Mr Birling is a prominent character in the play and is a ‘heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners but rather provincial in his speech. ’ His physical appearance is similar to Winston Churchill; Priestly may be trying to prove a point here. Mr Birling is pleased with what he has achieved throughout his life, but his eagerness for being knighted is emphasised on page 8 as he mentions it twice and even says, ‘I gather there’s a very good chance of a knighthood,’ (Heinemann Plays Edition).
This shows the reader how boastful Mr Birling is and how he likes to brag about his status. Also, he states, ‘it’s exactly the same port your father gets from him,’ whilst talking to Gerald, to indicate he is on similar levels or the same class as Gerald’s father. Gerald’s father is Sir George Croft of Crofts Limited. On page 13, Birling says, ‘the son of Sir George Croft – you know, Crofts Limited. ’ This shows the Crofts are well known, as the words ‘you know’ imply, ‘you must have heard of them before’.
It also shows how Birling is trying to show off to the Inspector by showing family connections. From this, we know Mr Birling cares for only his social status and wealth. His manners are somewhat complex. Throughout the play, his mood changes many times. Towards Gerald, he displays an energetic and conceited attitude, mentioning the Honours List and the Companies. We can clearly understand his intention is to impress Gerald. On the contrary, his attitude towards the Inspector is significantly different.
He attempted to frighten the Inspector with threats, such as, ‘I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench – so I know the Brumley police officers pretty well…’ By stating these facts, Mr Birling immediately shows who has the upper hand, but is at unease by the casual reply of the Inspector, ‘Quite so. ’ The Inspector’s calm tone shows he isn’t affected by these facts and is confident with what he has to say. We know now the Inspector isn’t here to play games.
Birling’s attitude towards Eva Smith’s death also interests us because it is the exact opposite of Eric’s and Sheila’s. Eric has the immediate reaction of, ‘My God! ’ His stage direction is involuntarily, showing us he wanted to keep his reaction inside, in the event he exposes something clandestine. Sheila’s reaction is less instant, as she pauses for a moment to take it all in then express herself, ‘Oh – how horrible! ’ However, both of Birling’s children have a similar response. Birling initial reaction was, ‘Yes, yes. Horrid business. ’
The stage direction, rather impatiently’ tells us he could not care less, which portrays him as a cold individual. This also tells us he does not want to be involved with a ‘country-bred’ as he feels he is much more worthy. Mr Birling’s relationship with his son is tense. On page 9, Eric jumps into a conversation between Gerald and Birling. The stage direction is to say it eagerly, ‘Yes, I remember. ’ The word ‘eagerly’ suggests he wants to be recognised/realised by his own father.
This makes us feel he has not been accepted as someone who can deal with their own issues, by Birling. His intention to seem mature and talk in an adult conversation backfired, which made him seem foolish when he couldn’t answer Birling’s question. Birling embarrassing Eric in the company of Gerald also suggests the fact that, Birling thinks nothing of Eric, but a mere jester, to use as a tool. Sheila and Birling do not have a relationship as intense as Eric’s, but rather the contradictory.
Birling is happy with his daughter’s marriage and when Sheila hands the engagement ring back to Gerald, he steps in and says, ‘you must understand that a lot of young men…’ in an attempt to bring them back together, not for their sake but for the merging of the Companies and doesn’t want to risk losing his chance to make a close connection with the Crofts. He takes no particular interest in his daughter’s happiness, except for, ‘She’ll make you happy and I’m sure you’ll make her happy,’ and ‘Here’s wishing the pair of you the very best that life can bring.
Then carries on talking about business, ‘Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now. ’ This upsets Sheila and she agrees with her mother, Mrs Cybil Birling, who thinks Birling shouldn’t ‘talk business on an occasion like this. ’ From this, we can deduce the fact that, Mr birling thinks more of his business than he does of his daughter’s wedding. The aspect given to us, at the beginning, was Mr Birling was a kind-hearted and welcoming man. Later on through the play, his inner self was shown and he was displayed as ignorant and selfish.
