Analysing the extract

The question

How does Priestley present Mr Birling in An Inspector Calls?

For the first part of your answer you will have to analyse how Mr Birling is presented and which of Priestley's ideas he gets across.

Look again at the extract below with some highlighted points that you could write about in your answer. Think about what ideas Priestley is trying to get across through Mr Birling.

BIRLING: (taking it in the same manner) (1)Yes, you don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays . More money to spend and time to spare than I had when I was Eric’s age. They worked us hard in those days and kept us short of cash. Though even then – we broke out and had a bit of fun sometimes.

GERALD: I’ll bet you did.

BIRLING: (solemnly) But this is the point. I don't want to lecture you two young fellows again. (2) But what so many of you don't seem to understand now, when things are so much easier, is that (3) a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself - and his family too, of course, when he has one – and so long as he does that he won't come to much harm. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else, (4) as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive - community and all that nonsense. But take my word for it, you youngsters - and I've learnt in the good hard school of experience - that a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own - and -

WE HEAR THE SHARP RING OF A DOOR BELL. BIRLING STOPS TO LISTEN.

ERIC: Somebody at the front door.

BIRLING: (5) Edna'll answer it. Well, have another glass of port, Gerald - (5) and then we'll join the ladies. That'll stop me giving you good advice.

ERIC: Yes, you've piled it on a bit tonight, father.

BIRLING: Special occasion. And feeling contented, for once, I wanted you to have the benefit of my experience.

  • (1) "Yes, you don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays." - This is very ironic, Mr Birling is joking about the behaviour of young men, not realising his own son- Eric- has been up to no good. It shows his ignorance.
  • (2) "But what so many of you don't seem to understand now" - Mr Birling refers to the younger men as 'you' and claims they 'don't seem to understand'. This gets across Priestley's ideas on age. Mr Birling, as an older man, assumes that the younger generation are stupid.
  • (3) "a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself" - Mr Birling shows that he is arrogant and selfish. This also highlights Priestley's ideas on social responsibility - he wants the audience to see that Mr Birling is wrong.
  • (4)"as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive - community and all that nonsense"- this is Mr Birling being arrogant again but it also gets across Priestley's ideas about class. As a middle-class businessman, Mr Birling sees himself as being better than the working-class - he doesn't think people from different classes should mix.
  • (5) "Edna'll answer it" and then "we'll join the ladies. That'll stop me giving you good advice" - both of these bits of dialogue show more of Mr Birling's arrogance, they also highlight ideas about class - Mr Birling has a maid, and about gender. As Mr Birling makes these speeches away from his wife and daughter, he sees this as talk for men only.