How does Priestley present the character of Mr Birling in An Inspector Calls?

Throughout the play, Priestley presents Mr Birling as a clear representation of the patriarchal upper class. Written in 1945, but set in 1912, the purpose of "An Inspector Calls" is to provoke a new consideration for social justice, and the way that the class system is divided in Britain. Mr Birling is described as being a "heavy looking, rather portentous man", which immediately indicates to the audience that he has significant wealth. Much of his dialogue centres around capitalist viewpoints, as he claims that it is every man's duty to "mind his own business and look after himself". Birling is one of the most stubborn characters in the play, and refuses to back down to the Inspector when it is suggested that he is to blame for Eva's death. This reflects a lack of social responsibility and justice in his character, and demonstrates Priestley's disdain for Capitalist beliefs and society.
In addition, Birling is presented as being an imposing and demanding figure in the family. He has one of the highest percentages of dialogue, and often interrupts other members of the family, particularly Sheila. This emphasises his position as the patriarch, as he takes over and attempts to control everyone in his life. However, his misguided beliefs about the war and the Titanic demonstrate to the audience that he is a foolish man, with very little to say that is of much worth. This further supports Priestley's presentation of him as the physical embodiment of the upper class, Capitalist gentleman in 1912; which has started to lose its place as the public becomes more socially aware and responsible.

Answered by Katyana R. English tutor


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