Mr. Birling is a prosperous factory owner. He is ‘a self made man. ‘ His first priority is to make money, he quotes, ‘It’s my duty to keep labour cost down. ‘ Arthur Birling is somebody who is fond of giving other people what he thinks is good advice. He always believes he has the right answers to all sorts of questions, because he has been successful where others have failed. What we find out in the play is that most of his advice is the wrong kind of advice, although he still fails to realise it. Mr. Birling Regards himself as reasonable and pays the going rate to employees.
He is unable to grasp a link between actions and consequences, or wider social/world issues. He has no concepts of value other than money and position. He is proud of his status and is a social climber. He sees him & wife as upholding ‘right’ values and as guardians of ‘proper’ conduct. Mr. Birling welcomes Gerald Croft into his family as he represents a business link between his firm and that of Gerald Croft’s father (a rival). He has an honest approach to life, he tells the Inspector that he wouldn’t listen to Eva Smith’s demand for a wage rise, ‘I refused, of course’ and is surprised why anyone should question why.
Mr. Birling strongly believes that ‘a man has to make his own way. ‘ He does not consider the harm he may cause to other people because of his attitude. He is a ‘hard headed business man. ‘ He is a magistrate and former mayor who is looking forward to receiving a knighthood. He is very aware that Gerald’s mother is rather against her son’s marriage because she believes him to be marrying beneath him socially He is optimistic about the future, yet we know that what he predicts will not become true. He refuses to accept any responsibility for Eva ‘s death.
He becomes increasing annoyed by the Inspector’s questioning and Eric’s unsympathetic attitude. He tries to threaten the Inspector by talking about his friendship with the Chief Constable. The most disturbing part of the play for Birling is the scene in which he learns that his own son is shown to be a thief, a drunkard and is responsible for fathering a child. When he learns of all this he exclaims ‘You damned fool – why didn’t you come to me when you found yourself in this mess? ‘ Eric’s reply indicates that Mr Birling was never close to his son, ‘Because you’re not the kind of chap a man could turn to when he’s in trouble’.
Such a response indicates that things aren’t going to improve much after the play ends. He represents a very unattractive sort of person. At the end of the play he grudgingly wishes things were better but even here he still thinks in terms of money, ‘Look, Inspector – I’d give thousands. ‘ He continues to ignore the shameful things that his family has done. When it appears that the Inspector might be a hoaxer he is happy to believe that everything is as it was a few hours ago. He copies the Inspector and laughs when he remembers the faces of Eric and Sheila and accuses them of being ‘the famous younger generation who know it all’.
This is an example of pride coming before a fall, a moment later of course he is panicking as the phone rings again. Mr Birling represents Priestley’s hatred of businessmen who are only interested in making money. He will never alter his ways and it is left to the younger generation to learn from their mistakes. Sheila At the start of the play she is ‘very pleased with life’. She is young, attractive and has just become engaged. Her happiness is soon to be destroyed though as is her faith in her family.
Her response to the tragedy is one of the few encouraging things to come out of the play. She is genuinely upset when she hears of Eva’s death and learns from her own behaviour. She is very distressed by the girl’s suicide and thinks that her father’s behaviour was unacceptable. She readily agrees that she behaved very badly and insists that she never meant the girl any harm. The Inspector says that she is only partly responsible and later on, when he is about to question Gerald, he encourages her to stay and listen to what he has to say so that she doesn’t feel entirely responsible.
Not only is she prepared to admit her faults, she also appears keen and anxious to change her behaviour in the future, ‘I’ll never, never do it again. ‘ She is aware of the mystery surrounding the Inspector, yet realises that there is no point in trying to hide the facts from him. She is mature about the breaking up of her engagement and remains calm. She won’t be rushed into accepting the ring back once the Inspector has left. She is unable to accept her parents’ attitude and is both amazed and concerned that they haven’t learned anything from the investigation.
Although the Inspector might be a hoax, the family have still behaved in an entirely unsuitable manner. She learns of her responsibilities to others less fortunate than herself (the idea of the community) and is sensitive. Her readiness to learn from experience is in great contrast to her parents. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE J. B. Priestley section. Download this essay Print Save Here’s what a teacher thought of this essay 3 star(s)