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    Hiya. I have an English essay for An Inspector Calls and am currently a bit stuck on what to write and if what I've already written is good enough, haha. I was wondering if anyone could give me any tips or pointers on how to get a good level? I'm aiming for an 7/8 (an A)


    Write about the differences between Sheila and Sybil Birling in the play An Inspector Calls.

    You should write about:
    • What they say and do
    • Their different attitudes
    • The methods Priestley uses to present Sheila and Sybil Birling.

    “An Inspector Calls” is a play written by the social commentator, J.B. Priestley, speculating the morality of the class system back in 1945 and dramatizes it by setting it in 1912, where a key event happens. Priestley highlights the mistakes between the distant relationship between mother, Sybil Birling, and daughter, Sheila Birling, by showing themselves as complete opposites (in terms of personality). This is used to show the audience their standing position by emphasising the death of Eva Smith in Sheila, but not Sybil. This is to demonstrate to the audience how the class system is de-sensitising the upper class individuals from reality.

    A clear, recurring theme throughout the play is the difference between the young and old generations. Sheila, as a young woman, is at first portrayed as a ditzy, excited and pretty girl who is a stereotypical twenty year old living in the 1910s. She seems to be extremely pleased with her life and when Gerald proposes to her, is absolutely thrilled and acts almost intoxicated with her love towards him – despite her suspicions about his summer, she is still happy to marry him. Sybil, on the other hand, is described as being a woman who is quite hard faced and unapproachable. This is shown in the opening stage directions ‘His wife is about fifty, a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior’. This suggests that she is, fundamentally, not a particularly nice woman, and is in fact portrayed as quite vile. The use of ‘his wife’ rather than her name in her description shows that, similar to many other women of that time, she was often referred to as her husband’s possession. However, this contrasts with the rest of the quote which suggests that she is actually the superior of her husband and that their relationship is actually the opposite of what it is assumed to be. Priestley uses this contrast to show the audience that, at the time, although many women took on the weaker role in their relationships (particularly marriages); Sybil was an exception to this, she controlled the family. This is likely to have identified with the audiences of the time when this power struggle was more significant in society.

    Moving on throughout the play, Sheila and Sybil’s differences become more apparent. Sheila is shown to treat other people, particularly the lower class, as individuals who are just as important as she is – it is clear she is aware of the struggles of this class and although she can’t identify with them directly, understands that they are people as much as she is. She says “But these girls aren’t cheap labour, they’re people.”, highlighting her belief that everybody should be treated equally and showing that she is extremely warm-hearted, unlike her mother. Sybil is almost effectively opposite to her daughter’s beliefs, showing almost no remorse towards Eva Smith and even describing her as “impertinent”. She feels that her social and financial status absolves her of everything – she is almost emotionless towards the suicide of this young woman. Her husband, Arthur, is almost identical to her beliefs. He is adamant that it is not his fault and that he had nothing to do with it. This is most likely because he doesn’t want a social scandal and is terrified that his reputation will be destroyed, therefore he insists that his family had nothing to do with her suicide at all. This is a clear example of the old versus new generation theme, as the children of the family (Sheila and Eric) take full responsibility of their part in Eva’s death, whereas Mr and Mrs Birling refuse to take any. This leads to Sheila perhaps taking more responsibility than she should, as she is absolutely devastated by her part in the death and her guilt is almost eating away at her, causing her to try and help the inspector as much as she possibly can.

    Sorry about the length, I hope someone can help me!

    I would suggest adding in the effect on the reader, how does the reader feel, perhaps Priestley has illustrated a contrast between the older and younger generation purposefully to show how they are more' impressionable' and as a result as readers we see hope for a better society.

    Hope that helped :-)
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