When Arthur Birling is first introduced we are told he is “Heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners but rather provincial in his speech. ” As the play goes on we begin to understand why Birling is described like this. We also begin to develop our own ideas about him, his upbringing and his values. At the beginning of the play I thought that Birling was an established businessman but he also cared a lot about his family I didn’t however think this towards the end of the play. When Birling did however start talking I did feel that he was self and money obsessed.
I consider the core of Birling to be his political, social and moral opinions. He is involved in local politics “My husband was Lord Mayor only four years ago and he’s still a magistrate. ” In this respect Birling is rather conservative in his thinking and his main ethos is that one should be responsible for oneself and only oneself. He expresses this point on several occasions one being when he says “The way these cranks talk and write now you’d think that everybody has to look after every one else, as if we were all mixed up together likes bees in a hives.
This quote would suggest that Birling believes in the social hierarchy that existed in Edwardian England. Birling doesn’t believe in social responsibility and that with his privilege comes responsibility for those less fortunate than himself- I consider this to be a major theme of the play. This theme is social morality and responsibility; I believe this is what the Inspector is trying to make the family see. Social responsibility is a morality and it’s neglect is immoral and therefore a social crime. His attitude that “a man has to mind his own business and look after his own,” is central to to his character.
The Inspector expresses his feelings about this when he says “Public men, Mr. Birling have responsibilities as well as privileges. ” The Inspector however is outside of the social system; this allows him to have these opinions. Arthur appears unwilling to take responsibility for not only Eva Smith and others like her but even his own children. We understand that he considers himself free from blame for Eva Smith’s suicide when he says, “Still I can’t accept any responsibility. ” We come to appreciate his feelings about his responsibility for his children, near the end of the play when he refuses to support his son, Eric.
Birling blames Eric for the entire thing “You’re the one I blame for this” he also shows no compassion and love for anything but money when he is dealing with Eric “Until every penny of that money is repaid you’ll work for nothing. ” Birling feels he is not responsible for anything but himself and his money. Arthur Birling is an ambitious man with aspirations and goals. For instance he is often talking of his knighthood, and he seems very hopeful of a partnership being struck, between his company and that of Gerald’s father. Despite this I do feel that he often acts extremely pompous and condescending.
I imagine Birling feels very pleased with himself, he has earned his living, he has married into a “good” family, he is at the top of his career and near the top of the social system. As a result of this Birling tends to look down and patronize those of a lower social and economic status than himself. I also feel he often exploits his social position and those of a lower class than him; this is what he did to Eva Smith. I don’t think that Birling however is upper class like the rest of his family, but instead I feel that he aspires to be of that class.
In the directions at the beginning of act one we are told that Birling has provincial speech, this would suggest him being originally from a family who are not quite as genteel as his current family. Birling appears unsophisticated and it is evident that Mrs. Birling often has to reprimand him on his speech and manners. His upbringing makes him less socially aware and gracious than either his wife or Gerald. Both Arthur and Sybil Birling are distant from their children. Birling has no respect for the younger generation.
He doesn’t think young people are entitled to their own views and opinions and he believes in the traditional Edwardian values that children should be seen and not heard. “What’s the matter with that child? ” Birling says this to his wife; this quote suggests distance between Mr. Birling and Sheila who is referred to as “that child. ” It is obvious Birling does not share a good relationship with his son by the way he handles the situation when he is told about Eric’s surreptitious “fling” with Eva Smith.
“Because you’re not the kind of father a chap could go to when he’s in trouble. This quote illustrates their bad relationship. I think that Birling is “blind” in some ways however I feel he often chooses not to see, as does his wife. I consider this idea of “seeing” quite central to the characters of the older generation. “The ones I see some of your respectable friends with. ” Birling must know what his friends get up to in the palace bar, he chooses however not to see and he tells Eric to be quiet. He is so unwilling to see Eric for whom he really is that the audience sees Eric’s role before he does. At the beginning of the play Birling was obsessed with nothing but money and his social status.
At the end of the play Birling is much the same, he hasn’t changed, he hasn’t learnt anything “You don’t seem to have learnt anything. ” He still supports social structure with created the injustice of Eva Smith’s death. He still thinks in terms of money “Inspector I’d give Thousands, yes thousands. ” He cannot see why Eric and Sheila are so insistent that there is something to be learnt. Arthur Birling’s conscience was inspected, however he is unrepentant and has not learnt anything. All he cares about is the social system; he couldn’t care less about social morality.