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      Q) Arthur Birling says “If you don’t come downhard on these people they’ll soon be asking for the earth” How do Priestleyshow that Arthur Birling is conceited and selfish in An Inspector Calls?
      Priestley’s intention of creating Arthur Birling is for theaudience to despise him, which we do. Arthur Birling is created to be hated andwith this he is a clear representative of a middle class citizen, he neverchanges and is stubborn and obnoxious. Mr Birling is of a high social statusand puts lower class citizens such as Eva Smith down, as he is used to being incontrol because he owns a major factory, which brings in high income. He isalso noveau riche.
      It could be said that the class system has destroyed andcorrupted the character of Arthur Birling. Evidence supporting this is that theaudience knows Arthur has acquired his success by being a ‘hard-headedpractical man of business’, he is self-mad unlike the other higher classcharacters in the play as they have been born into a family with money and highclass. So this interprets that Arthur Birling was once like Eva Smith and Ednaor at least similar implying that he was once also treated with disregard andwas ignored. This then would suggest how vile and inhumane Mr Birling is as acharacter as even though he is aware of the pain and agony of being a workingclass citizen he still treats Eva Smith in such a vile and rude manor. Alternativelythis could also show that the class system has made him this way as it could beimplied that Arthur Birling has had to act to get to where he is and to becomeaccepted by society, which would explain how he would have to ‘hold histongue’. Evidence of this theory is that when he finishes his meal he says‘good dinner, Edna’ however he is then put in line by Sybil as she tells him‘Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things’. Arthur Birling could alsohave tried to forget his past as it may have been so traumatising which we asthe audience know that the living conditions of working class citizens istraumatising due to the death of Eva Smith. Extending upon this, yet another possibility could be that Mr Birlingwas actually happy about Eva Smith’s death because he knows how hard theworking class life is and was happy that it had all ended for her. HerePriestley has demonstrated that some discrimination could have potential hiddenmeanings that the person denies throughout their life but instead takes outtheir anguish on others.
      The character Mr Birling uses oxymorons such as ‘friendly rivals’,‘little war’ and ‘celebrating quietly’ to build a wall between the classes.This is because oxymorons are words that are totally different, the contrast ofone and other, and Arthur uses these to demonstrate the contrasting life stylebetween him and the people lower than hi. The word ‘celebrating;’ shows that MrBirling is a care free person who has little worries due to his social statusand supposed superiority. This foreshadows that further on in the play, oncethey find out about Eva’s death he still does celebrate as he is a continuouscharacter who doesn’t change throughout the play. The continuous use of theseoxymorons may alternatively be Priestley’s way of representing the Birlings’thoughts of them being higher up in the hierarchy than others however inreality they are just the same as the words are close together, just like thesimilarities between people in different classes. This also shows that MrBirling thinks he is superior compared to everyone else.
      Arthur Birling’s marriage is a fraud, and is unreal as himand Sybil Birling are in fact very far apart even though they are both mutuallysickening and vile. Evidence supporting this is that in the stage directions,Priestley describes the setting as a table in the dining room with ‘ArthurBirling at one end, his wife at the other’. This is a metaphor for how closethey are as in this setting Arthur and Sybil as far apart. This could suggestthat Sybil is far apart from him in a social respect, as she is higher up inthe hierarchy than him because she was born into the class, whereas Arthur hashad to work his way up which in my opinion should mean that Arthur should bemore respected. This shows how disorientated the class system is. Alternativelythe distance between them could also give evidence that they are nothing alikeand Arthur has married Sybil Birling to gain more social respect as without herhe wouldn’t be nothing. This would then support my previous point of Arthurhaving to fight and risk everything to get where he is today as he has comefrom the lower class and is now in a much better position. The potential factthat Arthur needs Sybil is ironic as in the time of 1912 women were treated ata lower respect than men and women were the sex that needed men for money,support and food. This point tells me that Arthur Birling could be being untrueto himself for social superiority, which reflects how desperate he must’ve beento marry someone he doesn’t necessarily adore. This point may also tell us thatalthough the pair of Arthur and Sybil are very different, they are very alikein their attitudes which tells the audience that Arthur has adapted, changedand could be possibly mimicking Sybil Birling.
      In evaluation I can interpret that the character of MrBirling is created to be hated and his actions are of high dislike by theaudience. Although it is possible that Mr Birling has tried to initially fit inwith a higher class he has eventually become one of them, with no feelings ofpity, sadness or sympathy. He has adapted into an emotionless robot and hassuccessfully now become one of the people who used to put him down, which showshow bad the working class must’ve been for him to commit his actions…

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Updated: May 16, 2015


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