Family relationships initially seem very good:
‘At the moment, they have all had a good dinner, are celebrating a special occasion, and are pleased with themselves.’
At the start of the act, there are hints that Gerald and Sheila’s relationship is not perfect:
SHEILA: [half-serious, half playful] Yes – except for all last summer, when you never came near me, and I wondered what had happened to you.
GERALD: And I’ve told you – I was awfully busy at the works all that time.
SHEILA: [same tone as before] That’s what you say.
There are hints that there is a different attitude to life between the older and the younger generation when Mr Birling’s children hear about his behaviour towards Eva Smith:
ERIC: And I don’t see why she should have been sacked just because she’d a bit more spirit than the others. You said yourself she was a good worker. I’d have let her stay.
SHEILA: I think it was a mean thing to do. Perhaps that spoilt everything for her.
Mr Birling blames the Inspector for disrupting family relationships:
‘We were having a nice little family celebration tonight. And a nasty mess you’ve made of it now, haven’t you?’
At the start of Act Two, tensions arise between Gerald and Sheila. He thinks she wants to stay in order to see him shamed: ‘You’ve been through it – and now you want to see somebody else put through it.’ And she is upset that he has changed his opinion of her: ‘you’ve made up your mind that I must obviously be a selfish, vindictive creature.’
Mrs Birling still treats Sheila like a child, even though Sheila is the only one who has realised that they are all responsible: ‘You seem to have made a great impression on the child, Inspector.’ She thinks Sheila’s interest is ‘morbid curiosity’, rather than an awareness of guilt, and tries to send her to bed. When Sheila points out that her mother’s comments are only making things worse, her mother dismisses her as being ‘over-excited’
Mrs Birling treats Eric like a child as well. When asked about the extent of Eric’s drinking, Mrs Birling replies ‘He’s only a boy’
When Sheila returns her engagement ring to Gerald, we see a deepening of her character: ‘I don’t dislike you as I did half an hour ago, Gerald’. She respects his honesty, but feels that for their relationship to continue, ‘we’d have to start all over again...’ She says ‘I rather respect you more than I’ve ever done before.’ Sheila has admitted her own blame and has accepted Gerald’s intentions with the girl were initially good; she starts to see events differently.
The Inspector recognises that his revelations have disrupted family relationships: ‘There’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.
Mr Birling questions Sheila’s ‘loyalty’ to the family when she has chosen to be honest about Eric’s drinking.
When Eric realises that his mother turned Eva Smith away, he turns on her: ‘my child – your own grandchild – you killed them both – damn you, damn you – ‘
Eric has lost respect for both of his parents through the process of the evening: ‘But don’t forget I’m ashamed of you as well – yes, both of you.’
Sheila is concerned that her parents want to cover over everything that has been exposed: The point is, you don’t seem to have learnt anything. Is this the big difference between the generations in the play?