Mr Birling - An inspector Calls


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Mr Birling is one of the principle characters in An inspector calls ­ he is used to portray the capitalist views
held by the upperclass at the time. Mr Birling is presented by Priestly as the stereotypical body of
Capitalism ­ by portraying him in a negative light allows the reader to draw assumptions between the
negative characteristics portrayed by Mr Birling and the negative aspects of a capitalist society, which is
what Priestly intended to do.
Our first impressions of Mr Birling come from the following quote used to describe him, 'heavy looking,,
rather pretentious' here Priestly immediately uses one of the seven deadly sins to describe Mr Birling of
gluttony as he appears well fed ­ which is done by Priestly to create a stereotypical image of all capitalist
men. The use of the word 'pretentious' suggests that he is a fraud which implies to the reader that all
capitalist men are not what they appear to be ­ they are simply images which have been fabricated
carefully in order to gain superiority over others. Mr Birling takes the first line and last line in the play ­ this
could be due to the fact that he is the head of the family but it could also be interpreted that this was done
by Priestly to imply that the power over society at the time was held by capitalist men ­ so by beginning
and ending with Mr Birling speaking suggests that this has not changed.
Priestly uses dramatic irony throughout Mr Birling's speech as he describes the Titanic as
'unsinkable' and claims ' there isn't a chance of war.' This is done by Priestly to suggest portray Mr Birling
as pompous and arrogant which is further developed as he states ' we don't guess...we know.' His
narrowminded views add a comedic element to the play as the reader has the benefit of hindsight which
makes Mr Birling come across as nothing but a foolish man. This has been done to portray to the reader
the arrogant nature of capitalist men but also to portray them as laughable ­ Priestly is presenting his own
views here of Capitalism as he is suggesting that capitalist views are just that laughable.
Mr Birling wants to impress others which is shown when he tells Gerald he is likely to receive a
knighthood,' I might find my way onto the next honours list,' which reflects his own sense of
selfimportance, he gain asserts his own importance when he tells the Inspector, `I was an alderman for
years ­ and Lord Mayor two years ago ­ and I'm still on the Bench.' This expresses the value of status to
him as he feels his achievements and accolades are going to gain him more respect and authority ­ this
expresses to the reader Mr Birling's desire for more and more power which reinforces the idea that he is
the representation of one of the seven deadly sins, gluttony. This presents Mr Birling's main aim in life,
'lower costs and higher prices' supports this aim as his main goal in life it to have a lot of money and power
and is ruthless in his attempt to achieve this as he sees people such as Eva Smith as, 'cheap labour.'
Upon first meeting the inspector, Mr Birling makes numerous references to his achievements, ' I was Lord
mayor two years ago,' in an attempt to 'boast' and to demand respect from him which is unsuccessful. The
inspector is unimpressed by Mr Birling's social standing as unlike Mr Birling he does not value these things
s highly ­ which is done by Priestly to portray his socialist views as here he promotes socialism through the
inspector. This is developed further as the inspector goes on to mention the name 'Eva Smith' ­ Mr Birling
claims that the name,' doesn't convey anything to me.' This shows Mr Birling's lack of care towards others
as he can not even remember the name of a previous employee ­ this portrays all capitalists as selfcentred
which is reinforced by Mr Birling's previous speech were he stated, ' A man has to make his own way ­
look after himself' which is exactly what he does.
After learning of Eva Smith's death Mr Birling claims, ' Look inspector ­ I'd give thousands ­ yes
thousands' which expresses to the reader that he feels his money can solve everything for him highlighting
the shallow views held by capitalists at the time. These same views are also reflected by Gerald ­ another
capitalist male who attempts to buy Sheila's love with an expensive, engagement ring. This introduces
Ouspenky's theory to the play which suggests that after death we will reenter our lives in a continuous
cycle of the same events from birth which will continue until a significant change is made ­ then the cycle
will stop as allow you to escape from the repetitions. Priestley uses this to represent Mr Birling as here he

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­ which also portrays a key theme represented in the play of the notion of change which is
unwelcomed by the older generation. However this could also interpret that this cycle will continue for
generations to come ­ as these same capitalist views will be carried on by Gerald. This idea of cyclic
events could have also been used by Priestley to convey a sense of repetition of the same mistakes being
made in society at the time.…read more


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