The play ‘An Inspector Calls’ was written in 1945, just after the Second World War, and was set in 1912.This is purposefully done by it’s playwright J.B Priestley, to convey a significant message about the morals and common social beliefs of the time. Priestley masterfully does this through the use of the Birling family; as a typical representative for people in high society. Through the Birling family, we come to recognise different attitudes between the new and old generation.
The most notable character, and strong representative of the older generation is Mr Birling. Mr Birling is depicted as being ‘pompous’ and ‘portentous’ by Priestley. Such negative attributes portray him as an unpleasant person. Through the use of ‘dramatic irony’, Birling is also represented as foolish, and somewhat conceited. Another benefit of Priestley’s use of ‘dramatic irony’ is that the audience are granted the advantage of knowing what happens after 1912; and so when Mr Birling declared that war would never happen or that the ‘Titanic’ was unsinkable, the audience had the advantage of knowing that both events did occur, what is more this makes Mr Birling look extremely foolish. This is made worse by the fact that Mr Birling conducts himself as over confident.
We can learn more about the character of Mr Birling by the way he interacts with other characters in the play. Mr Birling can be described as brazen and headstrong, with traits of superciliousness. The modern audience can gather that he shared the beliefs of many upper-class Victorian men of the time-that women were generally inferior to men; being that they were too fragile to handle certain issues. This is implied when he tells Eric that “Women’s clothes are a token of their self-respect.”
This suggests that he regards women as shallow minded and vain with a lack of interest in more serious issues. What is more, the context in which Mr Birling says this suggests that, not only is he patronising to Eric, but he says this with an air of blatant certitude. This establishes the point that Mr Birling is supercilious and arrogant. This idea of male superiority would have been quite old-fashioned to the 1945 audience, and certainly to the future modern audience as during the years of war, the roles of women changed and they were forced to take on more masculine roles.
Another trait of Mr Birling’s character, which unfolds through his interaction with other characters is his uncaring and ruthless manner. Evidence to support this is when Mr Birling says “…if you don’t come done sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the Earth.” This quotation refers to his response to a question asked by ‘Inspector Goole’ about his treatment towards his employees. This illustrates Mr Birling’s stinginess and ruthlessness. Also, the fact that Mr Birling refers to the workers as ‘these people’ separates himself from his ‘lower-class’ workers and also does the job of depersonalizing them. If you were to further analyse, the use of the word ‘Sharply’ suggests harm, meaning it has violent connotations.
To conclude, through Mr Birling’s interaction with other character, he is portrayed as ruthless and supercilious. Priestley uses the skill of ‘dramatic hindsight’ to expose, Mr Birling’s beliefs about the future to the 1945 audience. This works to many effects and it leaves the 1945 audience at an advantage, as the audience knows more than the character does. One thing Priestley did was to present Mr Birling’s character as quite foolish. In particularly, when Mr Birling launches himself into a speech about certain rumours about war being inevitable. Mr Birling deems the rumours “fiddlesticks”, as he is certain that war would never happen.
The 1945 audience know that War breaks out twice during that period. During Mr Birling’s speech, he also says “Russia…will always be behindhand naturally.” This is ironic as during the First World War, Russia was one of the leading powers of the War. These quotations, highlight once again the needless and false overconfident manner of Mr Birling, and to complement they work together to create a foolish image of Mr Birling. I think, through ‘dramatic irony’, he also wanted to highlight how naï¿½ve Mr Birling was, despite giving the impression that he was all-knowing.