1.1 He wants to protect Birling and Co. He cannot see that he did anything wrong
when he fired Eva Smith - he was just looking after his business interests.
1.2 He wants to protect his reputation. As the Inspector's investigations continue, his selfishness gets the better of him: he is worried about how the press will view
the story in Act II, and accuses Sheila of disloyalty at the start of Act III. He wants to hide the fact that Eric stole money: "I've got to cover this up as soon as I can."
1.3 Tries to intimidate the Inspector with his talk of Knighthoods and "Chief Constable...". The Inspector ignores this.
1.4 Doesn't show compassion for Eva Smith, simply describing her as a "wretched girl". He is
proud that he sacked a girl with "too much to say" and later adds she "got herself into trouble".
1.5 Throughout the play he seems only interested in covering up the scandal and is one of the first to grasp at the idea that
the Inspector is a "fake". He is delighted when this revelation surfaces and jokes at Sheila that she'll "have a good laugh".
1.6 He, like his wife, doesn't learn anything from the Inspector's visit, and ultimately pays the price for his ignorance when the real Inspector is announced to be coming.
2 Appearance & Personality
2.1 He is described at the start as a "heavy-looking, rather portentous
man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speech."
2.2 He has worked his way up in the world and is proud of his achievements.
He boasts about having been Mayor and tries (and fails) to impress the
Inspector with his local standing and his influential friends.
2.3 He claims the party "is one of the happiest nights of my life." This is not only because Sheila
will be happy, but because a merger with Crofts Limited will be good for his business.
2.4 Arrogant and self-important as he constantly parades his
social standing and capitalist, highly Conservative views.
3 Social Standing Within...
3.1 The Family
3.1.1 Treats Eric and Sheila like small children saying "it's nothing to
do with you Sheila" while showing no concern for Eva Smith.
3.1.2 He later becomes abusive at Eric when he discovers he stole "fifty pounds"
and is only concerned about the scandal that Eric is "mixed up in".
3.1.3 He blames Eric more than any other character: "you're
the one I blame for this", showing he has no sense of guilt.
3.2 Wider Society
3.2.1 Mr Birling is a man who believes money and status is
the way to judge people, he himself has already climbed
the social ladder by marrying Sybil, his 'Social superior'.
3.2.2 He is aware of people who are his social superiors, which is why he shows off about
the port to Gerald, "it's exactly the same port your father gets." He is proud that he
is likely to be knighted, as that would move him even higher in social circles.
4 Priestley's use of Mr Birling
4.1 He is optimistic for the future and confident that there will not be a war. As the audience knows there will be a
war, we begin to doubt Mr Birling's judgement (If he is wrong about the war, what else will he be wrong about?).
4.2 Priestley uses Mr Birling to embody the stereotypical capitalist views of a middle aged, middle class
man of the era. He wants to protect himself and his family. He also believes that socialist ideas that
stress the importance of the community are "nonsense" and that "a man has to make his own way."
4.3 At the end of the play, he knows he has lost the chance of his knighthood, his reputation in Brumley and the chance of Birling and Co.
merging with their rivals. Yet he hasn't learnt the lesson of the play: he is unable to admit his responsibility for his part in Eva's death.
4.4 Priestley cleverly links the play with the seven deadly sins. As the majority of his audience was Christian at the time and the seven deadly sins were part of Christian teachings, they would find
it easy to relate to the seven deadly sins. Each character is linked with one of the sins. Mr Birling’s sin is greed; he wouldn’t pay his workers fair wages. The strong correlation towards the seven
deadly sins clearly helps the Christian audience at the time to understand that each of the characters did things that could happen in everyday life and that these things are wrong.
4.5 During the play Mr Birling and Mrs Birling represent the older generation in the audience who are reluctant to change their
attitudes. For instance, after the Inspector has left, Mr Birling is more concerned about “a public scandal”, than Eva Smith.
4.6 Priestley shows he is both a ninny and that he has no real understanding of the world
through his claims of "the Germans don't want war" and the "unsinkable" Titanic.