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Note: Beginning of Act Two to the questioning of Sybil
The Inspector returns to the room, where Sheila and Gerald are talking. Sheila says she believes the Inspector already knows about Gerald’s relationship with Eva. Gerald tells the Inspector he worries that Sheila is becoming “hysterical” and should be excused. Sheila admits she might be hysterical, but asks to remain. Gerald asks Sheila if the reason she wants to make him suffer the guilt of Eva/Daisy’s death is because had to suffer, too. Sheila counters that Gerald couldn’t really love her if he accuses her of being so spiteful. Sybil enters and asks what the matter is. The Inspector tells her he is asking Sheila and Gerald about Eva’s death, and Sybil tells the Inspector that his questions are “impertinent.”
Sheila warns Sybil that anything Sybil says might become fodder for the Inspector’s inquiry. Sybil dismisses this warning and tells Sheila to be quiet. Sybil notes that Eric is distressed, probably because he’s had too much to drink at the dinner. When Sheila mentions that Eric’s drinking is a steady problem, Sybil counters that this isn’t the case, and is embarrassed that the subject is brought up before the Inspector. Sybil asks Gerald whether Eric’s drinking is a problem, and to Sybil’s chagrin Gerald agrees that it is.
Arthur returns to the room. He says he has tried to persuade Eric to go to bed because of his drunkenness, but the Inspector warns that Eric, too, will be questioned that evening. Sheila worries what will happen to the family when the Inspector has finished his investigation. The Inspector turns to Gerald. He asks Gerald directly if he knows a girl named Daisy Renton. Gerald at first refuses, but Sheila warns him he ought to come clean to the Inspector. Gerald admits to knowing her, and tells Sheila again that she won’t like anything he has to say about Eva/Daisy. Gerald says he met Eva/Daisy, who introduced herself only as Daisy, at a bar where he assumed she was a prostitute, and where a lecherous older man had cornered her. Gerald helped defend Eva/Daisy from the gentleman’s advances, for which Eva/Daisy was grateful.
Gerald says that he arranged for Eva/Daisy to live at a friend’s apartment in town while the friend was away for business. Gerald maintains that he did not initially support the girl in order to have an affair, but she did become his mistress. Their affair lasted for some months. Gerald knew that the relationship would end, as did Eva/Daisy, and by the beginning of September he told her they could no longer see each other. Gerald says that, though he feels guilty for lying to Sheila, he “did what any man would do” in protecting Eva/Daisy, and he does not regret the time they shared. Gerald tells the Inspector he lost contact with Eva/Daisy. The Inspector informs him that, in her diary, she wrote she had gone away for two months to the seaside, to think about what had happened between her and Gerald.
Gerald asks the Inspector if he might walk outside, to collect his thoughts. The Inspector allows this. Before Gerald goes, he and Sheila talk in front of the rest of the family. Sheila says she is still angry at Gerald, but not as mad as she was before hearing the story of the affair from him, because at least now no secrets are being kept. She says that if they are to repair their relationship, they must begin from scratch, and see if they can become intimate again knowing what they now know about their pasts. Gerald leaves the room, and the Inspector turns to Sybil.
Gerald understands that his affair will now be revealed to the family. He knows it will hurt Sheila, and initially he lashes out at her, believing Sheila wants to see him suffer as she has suffered. Gerald does have a hard time understanding that Sheila will be more accepting of the affair once she has heard all about it from his own mouth. For Sheila admits, at the end of this section, that knowing or guessing only a bit of the story is harder than find out about it all at once. This, the audience will later learn, is uncharacteristic of Gerald, who appears a kind and conscientious person. Even the Inspector agrees, later in the play, that Gerald’s behavior to Eva/Daisy has not been overly cruel. Their relationship was illicit, and Gerald was dating Sheila and lying to her while it was ongoing. But Gerald was not cruel to Eva/Daisy, and he appears to have genuinely wanted to help her.
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.
Read more about the engagement ring that Sheila returns to Gerald as a symbol.
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.
Read more about the motif of rudeness and “impertinence.”