An Inspector Calls

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The daughter of Mr. Birling and Mrs. Birling, Sheila is a young woman in her early twenties who is generally excited about life and is engaged to Gerald Croft. She is most upset by the news of the girl’s suicide, and expresses the most remorse among the Birling's for her involvement in it. Throughout the play, she warns her mother against presumptuously putting up walls between themselves and the less fortunate girl, and, in the end, insists that it remains just as significant that the Birlings did what they confessed to doing despite the absence of a social scandal and legal consequence, or even any suicide.

Sheila Quotes in An Inspector Calls

The An Inspector Calls quotes below are all either spoken by Sheila or refer to Sheila. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. edition of An Inspector Calls published in 1998.
Act 1 Quotes

There’s a good deal of silly talk about these days—but—and I speak as a hard-headed business man, who has to take risks and know what he’s about—I say, you can ignore all this silly pessimistic talk. When you marry, you’ll be marrying at a very good time.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker), Sheila, Gerald Croft
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Arthur Birling, the patriarch of the Birling family, gives a toast in which he welcomes Gerald Croft into the family. (The speech is important because it provides all the expository information we need for the moment--Sheila and Gerald are getting engaged.) Birling is described as a successful businessman, and his tone is casual yet emotional as he congratulates his daughter and future son-in-law.

There are a couple things to notice here. First, Arthur defines himself as a "hard-headed business man," even in the middle of his engagement toast. Indeed, Arthur is so focused on business and the capitalistic mindset that he thinks of his daughter's marriage in business terms--he later describes it as a "merger" between the Birling and the Croft family businesses. Furthermore, Birling claims that now is the "best of times" for marriage. He ignores the harsh realities of the time: as we know, World War I is about to begin. Birling's ignorance of the real world makes him seem small-minded and petty; by the same token, it allows the audience, with the benefit of hindsight, to feel a little superior to Birling and Birling's family--the Birlings don't know what's about to happen to their country, but we do.

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I can’t help thinking about this girl—destroying herself so horribly—and I’ve been so happy tonight.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote, made by Sheila, in Act I. Sheila is far more sympathetic about Eva Smith's fate than her father is. Unlike Arthur, Sheila believes that workers should be treated well and paid fairly. Moreover, Sheila feels guilty about being so happy with her own life, at a time when millions of people like Eva Smith are suffering.

However, while Sheila's sympathy for Eva seems sincere, she's not necessarily a better person than her father is. In fact, the quote subtly suggests that Sheila's sympathy for Eva at this point is a kind of "bad faith" -- the state of mind in which one says one thing and yet believes another, perhaps even lying to oneself in the process. First, Sheila displays a level of condescension toward Eva by referring to her as "this girl." Second, while Sheila pities Eva, she also describes Eva's situation as "destroying herself so horribly," which implies that despite her pity Sheila considers Eva's fate to be at least to some extent her own fault. Even Sheila's seeming shame at feeling so happy herself while Eva was suffering comes across as somewhat callous, as Sheila focuses on her own shame rather than Eva's more dreadful suffering. So while Sheila makes a show of supporting Eva -- and may even believe that she does support Eva -- she never actually does anything about it. She's all talk. And, ultimately, Sheila's show of sympathy for Eva seems more a way for Sheila to make herself feel better rather than anything meant to actually help Eva.

Inspector: There are a lot of young women living that sort of existence, Miss Birling, in every city and big town in this country.
Sheila: But these girls aren’t cheap labor. They’re people.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Inspector Goole (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila continues to voice her support for Eva Smith and Eva's fellow workers. Unlike her father, who considers all his workers mere "objects," to be manipulated and changed as he sees fit, Sheila thinks that workers are human beings, too.

The passage is significant because Inspector Goole hints at the scale of the tragedy involved in Eva's suicide. Eva is just one woman, but she's indicative of a much broader trend in European society. In a country where there's lots of money concentrated in a few people's pockets, millions like Eva are forced to live hard lives, sometimes even ending with suicide. Although the play focuses on only one such worker, Goole makes it clear that "Eva Smith" could refer to any number of different people--a point that will come back to haunt the Birling family in Act III of the play.

Act 2 Quotes

Miss Birling has just been made to understand what she did to this girl. She feels responsible. And if she leaves us now, and doesn’t hear any more, then she’ll feel she’s entirely to blame, she’ll be alone with her responsibility.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Sheila, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Gerald tries to get Sheila, hisfiancé, to leave the room. Gerald pretends that he's doing so in order to "spare" Sheila from tragic information. But it's perfectly obvious that he's trying to get Sheila out of earshot so that she doesn't hear anything more about his marital infidelities. Inspector Goole calmly replies that the "right" thing to do would be to keep Sheila in the room--if she were to leave now, she'd get the wrong idea and assume that she was solely responsible for a woman's death.

