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Consider the role and significance of both Birling and Sheila in Act 1 of An Inspector Calls.

The play An Inspector Calls is set at a time in history where there are two main political points of view, socialism and capitalism. During the time the play is set, capitalists didnt care about workers and their rights whereas socialists did. The playwright is able to show these opposing and different political ideologies through the characters of Birling and Sheila. Priestly does this by showing firstly, how Birling and Sheila react to the death of Eva Smith, secondly, how Sheila argues with Birling when he tries to justify himself for discharging Eva Smith, and finally, through their different reactions to Eva getting a job at Milwards. Eva Smith was a worker who used to work for Birling and Company. One method that Priestly uses to represent the differing opinions is the manner in which Sheila argues with Birling while he is trying to validate his reason for sacking Eva Smith. Birling remembers that he fired Eva because she asked him for more money. When the Inspector asks him why he sacked Eva, Birling replies by saying If Id agreed to this demand for a new rate wed have added twelve per cent to our labour costs. This clearly shows that Birling is a capitalist because he cares more about saving money than the welfare of his workers. On the other hand, Sheila says this about the workers when the Inspector tells her that her father sees them as cheap labour. But these people arent cheap labour - theyre people. This shows that although she is born from a capitalist family, Sheila still has socialist characteristics because she is very considerate of the workers and their conditions. Another technique that the playwright uses to epitomize the dissimilar political opinions is how the two characters react to Eva getting a job at Milwards after being fired from Birling and Company. Sheila reacts positively by saying Yes, she was lucky to get taken at Milwards. Birling on the other hand asks the Inspector "Then she got herself into trouble there I suppose? Being the stereotypical capitalist, Birling couldnt be bothered about Eva getting a job and is more concerned as to whether she was fired or not. Nevertheless, Sheila shows her concern for Evas wellbeing because she is happy that Eva was able to land a job despite her being sacked from Birling and Company.

Another interesting way that Priestly uses to symbolize the two political points of view is the different way in which the two characters react to the news of Eva Smiths death. When Inspector Goole enters the house and tells Birling about the death, all Birling can say is Yes, yes horrid business but I dont understand why you should come here whereas when this same news is told to Sheila she replies by saying Oh - how horrible! Was it an accident? Birling had a very cold and uncaring tone towards the Inspector when he heard the news, which suggests that he has a capitalist point of view since he has no regard for Evas death. Sheila on the other hand used a very concerned tone because she was horrified by news of Evas death which could indicate she has a socialist point of view. These are some of the many different techniques Priestly utilizes to symbolize the role and significance of the two characters. He shows how Birling is a cruel capitalist who does not care about his workers. Sheila is shown to be a sympathetic socialist and a friend of the worker. Priestly is obviously using Birling and Sheila to show that in his opinion, socialism is better that capitalism.