A character analysis of MR BIRLING

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  • Created by: IQRA
  • Created on: 14-04-13 11:10

BACKGROUND

He is described as "a heavy looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties". He knows that he is lower down the social scale than his wife and also Gerald's family; he is aware of the differences in social class and accepts them-"Lady Croft....feels you might have done better socially...Don't blame her. She comes from an od country family". He is a snob because he ooks down on those socialy "beneath" him, like he Inspector, yet he looks up to those "above"; he is thus extremely pleased to have "a fair chance that I might find my way into the next Honours list". This knighthood is the most important goall for him; as soon as Goole leaves, he says "I was amost certain for a knighthood in the next Honours List" and rebukes Eric when the latter just laughs.

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Snob

Their different attitudes to the knighthood encapsulates Birling's and his son's attitude to the whole Eva Smith affair. Birling feels that his term as Lord Mayor and that he is a "sound useful party man" (Conservative Party) has earned him the right to feel superior over others, and this arrogance, coupled with his pride in his "hard-headed, practical man of business" image of himself, helps to explain his indifferent attitude towards Eva Smith. 

Birling is boastful and pompous, making tedious speeches to the younger people, again because he thinks he has earned the right to do this: "We can't let these Bernard Shaws and H G Wellses do all the talking. We hard-headed practical businessmen must say something sometime. And we don't guess- we've had experience- and we know". His attitude is obstinately selfish- "A man has to make his own way - has to look after himself and his family too of course". It is this view, diametrically opposed to Goole's (and Priestley's) which the play attacks.   

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Arrogant

His arrogant belief that he "knows" is made to appear laughable to the audience by his confidence in the "unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable" Titanic and by the fact that he dismisses the threat of war- "I say there isn't a chance of war". The implication is that it is tragic that someone as stupid as Mr Birling should be in a position of power.  

Birlng's belief that "we're respectable citizens and not criminals" is challenged by Goole, resenting any suggestion that he is at fault: "You weren't asked to come here to talk to me about my responsibilities". He tries to intimidate Goole by telling that the Chief Constable is "an old friend of mine", and then actually threatening "I've half a mind to report you". He is willing to use and abuse his power and influence to bully peope and get his own way. He has no conscience, and dismisses any suggestion that he should show responsibility towards his employees: "If you don't come down sharpy on these people they'll soon be asking for the earth". Gooe's response is "it's better to ask for the earth than to take it", implying that this is exactly what he thinks Birling has done. 

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Arrogant

His arrogant belief that he "knows" is made to appear laughable to the audience by his confidence in the "unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable" Titanic and by the fact that he dismisses the threat of war- "I say there isn't a chance of war". The implication is that it is tragic that someone as stupid as Mr Birling should be in a position of power.  

Birlng's belief that "we're respectable citizens and not criminals" is challenged by Goole, resenting any suggestion that he is at fault: "You weren't asked to come here to talk to me about my responsibilities". He tries to intimidate Goole by telling that the Chief Constable is "an old friend of mine", and then actually threatening "I've half a mind to report you". He is willing to use and abuse his power and influence to bully peope and get his own way. He has no conscience, and dismisses any suggestion that he should show responsibility towards his employees: "If you don't come down sharpy on these people they'll soon be asking for the earth". Gooe's response is "it's better to ask for the earth than to take it", implying that this is exactly what he thinks Birling has done. 

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Men

Birling does not display any anger with Gerald when he hears that Gerald has had an affair. This suggests that, while he does not approve, neither does he greatly blame Gerald-even though it was his own daughter being betrayed. He says "Now Sheila, I'm not defending him. But you must understand that a lot of young men...". Earlier, he reminisces that "we broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes" and Gerald's reply "I'll bet you did" implies an indulgent approval for male "high spirits" and Birling seems to return this unspoken tolerance of Gerald's actions with Daisy. As the "breadwinners", both Gerald and Mr Birling seem to think they earn the right to "break out". It is alright so long as the women don't find out. By extension, it is also "alright" to treat people like Eva badly so long as the "papers" do not brink it to public attention; the crime is only a "scandal" if other people hear about it.  

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Abuse

Birling also supports his wife’s action in rejecting Eva- “Damned impudence” and reassures her that it is not her he is accusing of being “bluffed”. He is quick to seize upon the idea that Goole was not a real police inspector- “if he wasn’t it matters a devil of a lot” because he thinks this will excuse him from the potentially scandalous situation and thus safeguard his knighthood- the only thing he really values|. During Gerald’s that Goole was a fake, Birling speaks “eagerly”, “triumphantly”, “jovially” and “heartily”. His mood has completely changed from angry and bitter to relieved at the thought that none of Goole’s story was “real” and therefore it has no meaning for him.

 

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Flaws in his character

His only show of remorse for Eva’s death is momentary- “Look Inspector-I’d give thousands”; but this wish to make amends disappears when Goole leaves. At the end he wants to carry on as if the Inspector never called, and learns nothing from him. Overall, Birling is a greedy, selfish, pompous, arrogant, self-important, callous, complacent, cowardly and stupid man who is presented as hopelessly icapable of learning the moral lesson taught by Goole.

He is insensitive towards Eric who claims that Arthur Birling is “not the kind of father a chap would go to when he’s in trouble. His insensitivity is shown when he remarks that Gerald is “just the kind of son-in-law I’ve always wanted”  

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Extra miscellaneous

  • He is described at the start as a "heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speech.
  • 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.
  • However, 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.
  • 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.
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Extra miscellaneous

  • 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?). Here, Priestley uses dramatic irony to make Mr Birling appear laughable and stupid.
  • He is extremely selfish:
    • He wants to protect himself and his family. He believes that socialist ideas that stress the importance of the community are "nonsense" and that "a man has to make his own way."
    • 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.

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Extra miscellaneous

    • 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."
  • 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.
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Quotes

  • "Lower costs and higher prices" his priority is business and profits, not people.
  • "You're just the kind of son-in-law I always wanted" he is obsessed with status, happy that Shiela is 'marrying up'.
  • "A man has to make his own way" he does not believe in community or interdependence, Priestly's ideals.
  • "The way some of these cranks talk, you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else" again does not care for others.
  • "I refused of course" it is natural to him that he should turn down Eva Smith's request for more money.
  • "I don't propose to give you much more rope" implies that inspector is in the wrong, and doing a bad thing.
  • "You weren't asked to come here to talk to me about my responsibilities" deals with one of the key themes of the play.
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Quotes

  • "I've got to cover this up" his main concern is being 'found out'. He doesn't care what he may have done, so long as no-one knows about it.
  • "There's every excuse for what both your mother and I did" he fiercly resists responsibility.
  • "You allowed yourselves to be bluffed" because the Inspector was a fake, he no longer cares. He hasn't learnt anything.
  • "Just remember your position young man" he has a very hierachical view of family.
  • "Probably a Socialist or some sort of crank" Priestly was a socialist.
  • "The famous younger generation who know it all" doesn't listen to Eric and Shiela because he thinks himself better and more knowledgable than them.
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