An Inspector Calls

by: J. B. Priestley

Act Two

It is a credit to Sheila that she can accept some of the good in Gerald, even while recognizing the selfishness of his affair and the part that Gerald has played in the death of Eva/Daisy. And Sheila is willing to do this even after Gerald has accused her of being spiteful. This is further evidence that Sheila is the play’s emotional core, willing to admit to her faults, and willing to look past the faults in others. In this sense, Sheila demonstrates the feeling of collective human connection that the Inspector insists on before leaving the Birling house in Act Three.

Gerald and Sheila each serve as voices of reason in this play. Gerald wishes to leave the house to clear his head and think more clearly about what has been said. Although he wonders if Sheila is becoming “hysterical,” Gerald also seems to recognize that Sheila, in contrast to her father Arthur, wants to confront and process her guilt about Eva/Daisy’s death. Neither Gerald nor Sheila, once the truth is revealed, wishes to shy away from it. Though they accept the truth in different ways, they genuinely desire to accept it, to learn from the experiences of the play, and not simply to pretend nothing has happened.

Arthur and Sybil, however, demonstrate in this sequence their insistence that the family has done nothing wrong in order to keep up appearances. Arthur believes that firing Eva/Daisy was the right thing to do, and he is willing to reason away Sheila’s behavior that resulted in Eva/Daisy getting fired from Milward’s. Although Arthur and Sybil are deeply upset and saddened to learn that Gerald has been unfaithful to Sheila, they are even more scandalized by the thought that Gerald’s affair could become public.

Arthur is even willing to accept that men characteristically have affairs. He thinks that Gerald’s actions, though lamentable, should not paint him as a bad person, nor should they get in the way of the wedding Arthur wants to desperately to occur for his own social advancement. Although Sybil is offended at the idea that Gerald might not be the utterly upright young man he presents himself to be, she seems far more offended by the Inspector’s continued presence than this. The Inspector, Sybil says, is rude and “impertinent,” and his questions that get to the heart of the family’s misbehavior are not fitting for a stranger to ask.