Sheila and Eric

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In what ways are the characters of Sheila and Eric Birling important in this play?

Throughout the play Priestly plays on the idea of community and how our own actions can have a huge effect on others. This was a revolution in the time of when “an inspector calls” was set (1912) and was a point which was continuously being argued by socialists, or as Arthur Birling calls them “cranks”. Sheila and Eric represent the socialists as they learnt from the inspector that we are all in a community and have equal rights. In contrast, Arthur Birling and Mrs Birling represent the selfish and irresponsible who do not believe in equality and do everything for their own good. Priestly cleverly chooses the younger generation to be the more responsible and idealistic as it shows promise for future generations and suggests that society is heading towards a communalistic type.

There are many examples of the two children, Eric and Sheila, being socialistic and responsible. Firstly, on Birling admitting the dismissal of Eva Smith, Eric argues, “we try for the highest prices, why can’t they try for high wages”. Here Eric compares “we” and “they” questioning why the same rights don’t apply to both. This is agreeing with the idea of equality and that everybody has the same rights. Further on, stage directions describe Sheila speaking “warmly” when saying “it’s a damn shame”. This shows that Sheila is sympathetic towards Eva, prior to the knowledge of her involvement, proving that she cares about another person’s well-being despite it not affecting her. This helps portray Sheila’s socialistic view on life. Shortly after Sheila becomes “agitated” as she realises how significant her actions were to the death of Eva Smith. Here we see that she is extremely guilty and is upset that she let herself treat another person, member of the community, as awful as she did; unlike her parents who were more bothered about being involved in a scandal than the young girl’s death. Eric also has a...
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