Mr Birling is presented as a successful businessman, who has been active in local politics and was Lord Mayor of Brumley, although it may become clear that he does not care about the local community. Mr Birling is also wife of Sybil Birling and the father of Sheila and Eric. From the first set of stage directions we know that the family is comfortable in their wealth and also found out that Arthur Birling’s wife is his social superior, implying that he began in a lower class and worked his way up to the upper class he is in now.
Arthur Birling likes to inform others of his wealth and of the important people he knows, which may be understandable considering how hard he has worked to be where he is, and would like to bask in the glory. From the very first stage directions we see, at the start of the play we found out that Priestly described Arthur Birling as a, “heavy-looking, rather portentous man”. From these stage directions it reveals that Mr Birling is quite large in size which may help to give him a threatening appearance.
However, this appearance does not seem to intimidate the inspector, because during some parts of act one the inspector has the higher status and controls the scene; this shows that his appearance is quite ironic. Arthur Birling is the father to Sheila and in act one he is hosting an engagement party for his daughter and her fiance, Gerald Croft. Gerald makes a few speeches throughout act one, during one of them he says, “Gerald… your engagement with Sheila means a tremendous lot to me…
Crofts and Birling are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices. ” This suggests that maybe Mr Birling cares more about his business than he does about his daughter’s future. Priestly is therefore presenting his character as rather pompous and very self-centered, something you wouldn’t normally expect to find in a father figure, possibly indicating the time in which this play is set; work was possibly more important than man’s children especially as he has worked from lower class to the upper class he is in now.
After reading act one, we know that Mr Birling announces many speeches, much to the rest of the families dismay however, Mr Birling is described as being ‘rather provincial in his speech’ this further confirms how he was not always of a high social status and explains why he is not very good with light-hearted social conventions, ‘tell cook from me,’ Mrs Birling does not approve as it is not customary to thank the staff for it was believed that they did a good job regardless, however Mr Birling thinks this utterly acceptable.
One of the first things Mr Birling says is quite inappropriate for him to mention, ‘exactly the same port as your father gets,’ Mr Birling is trying to impress Gerald and therefore his father as they are of a higher class as him and also a rival company he hopes to join with. During one his speeches he refers to Sir George’s Wife as ‘er-Lady Croft’ this uncertainty of what her name is, implies that they are unlikely to have met even though his daughter is marrying her son.
Mr Birling, obsessed with social status seems to put Gerald’s happiness before that of his daughters, ‘she’ll make you happy and I’m sure you’ll make her happy’ he says this as if Sheila’s contentment is a mere after thought just so long as she is marrying above herself she’s expected to be pleased. Mr Birling as a ‘hard headed businessman’ thinks his opinion is fact and believed by all and those who do not share in his view are ‘cranks’.
Priestly as a socialist uses Mr Birling’s to undermine this conservative way of thinking, ‘The Titanic… Unsinkable absolutely unsinkable’ Priestley’s love of dramatic irony is evident here, and his irony is never more mocking than in these comments of Birling’s, which, to his original audience in 1946, must have seemed more controversial than they do today because the sinking of the ship was within people’s memory, Priestly manages to turn the audience against Mr Birling and his views.
In the speech that heralds the inspector’s arrival Mr Birling was saying ‘that every man has to mind his own business and look after himself’, this selfish attitude is the exact flaw that the inspector tries to amend when he arrives although he doesn’t quite succeed in Act 1 for when told of Eva Smiths death Mr Birling simple replies ‘yes, yes horrid business’ this is a very dismissive response showing that Mr Birling is unconcerned of others misfortunes. Even after he found his role in her death he refuses to take any responsibility as he sees that it was his duty to fire her to ‘keep labour costs down’.
Mr Birling almost immediately dislikes the inspector for interrupting his evening and the spotlight is immediately taken off Mr Birling when the Inspector walks in which discomforts him. The Inspector looks somewhat superior to Mr Birling, Mr Birling hates this as he demands social status because of how rich he is. The inspector speaks like a judge or prophet. He continually makes comments about the actions of the characters in the play. The Inspector seems to care a lot about other people. He believes everyone should act as a community and all have responsibility for their actions against anyone.
This is in deep contrast to the morals of Mr Birling. Mr Birling thinks that he has no responsibility over his employees. If he fires them then it is their responsibility what they do. He is very ‘right wing’ in his thinking and does not believe that everyone is equal. This Makes Mr Birling increasingly more angry with the Inspector. “If they are poor, it is of their own fault” Mr Birling believes in inequality depending on wealth and thus also social status whilst The Inspector is very ‘left wing’ and believes in equality of all people no matter the status.
The character of Mr Birling is presented by Priestley as a very pompous, self-obsessed and rather boastful in act one. I think that the character is full of negativity and is quite a contrast to other characters in the play such as, Sheila and Inspector Goole. I believe that Priestly is trying to highlight the theme of responsibility, as Arthur Birling refuses to take any for Eva Smith, and how great his social conscience is, resulting in an unpleasant personality to the audience through this character.