This is one of the key passages in the play, because it says a lot about the Inspector's motives. In one sense, Inspector Goole seems to be trying to cause the Birling family as much pain as possible--although he frames his response to Gerald in moral terms, his real motive is punishment, not kindness. And yet Goole does make a fair point: the Birlings are all equally guilty of Eva Smith's death (it's not just Sheila's fault). By now, it's pretty clear that Goole already knows that the other Birlings played a part in Eva's suicide--the only remaining mystery is how. By staying in the room, Sheila mitigates her sense of guilt, but also comes to see how immoral her supposedly respectable family really is.

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.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker), Gerald Croft
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sheila tells Gerald that they're not going to get married; she returns his engagement ring. Sheila's explanation for not wanting to marry Gerald is simple enough: Gerald has had an affair with another woman, and lied about it. The fact that Gerald didn't tell Sheila about his affair is bad enough--but he also tried to keep her from finding out about it when Inspector Goole called.

The passage is interesting because Sheila doesn't seem particularly angry with Gerald anymore. In a way, she claims, she respects him more than she ever has before: they've finally been forced to be honest with each other. The passage raises an interesting point--perhaps Goole's visit to the Birlings isn't as destructive as it seemed. Goole is dismantling the Birling's pretensions of goodness, but he's also allowing them to live more honest lives. Sheila, perhaps the most moral of the Birlings, seems to genuinely want to be an honest, good person, and so allows these public revelations to influence her private life and morality.

We’ve no excuse now for putting on airs.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspector Goole now turns to Mrs. Birling. Mrs. Birling continues her claims that she shouldn't have to sit through Inspector Goole's tiresome investigation: she's from a good family, and therefore can't be guilty of any crimes. And yet Sheila interjects, telling her mother that it's time to stop pretending to be good and "putting on airs." The Birlings are a wealthy family, it's true, but just because they're wealthy doesn't mean they're inherently good; if anything, their wealth has allowed them to commit more crimes and get away with them scot-free.

Sheila isn't an entirely "good" character, but she seems to differ from her family in wanting to make genuine moral progress. Similarly, she's tired of her parents for pretending to be good at all times, simply because of their wealth. It seems perfectly obvious to Sheila that wealthy people shouldn't be held immune from all guilt or punishment--just the opposite is true.

Act 3 Quotes

There’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Birling family has descended into arguing. A once-happy betrothed couple has split up, and everyone else is shouting at one another. The Birlings have learned that they're all greedy, drunk, disloyal, and even complicit in a woman's death. Goole listens to the Birlings arguing, and tells them that they'll have to work out their new "relationships" later--for now, they need to focus on Eva Smith.

Goole's statement can be taken in any number of senses. First, it's a sign that the Birlings, in spite of the new information they've received, are still making a big mistake: they're focusing too exclusively on each other's privatefaults, instead of showing real compassion for the deceased, or accepting the larger social ramifications of their actions (the fact that because they are so wealthy and powerful, they have undue influence over others). Second, Goole's statement reminds us that his investigation has permanently changed the Birling family. It's possible that the family will be permanently disgraced, or fall apart from within. Yet it's also possible that the Birlings--particularly Sheila--will learn from the experience and try to become better people.

This girl killed herself—and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. But then I don’t think you ever will.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

The Inspector comes to the conclusion he's been anticipating this entire time. He's shown the Birling family that they caused the death of Eva Smith: in various ways, each Birling (and Gerald) has ruined Smith's life and pushed her to kill herself. Goole predicts that the Birlings will never be able to forget their sins.

Why, exactly, did Goole come to visit the Birlings? His visit seems far different from that of a typical police officer: he seems more philosophical, and more concerned with morality than with solving a crime. It's as if Goole just wants to teach the Birlings a lesson about the importance of personal responsibility. While Arthur Birling wants to believe that it's "every man for himself," Goole has endeavored to prove the opposite point of view.

If all that’s come out tonight is true, then it doesn’t much matter who it was who made us confess.

Related Characters: Sheila (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

After Inspector Goole leaves, Gerald reenters with a shocking revelation--Inspector Goole wasn't a policeman at all. The Birling parents are delighted by this news, but Sheila maintains that it doesn't matter whether or not the Inspector was real. Unlike Arthur Birling, who insists that, if the Inspector was a fake, all their problems have been solved, Sheila takes the point of view that they're guilty either way. Arthur Birling is most concerned with the social repercussions of his crimes, while Sheila cares more about her own sense of guilt. Inspector Goole might not put her family in prison, but he's still exposed the family's complicity in a horrible crime and an unjust society, which is far worse.

