In the enthralling play “An Inspector Calls” by J.B. Priestley, the character of Mr. Arthur Birling takes center stage, embodying various facets of the society he represents.
Birling, the head of the Birling household, is a man of wealth, influence, and distinct ideologies that reflect the prevailing attitudes of his time. Exploring key quotes attributed to Mr. Birling unravels the complexity of his character and sheds light on the broader social and political context of the play.
At the outset, Mr. Birling exudes pride and happiness over his daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft. The event symbolizes a consolidation of social status and business interests.
Birling envisions a future where rivalries between the Crofts and Birlings dissolve into a collaborative effort, emphasizing lower costs and higher profits. This quote encapsulates Birling’s capitalist mindset, where success is measured by economic gain and social standing.
Amidst talk of potential labor strikes and future labor troubles, Birling confidently dismisses concerns. He represents the callous indifference of some employers, asserting their commitment to safeguarding their interests and the interests of capital.
This attitude, prevalent among the upper class of the time, underscores the stark class divisions and the lack of empathy for the struggles of the working class.
Birling’s skepticism about the inevitability of war reflects the prevailing sentiment among the privileged. His belief that war is unlikely echoes the hubris of those who fail to perceive the impending global conflict. This arrogance is further highlighted by his mention of a potential knighthood, showcasing his ambition and desire for societal recognition.
The dismissal of community values and the emphasis on individualism is evident in Birling’s disdain for the idea that everyone should look after each other. This quote mirrors the prevailing social attitudes that prioritized self-interest over collective responsibility. In Birling’s world, the pursuit of personal success takes precedence over considerations of social cohesion.
As the mysterious Inspector Goole delves into the Birlings’ involvement in Eva Smith’s tragic fate, Birling attempts to distance himself from any responsibility. His refusal to acknowledge the consequences of his actions and the callous remark about it happening nearly two years ago reveal a lack of moral accountability. The quote, “I can’t accept any responsibility,” encapsulates Birling’s unwillingness to confront the repercussions of his decisions.
Birling’s adamant stance on individual responsibility extends to his broader worldview. He argues that if everyone were responsible for everything that happened to everybody, it would be impractical. This perspective reflects the self-serving nature of the upper class, unwilling to acknowledge the systemic issues that contribute to societal problems.
The notion of keeping labor costs down underscores Birling’s commitment to maximizing profits at the expense of fair wages for workers. His assertion that failure to control the workforce would lead to unreasonable demands exemplifies the exploitative mindset of the capitalist class during this era. This quote highlights the inherent conflict between capital and labor, a theme central to the play.
Birling’s attempt to use personal connections to influence the Inspector and his desire to cover up the incident showcases the lengths to which he is willing to go to protect his reputation. The quote, “Perhaps I ought to warn you that the Chief Constable is an old friend of mine. We play golf together,” exposes the misuse of influence and privilege to escape accountability.
In the climactic moments, Birling’s desperation to cover up the scandal and his aggressive response to Sheila’s revelation reflect his prioritization of personal reputation over ethical considerations. The quote, “I’ve got to cover this up as soon as I can,” epitomizes his determination to suppress the truth to safeguard his social standing.
As the play unfolds, Birling remains largely unchanged, resisting the transformative impact of the Inspector’s revelations. His refusal to learn from the experience serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of clinging to outdated ideologies and the consequences of failing to embrace social responsibility.
Mr. Arthur Birling emerges as a multifaceted character in “An Inspector Calls,” representing the values and flaws of the upper class in early 20th-century Britain. His quotes encapsulate a capitalist mindset, a disregard for collective responsibility, and a fervent desire to protect personal interests. Through the lens of Mr. Birling, Priestley critiques the societal attitudes that perpetuate inequality and highlights the need for introspection and social change.
Here is a list of the quotes
- “It’s one of the happiest nights of my life… your engagement to Sheila means a tremendous lot to me.”
- “We may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing but are working together – for lower costs and higher prices.”
- “Just because the miners came out on strike, there’s a lot of wild talk about possible labor trouble in the future. Don’t worry.”
- “We employers are coming together to see that our interests – and the interests of Capital – are properly protected.”
- “You’ll hear some people say that war is inevitable. And to that, I say – fiddlesticks!”
- “There’s a fair chance that I may find myself into the next honors list.”
- “By the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive – community and all that nonsense.”
- “A man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own – and –” “We hear the sharp ring of a front doorbell. Birling stops to listen.”
- “As it happened more than eighteen months ago – nearly two years ago – obviously, it has nothing to do with the wretched girl’s suicide.”
- “I can’t accept any responsibility.”
- “If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody… it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?”
- “It’s my duty to keep labor costs down.”
- “If you don’t come down sharply on some of these people, they’d soon be asking for the earth.”
- “Perhaps I ought to warn you that that [the Chief Constable is] an old friend of mine. We play golf together.”
- “I don’t like your tone nor the way you’re handling this inquiry.”
- “I’ve got to cover this up as soon as I can.”
- “Why you hysterical young fool – get back – or I’ll – “
- “I care. I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next honors list.”
- “There’s every excuse for what both your mother and I did.”
- “(jovially) But the whole thing’s different now.”