Sheila Birling was created by Priestly to convey his socialist political views about the way Britain and society ran. Two years before the First World War 1912 was a time when the country was split by class divisions.
People with wealth had power over the lower classes in the social hierarchy. Women were not seen as equal to men in society. A group called the suffragettes protested for equal rights and the vote for women throughout this time they were becoming more active and extreme and were making everybody think about Equality in Britain.Sheila is the daughter of Arthur Birling a successful business man. She lives a lavish life and is high up the social hierarchy. She is a young Woman and is ready to marry into future wealth, something her father wants more than anything. Arthur Birling sees his daughter’s marriage as a good business opportunity because Sheila’s fianc is the son of one of his closest business rivals “Crofts Limited.
“The drama explores the effects of class, age and sex on people’s attitudes and beliefs. It shows how easily different generations can adapt to change. Priestly hopes people will come away from a performance of his play asking questions about their responsibility to society and prejudice. Sheila is pivotal in helping explore these themes. In relation to her parents Sheila is seen as a good business tool. She is ready to marry and her father is happy about the marriage because it gives him a chance to progress in his business. He admits that he is hopeful the marriage will bring Gerald’s family and his together in business.
Over dinner he tells Gerald in front of the whole family:”You’re just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted. Your father and I have been friendly business rivals for some time now – though Crofts Limited is both older and bigger than Birling and Company – and now you’ve brought us together, and perhaps we may look forward to a time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices”.This shows the audience that Birling is hoping to establish his company further and he hopes Gerald’s family will assist him in doing this, he tells the family how he will “Look forward to the time when Crofts and Birling are no longer competing” This suggests that he hopes Crofts and Birling will join together into a bigger more profitable company. This shows the audience Birlings love and greed when money is involved.
It also shows selfishness and a desire to only look after himself.Sheila is used by priestly to both examine and reject the birlings values and beliefs. She is voicing all of Priestley’s views about women’s rights at the time. She first questions her father’s judgement when she voices her thoughts about Eva Smith wanting a pay rise this lead to her loosing her job and stability.
She tells Mr Birling: “(To Birling) I think it was a mean thing to do. Perhaps that spoilt everything for her” She also voices her frustration at the way the women were treated in the workplace: “But these girls aren’t cheap labour they’re people.”In both these statements Sheila questions her father’s judgement. By doing this she is beginning to change her role in the play. First she is seen to be the Birling little princess who always agrees with her Mother and Father and then she turns into the voice of conscience or the general public asking questions and rejecting the family’s values.
Sheila’s attitude towards men and marriage is different to her mothers. She wants honesty and love from her husband. She doesn’t just want a husband for a good financial backing and to be protected from the reality of a class divided country. She clearly hates lies and knows Gerald is hiding something from her about his activities last summer.When Gerald tells her his side of the story she is quick to dismiss it: Sheila: “Yes – except for all last summer when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you” Gerald: “And I’ve told you I was awfully busy at the works all that time” Sheila: “Yes, that’s what you say” This is when Mrs Birling is quick to defend Gerald: “Now Sheila, don’t tease him.
When you’ve got married you’ll realise that men with important work do sometimes have to spend nearly all their time and energy on business. You’ll have to get used to that, just as I had” These statement show the audience Sheila wants to be different and break the mould. She doesn’t just want to accept that she might not see her man all the time she wants him with her and she won’t forget easily. Whereas he mother has learned to live with these ways.
When Gerald id honest about what he has been doing in the summer he gains respect from Sheila that he didn’t previously have. After he comes clean to Sheila about the affair Sheila claims: “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” This shows that her respect for Gerald is increased when he told the truth even though it was bad news he told her. This shows she wants honesty from her man and not just the healthy life style most women wanted.