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Sheila Character Timeline in An Inspector Calls

The timeline below shows where the character Sheila appears in An Inspector Calls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...a large man with provincial speech; his wife is cold and her husband’s “social superior.” Sheila, the daughter, is in her early twenties and appears to be excited about life. Gerald... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Sheila mentions, as an instance in which Gerald had seemingly opted out of membership in the... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Eric begins to laugh uncontrollably and rises from his chair. Sheila inquires what he is laughing about, and he replies that he just felt the need... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling and Sheila object to Arthur’s discussing business on such a night, so Arthur raises his glass. They... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...that there’s been a lot of “silly talk” around lately, but he encourages Gerald and Sheila to ignore all the pessimism and to rest assured that the notion that war is... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling leaves with Sheila and Eric, who is whistling “Rule Britannia,” and Birling sits down with Gerald. Birling tells... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...Eric, then asks the Inspector what happened to the girl after he let her go. Sheila enters the room; when her father tells her to run along, the Inspector holds her... (full context)
Class Politics Theme Icon
...reminds the family that many young women are similarly suffering in their underpaid labor positions. Sheila objects that the working girls are people rather than cheap labor, and the Inspector agrees.... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Sheila asks what the girl looked like, and then sobs and leaves the room when the... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Sheila re-enters and asks the Inspector if he knew all the time that she was guilty.... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Sheila explains that she had told the manager of Milward’s to fire the girl, threatening that... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Gerald pleads with Sheila to not mention that he knew Daisy Renton, and Sheila laughs and insists that the... (full context)
Act 2
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...the door, and then enters the room and looks expectantly to Gerald. Gerald suggests that Sheila should be excused from the proceedings, but she insists on staying for the rest of... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
When Sheila again insists on staying, Gerald suggests that she only wants to see someone else go... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...to the Inspector that the family will not be able to assist him any more. Sheila begs her mother not to act so stridently and risk saying or doing something that... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling suggests that Sheila go to bed, because she won’t be able to understand the motives of a girl... (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...his excitable mood. When she explains that her son isn’t used to drinking so much, Sheila corrects her by revealing that Eric has been consistently over-drinking for the past two years.... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...if he is going to at all. The Inspector insists that Eric wait his turn. Sheila provokes her mother, “You see?” but Mrs. Birling doesn’t understand. (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...Gerald is speaking of Alderman Meggarty, whom she had always thought respectable, but Gerald and Sheila confirm that Meggarty is a renowned womanizer. (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Gerald apologizes to the Inspector, but Sheila insists that she rather more deserves the apology. The Inspector asks firsts whether the girl... (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...by the proceedings, Gerald excuses himself to walk outside and be alone for a bit. Sheila returns her engagement ring to him before he leaves. She respects him for his honesty,... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...it, but Gerald interrupts that he doesn’t think so, before he walks out the door. Sheila points out that the Inspector never showed Gerald the picture of the girl, and the... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...responds that the Inspector was never asked to talk to Mr. Birling about his responsibilities. Sheila contributes her feeling that the Birlings no longer have a right to put on airs.... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the more devastating fact that the girl had also been pregnant when she killed herself. Sheila is horrified and asks how the pregnant girl could have wanted to commit suicide; the... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...to go appeal to the child’s father, as providing for the child was his responsibility. Sheila tells her mother that she thinks what she did was “cruel and vile.” (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Sheila cries out “Stop” to her mother, and asks her if she doesn’t see what’s going... (full context)
Act 3
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...of the room and asks if they know. The Inspector confirms that they do, and Sheila reveals that their mother placed blame on whichever young man got the girl into trouble.... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...there to “solicit.” He went back to her place that night. At her father’s insistence, Sheila removes her mother from the room. Eric continues: he saw the girl a number of... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...refused to see him afterward, but then he asks how the Inspector had known that. Sheila reveals that Mrs. Birling sat on the committee that assessed the girl’s need for aid.... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Sheila is left crying, Mrs. Birling is collapsed in a chair, Eric is brooding, and Birling... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Sheila is upset that her parents are acting as though nothing has happened. She then wonders... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...or who matches his description. Birling exclaims that this makes all the difference, and again Sheila and Eric insist that it doesn’t. Birling reasons that the inspection was probably set up... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...matter. Eric responds that his problem is rather that he’s taken too much interest, and Sheila joins him in this sentiment. Mr. Birling and Mrs. Birling voice their desire to “behave... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald proposes that the one fact that Eric and Sheila are assigning great significance—that Eva Smith is dead—may not even be a fact after all.... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald, Mr. Birling, and Mrs. Birling relax at this news and pour themselves a drink. Sheila refuses to celebrate, and continues to claim that what has happened remains important, and that... (full context)
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...is on his way to ask some questions. The Birlings stare “guiltily and dumbfounded.” As Sheila rises to stand, the curtain falls slowly. (full context)