheila thinks that her family should have learnt that what they think is a small action could have catastrophic consequences on the people around them.
However, none of them, except eventually for Eric, have really taken responsibility for what they have done; they are all trying to pass on the blame to someone else. Mrs. Birling suffers the consequences of blaming someone else as in Act Two she says, “Then he -” [the father of Eva Smith’s unborn child] “- would be entirely responsible.” The Inspector then lets her know that the father is her own son, Eric. Mrs. Birling immensely regrets saying “He ought to be dealt with very severely”, and “…make sure that he’s compelled to confess in public his responsibility”.