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Priestley presents Mr Birling as a very pompous and arrogant man from the exposition of the play. This is seen when Mr Birling is at his daughter’s engagement party and all he is able to talk about is business and trade. Priestley describes Mr Birling as a “hard headed businessman” which is repeated later on in the play when he says a “hard headed practical man of business”. The repetition of “businessman” shows the audience that Mr Birling perceives himself as someone who is built of money, business and work. This was a typical representation of Edwardian men as Mr birling’s priorities are not with his family and people but instead with trade and industry and this could result in his lack of empathy towards the tragic death of Eva. Priestley shows that he was concerned at where people’s priorities laid as many only cared about business and were extremely money – minded and therefore unable to spend time with their family.
Priestley presents Mr Birling as a character who is very selfish and unable to follow the message of socialism. His famous motto “lower cost and higher prices” implies that he is willing to abuse to lower class in order to maximise profits. The juxtaposition used in this phrase shows that Mr Birling is a very dishonourable and selfish person as he takes advantage of lower classes as he is ready to compromise his workers lives and money to. As Mr Birling tries to reason with the Inspector, he says “She’d had a lot to say – far too much – so she had to go”. The constant use of dashes suggests that Mr Birling recognises that he is wrong but is not willing to change the status quo and bend his head down to someone in a lower class. If he was willing to listen to Eva, then he would be considered to be subservient and unpowerful as he is listening to someone from a lower class. This is also reinforced when Mr Birling says, “community and all that nonsense”. The sarcastic tone used here presents Mr Birling as he continues to belittle the idea of “community” and depreciate the idea and concept of socialism. Priestley uses Mr Birling as a character to show the audience of how their profit- governed views and ideas are harming and leading the lower class to suicide. The Edwardian audience also get an indication as to how their selfish deeds are ruining society. Priestley compares Arthur Birling to the famous noble king, King Arthur. We see through the use of stage directions that the characters sat on the “dining table with Mr Birling at the head” this could imply that Mr Birling had varying amounts of respect towards everyone whereas King Arthur believed in sitting equidistantly from people at a table, showing how he believed that he thought of people equally no matter their social status or wealth. Priestley showcases his concerns about society through Mr Birling as he is represented as someone who shows no respect to the lower class due to selfishness.
Priestley shows his concerns of society through representing Mr Birling as someone who is part of the older generation and therefore unable to change. Towards the end of the play, the audience witnesses that Mr Birling is far more interested in the lost fifty pounds than his own son’s drinking problem. The scared tone used in “we must cover this up” not only shows that Mr Birling does not care about his sons drinking problem, but he does not want the public to see this as well. This highlights a huge concern Priestley had about the older generation as Mr Birling has not changed since the beginning of the play – showing how narrow minded he is. This also reinforced when Mr Birling learns that the Inspector is a hoax, Mr Birling says most of his following lines “(gleefully)” or “(astounded)”. Mr Birling is blinded by the fact that the inspector is a hoax that he forgets the Inspector’s valuable message about socialism. The stage directions used juxtaposes the sad and tragic death of Eva Smith and imply that Mr Birling has not changed since the beginning of the play as he still cares more about business and trade compared to family and people.
In conclusion, Priestley uses tone, repetition and stage directions to express his concerns about society through the character of Mr Birling. Priestley shows that Mr Birling’s behaviour is not only detrimental to the lower class but to society as a whole. Mr Birling is someone who puts business over people and family, is selfish and judges people by class and is also unwilling to change and conform to a socialist society. Priestley therefore depicts him to be as a significant reason why society is unable to change and improve