Analyse the Role of the Female Character in an Inspector Calls

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Analyse the role of the female characters in An Inspector Calls

Priestley includes a range of female characters in An Inspector Calls from an upper class snob, through a vain daughter to an oppressed factory worker. Throughout this play, the selfishness and moral hypocrisy of upper middle-class capitalist society is revealed. The vulnerability of women evokes sympathy, which supports Priestley’s belief in gender equality and community as “one body”.

At the beginning of the play, Sybil Birling is physically distant from her husband as they sit at each end of the dinner table. This symbolizes the tension between them, which is a result of a power struggle: Mrs Birling feels socially superior due to her higher class to him; but as a woman, is required to submit to him. Thus she tells Mr Birling he is “ not supposed to say such things-“ and he more or less disregards her. This form of snobbery gradually develops to a point later in the play when she calls Eva a “girl of that sort.” She represents the ignorant older capitalist generation that Priestley implies was responsible for the inequality of the society at that time and which led to the younger generation suffering in “ fire and blood and anguish.”

Like her mother, Sheila represents a female stereotype of 1912: she is frivolous, vain and proud, “Very pleased with life.” She is more concerned with the ring than the actual engagement: “I think it’s perfect. Now I really feel engaged.” This demonstrates her superficiality. From the beginning of the play Sheila is seen as an oblivious, self-satisfied lady, unaware of her surroundings. As the inspector’s interrogation begins the audience feels the change taken place in Sheila, from asking “pretty?” to arguing “ But these girls aren’t cheap labour-they’re people.” She therefore progressively shows compassion for Eva. Priestley uses Sheila as an example of the people who exploit their high status to put people down. Despite all of these, Sheila...
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