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Development of Eric Birling Character in 'An Inspector Calls'

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In J.B Priestley’s allegorical well-made whodunnit play, about moral principles and social humanitarian conscience, the character of Eric Birling is developed from a sexist misinformed character who blindly advocates to the corresponding selfish materialistic perspectives and capitalist ideologies as his nouveau riche hubris father; to the shifts from conservative to the socialist labour party and to Priestley’s liberal views.

Priestley presents Eric as an outcast in act one, during the scene when he questions Mr Birling about war, but he intuitively dismisses the idea. However Eric is still persistent and claims ‘Yes i know-but still-‘, before being interrupted by his father again. Predominently, one may argue that the hyphens renders vividly and directly accentuates Eric’s inaugrated outcasted image that he is forced to portray, and how unsure he is about his suggestion due to his indecisive hesitate approach in his speech. The fact that Eric gets interrupted, corroborates how segregated Eric is from his family and how he is invisible to them, to the point where he interjects his father’s speeches to prove himself to them. However his prolongation in questioning his father, demonstrates to the audience that Eric is indeed more ‘assertive’ than he impersonates to be and foreshadows his acceptance of responsibility later in the play . Here Priestley renders vividly the dichotomy between the generation gap, because Eric represents the looming moral and societal revoloution that will take place over the course of the two world wars and women’s rights, whereas Mr Birling’s character is cleverly constructed to stand for and symbolise everything that is wrong with the Edwardian Era. However, a change is promptly introduced before the audience when Eric say’s ‘Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages’. Here Priestley advocates to Sigmund Freud who was an Austrian neurologist and and his theory of Oedipus complex, because it shows a significant change in Eric’s character as he is challenging the authority of Mr Birling’s ideology of mistreatment of the working class. This is symbolic to both the play and Eric’s change in character, because it foreshadows Eric’s sway to Priestley’s socialist beliefs of treating society fairly. Eric’s oedipul attributes exhibit that he has changed from being an outcast to his family, to openly being able to challenge his father’s views.

One may argue that, Inspector Calls dosen’t just voice a political message, but also acts out a moral message. Priestley quite cleverly uses the 7 deadly sins to present the well-made whodunnit play in this manner. Eric’s character is built up through authorial intent as Priestley uses him as a pawn to get his social messages delivered. As Inspector Calls is a morality play, Priestley metaphorically burdens Eric with the sins of gluttony and lust. This can be seen in Priestley’s manipuation in the dialogue ‘I wasn’t in love with her {..} she was pretty and a good sport’. Predominently, one may argue that ‘pretty’ implies that he percieves Eva’s exterior feautures first and not the hardship that she encounters,which explicitly exhibits his shallow values for women. This corrobarates and shadows Gerald’s views as he say’s ‘I didn’t install her there so i can make love to her’, manifesting that both Eric and Gerald objectify women and renders vividly that they see them as a product of sexual pleasure.Eva is significant to the play, as she is an hyperbolic caricature of a working class woman of 1912’s Edwardian era; she corresponds to the downtrodden plights of the working class . However, another change is established when Eric states ‘ I don’t even remember- that’s the hellish thing’.The use of religious imagery and hyperbole through the word ‘hellish’ connotes horrific words such as fire and hell; the religious idea of sin, suggesting that he should be punished and he should atone for his action. This quote associates to the inspector’s powerful statement at the end of the play where he claims ‘if men will not learn their lesson, they will be taught in fire, blood and anguish’. Here the development in Eric’s character is evident because this continues to show his sorrowful nature and how he has accepted responsibilty for his past inequality and mistreatments that he physically dicdated towards Eva. 

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Development of Eric Birling Character in ‘An Inspector Calls’. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
“Development of Eric Birling Character in ‘An Inspector Calls’.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Development of Eric Birling Character in ‘An Inspector Calls’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2022].
Development of Eric Birling Character in ‘An Inspector Calls’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2022 Sept 29]. Available from:
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