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Mr Birling as a character in An Inspector Calls

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  • Category: Character

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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.

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