Character Study of Mr.Birling from An Inspector Calls by Priestley
- Length: 610 words (1.7 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Character Study of Mr.Birling from An Inspector Calls by Priestley
Priestly effectively conveys his attitude and opinions towards society
via Mr. Birling, with the use of dramatic irony.
"An Inspector Calls" is set in 1912 but was written in 1945. Society
at the time the play was set, was strictly divided into social classes
and the majority of the wealth was in the hands of the minority of the
population. Priestley was writing the play for a middle class audience
and was trying to speak up for the working class by showing how the
Birlings and Gerald Croft were all involved in making a young working
class girl's life a misery. Priestley wanted to show us that we have a
responsibility to others to act fairly and without prejudice and that
we do not live in isolation; Our actions affect others. We have to
confront our mistakes and learn from them.
At the beginning of the play Mr. Birling says, "The Titanic...
unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable." The 1945 audience knew the fate of
the Titanic (being that is sunk on its maiden voyage), and so Mr.
Birling immediately appears in a bad light, although his view was that
of everyone in 1912, and so he is a stereotype of society then. Mr.
Birling's attitude is shown in his words, "...A man has to make his
own way... has to look after himself" and, referring to the working
class, "If you don't come down sharply on some of these people they'll
soon be asking for the earth". Mr. Birling has a selfish attitude
towards life, and also an attitude to only care for himself and
family, and basically forget everybody else, in fact, this is exactly
what he tells a speech on at the celebration of Sheila's and Gerald's
engagement, "... a man has to look after himself - and his family too,
of course..." which gives the impression of the selfishness, and also
greed. Another example of this is when he tells a speech about how it
is the best day of his life, "Gerald, I'm going to tell you frankly,
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without any pretences, that your engagement with Sheila means a lot to
me. She'll make you happy, and I'm sure you'll make her happy. Your
just the type of son-in-law I wanted..." makes people think whether he
wants them to get married for themselves, or for him, and whether it
means a lot to him sentimentally, or a lot to him in the business
Birling's first priority is to make money, "It's my duty to keep
labour cost down" and is also a social climber, and Sheila is engaged
to the son of his "friendly" rival, which is why it could mean a lot
to him in the business world because Gerald's father is in a higher
class than the Birling family. Sheila has a totally different attitude
to Birling, and we see this emphasized as the play progresses. She is
very happy with life at the beginning of the play, young, and
attractive. Although later her happiness and love of her family are
put to the test.
In relation to the death of Eva Smith, Mr Birling tries to "make
everything better" by using his money, "Look inspector, I'd give
thousandsâ€¦" I think this may be a "domineering" attitude, because he
wants to dominate people, and do all he can to do it, which reflects
on how he treats his employee's. In his factory, there are certain
employees that ask for a pay rise, but Birling refuses to pay more
than "the going rate". Birling can afford the pay rise, but returns by
sacking one member of the "strike" pack, Eva Smith. After this,
Birling was blamed for starting the "domino" effect of Eva suicide,
but refuses to accept the blame. When the inspector asks questions
about his family, he tries to protect his reputation by acting the
innocent to the questions, even though we know, that he knows the
answers to the questions, but wont tell them, to protect his
reputation. Mr Birling does not care one bit and in no way does he
think that he is responsible for Eva Smith's death. Mr Birling when he
finds out about the death sticks to his morals and he is very
stubborn. If he never found it out to be a hoax he might have
questioned his morals but once he finds out that it is a hoax he just
slips back into his old way.
Priestly makes Birling project the opposite views and opinions to his
own; by making Arthur Birling such an ignorant and selfish character,
the audience is prejudiced towards him, thinking that his opinions are
pompus and arrogant. Therefore they tent to favour the attitudes of
his children, Eric and Sheila, which are similar to Priestly's actual
attitude. Without Mr. Birling's opinions and long-winded speeches, I
don't believe the 'message' of the play would have been as effectively