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Inspector calls mrs birling essay



Birling is the head of the household and the director of a business. These two establishments unite to corruptly result in the death of Eva Smith – who symbolises the ‘thousands’ like her who live in poverty. Birling symbolises materialistic and self-serving Capitalism.

Priestley uses Birling’s style of speech to undermine the audience’s respect for him, and to undercut subtly the outward confidence of his ‘easy manner’. He speaks often with interrupted diction, Priestley frequently gives him dashes and pauses and incomplete sentences. For example, he hesitates when referring to Gerald’s parents, ‘Sir George and – er – Lady Croft.’ This certainly suggests not only that he is socially out of his depth, but also a sense of intellectual uncertainty, as though Birling lacks the intelligence that more precise diction would imply. His speech about the good economic climate of 1912 and how war will not happen is peppered with dashes and hesitations. The audience is well aware, through dramatic irony that global conflict in World War One would soon follow and that Birling is wrong which further undermines his credibility. Here, his broken diction suggests a lack of logic and reason. The overall effect is to suggest that Birling is intellectually weak, and blusters and brags; he is characterised as arrogant and inept. His stumbling manner of speaking is juxtaposed with the confident fluency of the Inspector, who seems all the more trustworthy in comparison.

A key device used by Priestly in the characterisation of Birling is bathos. When speaking of Shiela and Gerald’s engagement he says that this is ‘one of the happiest nights of [his] life’. Love and marriage would naturally bring joy. But within a few lines he goes on to say how it means that the Crofts and Birlings will, because of the marriage, be able to work together ‘for lower costs and higher prices’. The explicit focus on the mundane matter of money is at the speech’s climax, making it clear that this is the underlying reason for Birling’s excitement. The transition from love to money is bathetic and reveals that lurking beneath the fine dinner and ‘easy manners’ of Birling is greed and self-interest. Although first this is merely comic, it becomes morally significant as the play progresses. The pattern of bathos is repeated throughout. When he discovers that Eric has stolen moeny, his initial fury seems appropriate – until he reveals that the reason for his anger is how difficult it will be to ‘cover this up’. He seems at first to agree with Sheila that Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva is ‘cruel and vile’, but it turns out that he is concerned because he fears that ‘the press might take it up’. He is shaken and angry at the end of the play, but ultimately not for moral reasons, but for his fear for his ‘knighthood’. Priestley uses the comical element of the bathos to make Birling a somewhat ridiculous figure. However, symbolically he represents those at the top of the social hierarchy who have the power to influence the lives of ‘millions’.

If the Inspector is the protangonist of the play, Birling is the antagonist. Priestly makes him the antithesis of the Inspector. Birling has authority which is based on money and social prestige, whereas the Inspector has authority which derives from morality and justice. The rank of ‘Inspector’ falls beneath Mr Birling socially as former Mayor of Brumley. Class structures are integral to the drama.

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