Arthur Birling Character and Context

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  • Arthur Birling
    • Arrogant
      • How?
        • He makes long speeches at dinner about things that the audience would know were incorrect. For example, he claims war will never happen and that the Titanic is unsinkable.
      • Evidence
        • And I'm talking as a hard-headed, practical man of business. And I say there isn’t a chance of war. The world's developing so fast that it'll make war impossible."
      • Analysis
        • Mr Birling is confident that there will not be a war, saying that 'there isn't a chance of war' and then repeating this idea when he considers it 'impossible'. His arrogance and complacency are made very clear. The audience, knowing that just two years after this speech, World War One will begin, see that Mr Birling is wrong on this point, and on many others, including his prediction that the Titanic is 'unsinkable'. The audience lose trust in him as a character.
    • Possessive
      • How?
        • On a number of occasions Mr Birling refers to things and people as being 'his'.
      • Evidence
        • "Is there any reason why my wife should answer questions from you, Inspector?"
      • Analysis
        • He emphasises that Sybil is 'his' wife suggesting that he sees her as a possession. He does not allow Sybil to talk for herself here.
    • Capitalist
      • How?
        • Mr Birling is a business man whose main concern is making money. This is what is most important to him and he comes across as being greedy.
      • Evidence
        • "...we may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together - for lower costs and higher prices."
      • Analysis
        • It is clear here that Mr Birling is driven by money, he is a capitalist. The fact that he sees his daughter's engagement as a chance to push for 'lower costs and higher prices' shows just how greedy he is. He does not consider the impact 'higher prices' might have on anyone else, he just wants more money.
    • Patronising About Women
      • How?
        • Mr Birling makes some old-fashioned and patronising points about women and how they view clothes and appearance.
      • Evidence
        • "...clothes mean something quite different to a woman. Not just something to wear - and not only something to make 'em look prettier.'"
      • Analysis
        • He shows that he is quite sexist by suggesting that clothes are somehow more important to women than to men. The fact that he thinks clothes 'make 'em look prettier' shows he objectifies women too.
    • Context
      • When the play was written after World War Two in 1945, there was no form of welfare from the government to help the poor. J B Priestley believed in socialism, the political idea based on common ownership and that we should all look after one another. Mr Birling represents greedy businessmen who only care for themselves. Priestley uses him to show the audience that the Eva Smiths of the world will continue to suffer if people like Birling remain in positions of power.

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