In this essay I will be discussing the characters Sheila and Arthur Birling, and discovering how they are affected by the Inspectors visit. The whole play is about themes such as class and the consequences of people aswell as their responsibilities. The play was written in the 1940s yet set in 1912, just before the sinking of the Titanic and the declaration of war. The scene begins with the Birling family and Gerald Croft sat around the table. Arthur Birling, the head of the family is sat at one end of the table. This shows that he is the dominant one of the family and the ruler of the household.
He is a successful and prosperous man who is a manufacturer and does well in business. Priestly describes him as being well built and rather pompous and solemn. From his speech you can tell he did not originate from the same class as Mrs Birling: “… rather provincial in his speech. ” By marrying Mrs Birling, he was able to move up a class and he continues to also want to become more upper class. He sees the marriage of Gerald to his daughter as a means of further social climbing and also as a means of bringing his business and the Crofts closer together:
“… perhaps we may look forward to a time when Birlings and Crofts are no longer competing but are working together… ” In this way, I believe Birling is trying to satisfy himself into thinking he is just as good as the Crofts (a well-known name at the time). Birling seems to me as being a rather bigheaded, smug person. At the beginning of the play he makes quite a few long, self-satisfied speeches making out that he is grand and knows it all. However, dramatic irony is used where we as the audience know more than the characters: “…
you’ll hear some people say war is inevitable. And to that I say-fiddlesticks! ” Mr Birling insists that there is no chance of war and rudely doesn’t listen to Eric’s point of view. He says: “… I’m talking as a hard headed, practical man of business. ” Which he has already repeated earlier on in the play. The fact that he believes he must be right and the fact that he refuses to listen to anybody else, suggests to me that he is a very smug, self-righteous man. To Gerald, Birling mentions that he is going to be a Knighthood and constantly mentions that he used to be Lord Mayor.
For some reason, I find it hard to believe that he will achieve a Knighthood due to the fact that other predictions about war and the Titanic were false and also, I get the feeling that he may just be trying to impress Gerald. The most important theme of the play is how consequences are brought about due to certain people’s actions. Arthur Birling is extremely self-centred and his main concerns are how situations will affect himself and himself only: “… a man has to look after himself and his own… ” Further on in the play though we learn that Mr Birlings quote is not entirely fair or correct.
Priestly’s message in the play is saying that we cannot cut ourselves off from each other and that we are all responsible for every other person. We cannot be self-centred. However, during the Inspectors visit, Birling is proved to be wrong and is shown that other people’s actions can end in terrible consequences for some. When the Inspector enters, the stage lighting suddenly changes from a pink colour to a very bright blinding light: “The lighting should be dim pink and intimate until the Inspector arrives, and then it should be brighter and harder.
” The pink lighting represents the fact that there are plenty of hidden truths around the table, where Gerald and the Birling family really don’t know anything about each other. As the Inspector enters, the lighting suddenly becomes more revealing, to display the fact that he is about to uncover the truths about each of them. We discover that Birling sacks a girl from his work place and the Inspector informs the family that this girl committed suicide. Birling dismisses her from his work place as: “She’d had a lot to say… ”
However, I believe it was because a woman had actually answered back to him and in those days men were considered as more dominant and far more worthy than women. I believe Birling was angry as, possibly, the girl slightly embarrassed him. Even still, Birling doesn’t accept any responsibility at this point in the play. Yet, when finding out about his son’s involvement with the girl, he finally seems to accept some guilt. Eric, Birlings son, is found to have got the girl pregnant. The Inspector slightly threatens Mr Birling and finally, Birling seems to accept some guilt: “Inspector- ‘You started it…
You made her pay a heavy price… And now she’ll make you pay a heavier price still. ‘ Birling- ‘Look Inspector, I’ll pay thousands – yes thousands. ‘” Here he seems to be pleading with the Inspector. However, like any other arrogant, self minded person, as soon as he thinks the trouble is over, he forgets all his guilt and goes on to pretend that nothing ever happened. When Sheila says: “You’re pretending everything was just as it was before. ” Birling simply replies: “We’ve been had, that all. ” This is because they discover that the Inspector isn’t who he really claims to be.