Mr. Birling in "An Inspector Calls": a Character Analysis

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About this sample


Words: 687 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Words: 687|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Mr. Arthur Birling, a prominent character in J.B. Priestley's play "An Inspector Calls," is a complex individual whose perspectives and actions offer insight into the prevailing attitudes of his time. This essay delves into the multifaceted nature of Mr. Birling, examining his personality traits, beliefs, and the thematic role he plays in the narrative.

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At the onset of the play, Mr. Birling is introduced as a self-assured and prosperous businessman. He is the head of the Birling family and holds a prominent place in society. His confidence is evident in his dialogue, and he often expresses his views with conviction. He represents the conservative upper class of Edwardian England, holding onto traditional values and emphasizing the importance of individual success and economic progress.

Mr. Birling's beliefs are characterized by his unshakeable confidence in the virtues of capitalism. He staunchly believes in the "unassailable" nature of the Titanic and the impending prosperity of the Titanic, reflecting his belief in the infallibility of capitalist progress. His outlook is encapsulated in his statement, "A man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—and his family too, of course." This philosophy aligns with the prevailing attitudes of the time, which valued self-interest and personal gain above collective responsibility.

However, Mr. Birling's confidence and beliefs are ultimately contrasted with the social critique presented by the character of the Inspector. As the Inspector's investigation unfolds, Mr. Birling's role in Eva Smith's tragic fate is revealed, highlighting his callousness and lack of empathy towards the less fortunate. His refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for Eva's death underscores his disregard for the impact of his actions on others.

Mr. Birling's interactions with his family further reveal his strained relationships and his prioritization of appearances over genuine connections. He dismisses Sheila's concerns about social responsibility and is quick to defend his reputation. His treatment of Eric, his son, exemplifies his authoritarian parenting style, focusing on Eric's perceived wrongdoing rather than addressing the underlying issues. This highlights Mr. Birling's inability to provide emotional support or guidance to his children.

It is important to note that Mr. Birling's character serves a thematic purpose beyond his individual traits. He represents the privileged and oblivious upper class of society, embodying the prevailing attitudes of the time. Priestley uses Mr. Birling to critique the callousness of capitalism, the class divide, and the failure to recognize the interconnectedness of human existence. The Inspector's revelations serve as a wake-up call not only to the Birling family but also to the audience, challenging them to reconsider their values and actions.

Mr. Birling's character arc culminates in a realization of his own vulnerability and accountability. As the Inspector's investigation unravels, and it becomes clear that the Inspector's knowledge is not limited to his time, Mr. Birling's confidence wavers. The phone call announcing that there is no actual inspector prompts a sense of relief, which is short-lived as it is revealed that a girl has actually died, and another inspector will be arriving. This twist highlights the consequences of his actions and the inability to escape the ramifications of his behavior.

In conclusion, Mr. Arthur Birling is a multi-dimensional character in "An Inspector Calls." He embodies the prevailing attitudes of capitalism, individualism, and classism of Edwardian England. His self-assuredness and conservative beliefs serve as a stark contrast to the Inspector's critique of societal norms. Mr. Birling's character is symbolic of the callousness and obliviousness of the upper class, and his interactions with the Inspector highlight his role in Eva Smith's tragedy. Through his character arc, Mr. Birling's vulnerabilities and accountability come to the forefront, demonstrating the consequences of his actions. Overall, Mr. Birling's character serves as a vehicle for social commentary and critique in the play.

While Mr. Birling may reflect the attitudes of his time, his character remains relevant in modern contexts, inviting audiences to reflect on the role of privilege, responsibility, and empathy in shaping the world around them. His journey serves as a reminder that self-assuredness and wealth do not absolve individuals from their ethical obligations towards others. As audiences engage with the complexities of Mr. Birling's character, they are prompted to consider the broader implications of their

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own beliefs and actions.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Mr. Birling in “An Inspector Calls”: A Character Analysis. (2023, September 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Mr. Birling in “An Inspector Calls”: A Character Analysis.” GradesFixer, 07 Sept. 2023,
Mr. Birling in “An Inspector Calls”: A Character Analysis. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Mar. 2024].
Mr. Birling in “An Inspector Calls”: A Character Analysis [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 07 [cited 2024 Mar 1]. Available from:
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