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
1.2 He tries to get rid of the Inspector so he can enjoy his evening and tries
to intimidate the Inspector using his social position with his talk of
Knighthoods and "Chief Constable...". The Inspector ignores this.
1.2.1 When the Inspector persist with questions Birling
shows his belief that he is above any questioning "I
don't like that tone."
1.3 HOW HE IS PORTRAYED & EVA: 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".
1.3.1 He doesn't see him firing her to do with his greed for profit or
that his actions eventually left her penniless, he simply tries
to justify his belief by saying "lower costs and higher prices."
22.214.171.124 Birling is portrayed as a typical capitalist and
Priestly wished to influence people like Birling.
126.96.36.199.1 Inspector say she is "offering money at the wrong time" for he isn't totally to
blame but he "started it". Showing we are all responsible for each other.
1.4 HIS VIEWS/INTERESTS: 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".
1.4.1 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. waHe nts to hide the fact that Eric stole money: "I've got to cover
this up as soon as I can."
1.5 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.
1.6 HOW HE TREATS THE INSPECTOR: Birling is dismissive of
the Inspector and says that the Inspector's visit must be
"something about a warrant" in his arrogant belief that
it couldn't be anything to do with him personally.
1.7 His view changes very little and only really differs after the
interview when he says "Look Inspector - I'd give
thousands." However, he is still thinking in terms of money
and the Inspector states "offering money at the wrong
1.8 Portrayed to be a neglectful and unapproachable father who would rather use his
position of power to prevent scandal than show sympathy for his son. This
contradicts Birling's view that you should only look after yourself and your family.
1.8.1 More bothered about money and the trouble Eric causes than his feelings.
1.8.2 He represents a greedy, ambitious business man who builds his fortunes at the expense of
everyone else. He does not care about the need of others and Priestly shows he believes
Birling should be punished for this.
1.9 Birling is given the chance to change and take
responsibility but chooses not to and this is his
downfall as at the end he gets a call and thus has to
face real consequences.
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." Suggesting he is
more middle class than upper.
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
2.4 Arrogant and self-important as he
constantly parades his social standing and
capitalist, highly Conservative views.
2.4.1 "...a man has to mind his own business and
look after himself and his own."
2.5 He is selfish in the sense that he is only bothered about impressing Gerald who is of a higher
class. He keeps his expensive, mahogany table uncovered and buys the same port Gerald's
father does. Birling seems more bothered about the fact that Gerald is of higher class and
how this will help his company than his actual daughters happiness. This is especially shown
when he tells Sheila not to be "too hasty" about calling off the engagement.
2.5.1 Wants to join with Croft LTD "for
lower costs and higher prices"
2.6 It is a weakness in his character that he is so self involved
and Priestly exploits this weakness during the Inspectors
investigation as Birling's only concern is that his
reputation and future social advancement will be affected
and that a "scandal" may interfere with his chance of a
2.7 We see the horror in the painful suicide of Eva where
as he doesn't care and his lack of social responsibility
he represents causes us to dislike him.
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. He believes his success entitles him to
comment on affairs which he has little knowledge. 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?).
4.1.1 Dramatic irony: the play is set in 1912, 2 years before WW1 &
because Birling is shown to be wrong the audience is less
inclined to agree with his personal and social responsibility.
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 him to be an fool/idiot and that he has no real understanding of the world
through his claims of "the Germans don't want war" and the "unsinkable" Titanic.
4.7 Birling's attitude symbolises what
happens when we don't recognise
Priestly's message that we have a
responsibility towards society as
well as ourselves.