Closely examine the character of Mr Arthur Birling and his daughter Sheila Birling showing how and why Sheila changes after the inspector’s visit, but Arthur does not. Introduction The Author, J.B. Priestley is an advocate of socialism, and his book, “An Inspector Calls” strongly demonstrates his views and philosophies. It gives the impression to the reader that the author believes the only way to make a peaceful world is to practice socialism; that everybody should be treated equally, with due respect.
However, Mr Birling, in the play, is a capitalist and his views are the exact opposite to Priestley’s views. He believes the only way to make a thriving community and build economy is to keep the ‘social ranks’ and ‘low life’ people out of the way, for them to endure cheap labour and never suggest a pay rise. J.B. Priestley is entirely against capitalism. This is also expressed in the story, as the tide is turned against Mr Birling who is the capitalist, and who cares for nothing but money and his position in society. Mr Birling is a very proud and pompous character, and his worst fear would be to lose his dignity and respect in the community as he mentions fearfully, “There’ll be a public scandal” – he fears this most, as it would prevent him from gaining his higher position, or receiving a knighthood.
Mr Birling is full of his own importance and is concerned about his own social status and is anxious to receive a knighthood so he believes he cannot afford to have any scandal attached to him and his family, ‘So long as we behave ourselves and don’t get into the police court.’ He is also very selfish, as he cares only about himself and his family. If he could undo sacking Eva Smith, he could do so only for his own benefits; he feels absolutely no remorse in doing this deed and continues to think there’s nothing wrong with it, the only disadvantage being that he lost a good worker. Therefore, if he could undo his deed, he would not be doing it for her, to save her life, or to keep her happy, but just for himself, so he can have a better worker.
When the Inspector points out to him the results of his actions he shows no remorse or regret and fails to perceive them as incorrect or immoral. Birling is very ignorant and insists that Eva Smith’s suicide was nothing to do with his sacking her. The reason why Mr Birling is very worried about his social position could be that he is socially worried that he is socially inferior to his wife. This is shown when Mrs Birling reprimands him and says, “Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things”, i.e. Mrs Birling is teaching Mr Birling how to adopt correct social manners. Being socially inferior to his wife makes Mr Birling feel that he has to try and live up to those standards; he has to rise socially.
Mr Birling is delighted at his daughter’s engagement to Gerald Croft, as the Crofts are slightly higher class than the Birlings and have a larger business company than them also. Mr Birling shows his excitement throughout the engagement party through his large speeches expressing his joy and hope to “merge the Croft’s and Birling’s company into one”, “Perhaps we should look forward to the time when the Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together.”
Mr Birling does not treat the working class people as normal people who deserve wages and due respect; he just exploits them and pays them with great reluctance. His main aim is to achieve “lower cost and higher prices.” This again shows that he is very self-centred and only cares about himself; lower costs and higher prices means he would get more money, because he’d be paying less for goods as well as he’d be getting a larger profit from the public, who’d buy these items at expensive prices.
Mr Birling thinks he knows what the future holds, even though he’s wrong. He strongly believes he is correct due to his experiences as a hardhearted businessman. He thinks that Britain is thriving too much for their co ever to be a war – the play is based before the WW1. He also thinks that technology is progressing so much that he says to Eric: “Soon you will be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these silly capitalist versus labour agitations and all these little war scales. There will be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.” He says, “The worlds developing so fast that it’ll make war impossible.” He says his ‘foretelling’ so positively as though they were facts – he is this sure of them. His other prophecy is that he believes that technology has risen so high that he thinks that the Titanic is unsinkable. However, the audience of this play know that he is wrong because by this time, Titanic has already sunk and there has been a world war.