Mr Birling from An Inspector Calls is undoubtedly the most self-centred character. Priestley has allowed us to see his ironic, false views and how he is unable to change for the better. By understanding the wrongs of this character, we can understand the main purpose of Priestley’s play. Mr Birling’s initial influence on many of the other characters makes him deadly, and much of the responsibility for Eva’s death comes back to him. The question remains, how important is Mr Birling as the bearer of such great responsibility? All quotes used in this post come from the play mentioned. You can also check out An Inspector Calls ending explanation and a character analysis on The Inspector himself.

an inspector calls book cover by john priestley

Who is Mr birling?

Stubborn and selfish, Mr Birling is presented as the typical capitalist during the early 20th century. Having a wife as his social superior and relentlessly talking about business, Mr Birling has a clear obsession with climbing further and further up the rigid ladder of the social hierarchy. It does not come to a surprise that he refuses to accept any responsibility for Eva’s death. So, does this make him the most unlikeable character in the play?


  • He is arrogant and wants the future to be a certain way. From his claims that ‘there isn’t a chance of war’ and that the Titanic is ‘unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable’, the dramatic irony has made him seem ridiculous and unreliable to the audience very early on in the play.
  • Mr Birling has worked hard to be considered an upper-middle class gentleman. This has resulted in him being overly proud of himself and his accomplishments.
  • He seems to lack any empathy and is uncaring when he discovers the horrific death of Eva by acting ‘rather impatiently’. He even dismisses his grandson’s death to show more concern for the large sum of money Eric gave to Eva.
  • He is so overambitious that he talks about his business opportunity during his daughter’s engagement and the possibility of a higher social status with ‘a knighthood’. This is seen to clearly get in the way of his every day life as it is all he seems to care about.
  • By the end of the pay, it is no surprise that Mr Birling remains firm in his view that he has no influence or responsibility for others around him. His stubbornness by this point is so ludicrous and unacceptable, that we are forced to realise how damaging his superiority is.
  • Purpose: by presenting Mr Birling’s selfishness through his didactic play, Priestley can reveal its ludicrous effects on someone’s morality. As a result, Mr Birling acts as a warning to the audience and discourages further acts enshrined by capitalism.

The Theme of capitalism

Priestley uses Mr Birling as a symbol to represent the capitalist views during the Edwardian Era. This is the key focus on his character as it is the cause of his self-absorbed personality and horrific views he proclaims. Here are the main quotes to show how this is a key theme in Mr Birling.

  • Mr Birling clearly demonstrates that he is utterly dismissive of the idea that we must all work together and belittles socialism by using adjectives such as ‘nonsense’ to assert his opinion as a fact.
  • Mr Birling sees his daughter’s engagement as a chance to ‘lower costs and higher prices’ proving the extent to which he is driven by his greed for money. He ignores the impact that this will have on others which presents him as the most selfish character in the play.
  • By describing himself as a ‘hard-headed practical man of business’, Mr Birling shows himself to have no value other than wealth and class.

If you are studying the play, this should be a good start to understanding Mr Birling’s character. If you were simply interested in the character then maybe this post has answered some of your questions.

What do you think of Mr Birling’s character?

Article written by Amelia Wolf.

4 thoughts on “An Inspector Calls Character Analysis: Mr Birling

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