Birling loves to show off his wealth and status to Gerald. You get a glimpse of this when he offers him cigars and port. ‘Good port… exactly the same port as your father’. Birling feels that he is in competition with Gerald’s father and wants to show that he can achieve the same or better than him. He tells Gerald confidentially when they are alone that he feels that Gerald’s mother thinks Sheila could do better and shares with Gerald the fact that he has had a ‘hint or two’ that ‘I might find my way to the next Honours List.
‘ He then plays the title down by saying ‘just a knighthood, of course’. By doing this it makes him seem less below the already knighted Sir George Croft indicating that they will be on a more equal footing when he achieves his title, he makes him self sound so important already that a knighthood is only something small and not very important to him as he already sees him self as being so big and powerful in his eyes. Alcohol is a huge part of Birling’s life and a symbol of affluence.
We find out a great deal about Birling and his obsessions with social status from the brief exchanges about port, at the beginning of the play. He tries to impress Gerald by informing him that it’s the same port his father drinks and he obtains it from the same supplier, which underlines the fact that Birling discusses knowing Sir George Croft with others to exaggerate the fact that he knows influence people. The Inspector when interrogating Birling creates a dramatic image to exaggerate the fact that she is dead.
Then later on he tries to show Birling and he has the same views and beliefs in these type of women to get Birling to talk ‘like all of these women who get into various kinds of trouble’ the Inspector asks Birling first before the other people in the family, because he considers him to be the head of the house. When the Inspector first arrived Birling thought that he was looking for a search warrant because he was a Magistrate so does not consider for a moment that there should be any trouble which he would be involved in.
This shows his social standing particularly when he tells the Inspector ‘I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench. ‘ Birling does not believe in the socialist view he thinks that everyone should look out for themselves. ‘We can’t let these Bernard Shaw’s and H. G Wells do all the talking’. In 1912 when the play was set, authors were writing about socialist’s views and opinions and Birling did not like this. He had very low views on the authors as he doesn’t want to let them tell people what is right.
Birling considers himself to be Upper Class because of his wealth but is probably still Middle Class because he is still working and living in a ‘fairly large suburban’ house. He does not like people who are in lower classes such as Eva Smith and other factory workers in his employ. We can tell this as he doesn’t have much sympathy for Eva Smith after she has died. He shows no feelings of sorrow as he doesn’t think it affects him. He only starts to care later on in the play when he fears that it could affect his knighthood.