As a (younger) child I know that this is very frustrating and I find this behavior very unworthy. Birling is very concerned about social class, it is very important to him and although he isn’t I think he likes to view himself as upper class. I say that he isn’t upper class because there is evidence in the script that it’s only an act (but this is a separate issue). It is his concern for social class that makes him very snobby towards the working class and those that don’t necessarily agree with him (e. g.the inspector)
There are a number of instances in the playscript where Birling comes out with very snobby but subtle remarks like when he was defending his decision not to give Eva Smith a raise he said “If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people” (Page 15) and “The strike was broke after a week or two pitiful affair” all these comments and others he makes suggest the lower classes are inferior and uncivilized. This discrimination and sweeping generalization I find wholly unsatisfactory and not admirable.
Birling’s wife Sybil comes from an upper class family which puts her above Birling socially, this is also true of Gerald Croft who is engaged to his daughter Sheila. I have already commented on Birling’s concern for social class and it is most apparent in the way he treats and almost sweet – talks Gerald because he knows that Gerald’s family are in a higher “social league” than he is. In my opinion this behaviour is a sign of insecurity, Birling feels that he is inferior to those around him (this is probably why he wants his knighthood so much). On page 8 he even informs Gerald that he thinks that Mrs. Croft (Gerald’s mother) “feels you might have done better for yourself socially”.
If my interpretation of this behaviour is right then it shows that Birling is really rather pretentious when I compare it with my last point. He behaves like a upper class citizen by putting down the lower classes when really he knows that he isn’t really much above them anyway. It is a kind of false ego or confidence and this confidence is blatantly shattered by the inspector’s imposing character. There is evidence of Birling’s false confidence throughout the play as the night progresses his involvement in the apparent death of Eva Smith becomes increasingly deeper.
At first he tries to dismiss the situation as irrelevant and nothing to do with him (page 12 “I don’t understand why you should come here inspector”). As the plot thickens he starts to try and change the subject and hurry the inspector (page 17 “there’s nothing else, y’know. I’ve just told you that. “). He then starts to become violent towards the inspector and by the end of the inspector’s questioning he resorts to bribery and just to protect his reputation to make way for his knighthood (“look inspector – I’d give thousands – yes, thousands -“) All of a sudden he is reduced from a well experienced successful businessman to a weak, insecure character who can’t face up to his mistakes.
This steady deterioration shows Birling in a way that is very uncommon for him, by offering money he simply makes it worse, it is not admirable. Once the inspector goes Birling immediately pins the blame on Eric, “you’re the one I blame for this” and claims he had nothing to do with it “there’s every excuse for what both your mother and I did – it turned out unfortunately, that’s all. “. He also totally misses the point of the situation, that a girl has died due to miss – treatment by all of them.
It is ironic that Eric and Sheila (the “children” in Birling’s opinion) are the only ones that have learnt from the experience. It is obvious that his only concern is for his reputation, “you don’t seem to care about anything. But I care. I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next honours list. ” Once Gerald enters and they figure out that he was a hoax, Birling is back to his old self but then the bell rings. There are a number of factors we must consider which each of these points. We must consider the social belief at the time, it was set in about 1912 and society had different priorities and opinions back then.
We have to consider Birling’s achievements, before we slander his name we mustn’t forget all that he has achieved, surely they show that he is at least half good. His upbringing may also play a part in his personality and also those that surround him (i. e. his upper class wife putting ideas into his head like the treatment of the lower class). It is difficult to brand anyone good or bad because most people have several different sides to their personality, one also has to be careful not to be hypocritical.
However fictional characters and indeed real people would not appear real if they were all good or all bad. I think it is fair to say that Birling could try harder to be kinder to people and stop being so self – centred and snobby, and because I am finding these faults that could all be linked to his admirable qualities I conclude that I don’t think we should admire Arthur Birling .