How does Priestley present the character of Mr. Birling in the opening of the play?
Mr. Birling is presented as arrogant and a social climber through the stage directions at the start of the play. He is described at the start, in the stage directions, as a “heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speeches. ” This implies that Birling is a man who was born in the countryside and that he is not from a very important background. This shows that because of Birling’s history, he’s a pompous man and he tries to show everybody how important he actually is; this is because of how his status used to be when he was growing up as a child.
Priestley also conveys Mr. Birling as a pitiful social climber through what he says and his mannerisms at the start of the play. Priestley shows that Birling is aware of the people who are his social superiors, which is why he shows off about the port to Gerald, “it is exactly the same port your father gets. ” He is proud that he is likely to be knighted, as this would move him even higher in the social circles. He claims that the party “is one of the happiest nights of my life. ” This is not only because Sheila will be happy, but also because a merger with Crofts Limited will be good for his business.
Through this Priestley presents Mr. Birling as selfish and very self-centered, showing that he only cares about himself and his business. Priestley does this to show that all capitalists were similar to Birling as they too only cared about their social status at the time. The use of dramatic irony in Mr. Birling’s speech presents him as foolish and Priestley is clearly mocking capitalist values. Priestley sets the play in 1912 because that year was before a lot of significant historical events took place. This makes it easy for Priestley to use dramatic irony to display Mr. Birling’s arrogance and foolishness.
He confidently states that “nobody wants war” and that it will never happen, and he has great faith that the “unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable” ship Titanic will never sink. Priestley’s use of the repetition of the adjective “unsinkable” further accentuates Mr. Birling’s arrogance. Obviously all these things really did occur much to the amusement of the 1945 audience, who now know not to take Mr. Birling as an intelligent, thoughtful person. Overall Priestley uses the character of Mr. Burling as a representative of capitalism, showing that capitalists were foolish and arrogant, just like Mr. Birling.