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How women are presented in An Inspector Calls

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Orla Brennan

How are women presented in "An Inspector Calls" and why are they presented in this way?

In the play, all the women are portrayed as delicate characters- particularly Sheila who the men feel needs protecting from all manner of things like the information that a girl has committed suicide. Set in 1912, the woman in the play would have been seen as possessions to their husband and did not work or have careers due to the patriarchal society. However, it would have been acceptable for women to be involved in charity work like Mrs Birling was. Other than that, women would have been simply seen as wives and mothers and women did not have the same rights as men and women did not even have the right to vote. During 1912, there was the suffragette movement and could be influencing Sheila and Eva which is why they supported new ideas that Mrs Birling would not share.

Mr Birling shows that he does not think Sheila as capable to handle the Inspector and wants to try and “settle it sensibly for you [Sheila]” which he does not offer to do for Gerald or Eric. As a result, Sheila would have had to marry well in order to have security in her life- which is why Gerald’s and her engagement would have been offering her a good future which she would not have been able to have on her own. Gerald describes Daisy Renton as “young, fresh and charming” which implies that, for him, she was just someone he could amuse himself with until he decided he no longer cared for the relationship. He homes her and looks after her which shows that he knew she was vulnerable and in need of help; however, soon he just abandoned her. This reinforces the power men held over women’s lives regardless of class.

Mr Birling sees Eva as just one of “several hundred young women” who worked at his factory. This shows that in his eyes, all of his workers are interchangeable and of no real value to him. By saying “they keep changing” he shows the audience that although work is a necessity for working class women, he was always in control of the fates and did not even care if he callously dismissed Eva as she was just cheap labour to him. Therefore, by the victim of the play being a working class female, Priestley highlights the vulnerability of women in those times and causes the audience to realise that it should have been socially unacceptable.

Although originally, Sheila is shown to be immature and appears obsessive over material wealth and goods rather than other qualities such as honesty we see her changing towards the end of the play. In Act One, she describes the ring Gerald presents her with as “a beauty” and is described as spending hours shopping. This shows that even the men in the play underestimate her and believe her to be an immature girl (not aided by her calling her mother “mummy”) who has the tendency to become “hysterical”. Nevertheless, at the end of the play she has made realisations and decisions which the men appear incapable of such as responsibility for her actions. Furthermore, she begins to see her parents and fiancé in a new light which shows she is becoming more independent and refuses to go along with her parent’s charades any longer.

The audience is told of how Eric took advantage of Eva when drunk, how Mr Birling forced her out of work for voicing her opinion and of Gerald’s loveless. This shows the men to be callous in many respects and to be exploiting women. However, Eric’s remorse also shows how Priestley believed if the men and women all realised the need of change with regards to attitudes to women, things would become better for everyone

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