It was also quite evident that he wants to protect his family, particularly Sheila. His wife, Mrs Birling is from a well-off upper class family and she is very set in her ways; she believes what she believes and thinks everyone else should do the same. Sheilas brother, Eric, is a young boy, who at the start of the play is already rather drunk. As the play goes on, the audience should learn that Eric is a very deep young man who has a lot of troubles; he does not agree with his parents attitudes to certain aspects of life. Sheilas relationship with Eric is not very good at the start of the play; they squabble frequently but it improves. Sheilas fianc Gerald is from an extremely well off and his parents are a Lord and Lady.
In 1912 England there was an extremely prominent class system, which separated people. There was lower or working class who were the poorest, often factory workers or manual labourers. Middle class consisted of those who had the money to lead a very comfortable life, possibly having a maid or a servant. These were often factory owners. And then there was the upper class, which had vast amounts of money to carry out life in whatever way they wished. More importantly, the upper class were born into that class and it was very hard for lower or middle class people to move into this bracket. The Birlings are middle-class, the father owns a factory but he wishes to better himself and feels that one way to do this would to be on the honours list.
In the play, the family and Gerald are enjoying a family dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Sheila and Gerald. Unexpectedly, a police inspector arrives and starts to question each member of the party individually about a young girls suicide. It is revealed that each member of the family has a connection with this girl that was not first evident. Mr Birling had fired her from his works some months previous to the evening. Sheila also had had her fired from her next place of employment whilst she was in a bad mood. The audience then discovers that Gerald had had a relationship with this girl during the previous summer and Sheila did not know about it.
He had put her up in a house and made sure she had enough money to live on. The inspector then moves to Mrs Birling, who is a prominent member of a charity that offers help to women in distress. She saw to it that this girl, who we learn was pregnant, was refused help. The next person who is in line for questioning is Eric. Shockingly to the audience we discover that it is Eric that is the father of this girls child.
Just as Sheila and Eric are coming to terms with what they have done (the parents are not particularly surprised or guilty.) then Gerald comes up with the idea that this man was not a police inspector and this is confirmed by ringing the local station. He also suspects that the girl the inspector was discussing with each member of the group was not the same one. They all saw photographs but not necessarily the identical one. After this, the group relaxes somewhat, that is, until they receive a phone call saying that a girl has just committed suicide and a police inspector was on the way to house to discuss some points.
At the start of the play Sheila is very merry and enjoying the party. She quarrels a little with Eric and calls him squiffy. This is language (dated slang) that she would not normally use in front of her mother and this is evidence by the way her mother reacts when it is said: What an expression, Sheila! This shows that Sheila has had quite a lot to drink and her emotions may be running high. She drops a hint that Gerald may not have been entirely faithful to her all the time they have been together when she says last summer, when you never came near me.