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Eric Birling is an influential and significant character in our play, Inspector Calls. Priestly uses Eric’s character to show the change in the younger generation and his own socialist views of 1912. He is initially introduced in the stage directions, “half shy, half assertive” which immediately creates the impression that this character is awkward and may not know how to fully express himself, especially with the pressure he has as we see further in the play.
We learn early on that Eric has a drinking problem because he asks for “more drinks” even though Sheila has already noticed that he is “squiffy” due to his erratic and inappropriate actions and laughs. We can assume that Eric drinks to ease the pressure of conforming to his family’s ways because he is different to them. He also goes out drinking because he is unhappy with the life he lives because he disagrees with his father’s brutal methods. The fact that he drinks may also foreshadow Eric’s revelations later in the play as we learn that he forces himself on Eva. The audience may start to feel suspicious of Eric during the dinner, “Eric suddenly guffaws.” This may suggest that Eric has an idea of Gerald’s affair but decides to hide it from Sheila. This indicates how perceptive Eric may really be. His perceptiveness is further demonstrated as he describes his sister with a “nasty temper” which may foreshadow her jealousy of Eva before she was sacked from Milwards and his following description “not bad really” maybe hinting at the kinder side of Sheila which is seen after her interrogation.
Eric does not seem to have a good relationship with his father. Arthur continuously patronises Eric and treats him like a childlike boy. He is also very different compared to his father, “why shouldn’t they try for higher wages” demonstrating that he understands the struggle of Mr Birling’s work. He also shows his negative views on capitalist opinions as he does not see “why she should have been sacked.” He does not agree with Mr Birling’s choices and the way he thinks. This may be one of the reasons why they are distant with each other. Mr Birling describes Gerald as “the son I never had,” which enforces the idea that Eric is not living up to his father’s expectations and is seen as an outsider compared to Gerald.
During his interrogation we learn that Eric irresponsibly fathers a child with Eva Smith, who he had no intention of marrying. He states, “I threatened to make a row,” which shows an aggressive side to Eric as he abuses his power and authority to show dominance over Eva. In 1912, women were seen as inferior and submissive towards men and were used for sexual purposes. “She was pretty and a good sport” demonstrates how inconsiderate he was and how similar he was to the men at that time. He is portrayed as irresponsible and reckless as he did not think of the consequences he would eventually face. However, we see a more considering side to Eric as he starts realising the mistakes he has made and feels guilt and remorse for what he has done. “That’s the hellish thing” he realises the mistake of drinking so much to cause troubles for another person.
Eric begins to show a change in himself when he steals money from his father to support Eva after learning of the pregnancy. This may make the upper-class audience feel the need to help the working-class citizens using the money they earn themselves. “You’re not the sort of chap a man could go to when he’s in trouble.” This exemplifies Eric’s loneliness as he was unable to go to his own father at desperate times. This may cause the audience feel respect and sympathy for Eric as he had no one else to turn to but he still went against his father in order to support Eva Smith.
In conclusion, Eric and Sheila show clear disagreement in the older generation’s capitalist views as they have accepted their responsibility and realise their mistakes. “She’s dead and we all helped to kill her” shows that he accepts responsibility and encourages his family to accept their mistakes. He is a representation of how the younger generation is easily influenced on the socialist views on the world and Priestly uses him to send a message to the upper class audience.
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