How does Priestley express ideas about Sybil Birling in 'An Inspector Calls'

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How does Priestley present ideas about Mrs. Birling in ‘An Inspector Calls’?

First Dialogue

Mrs. Birling shows a complete lack of self-awareness from the beginning of the play and also exposes her wishes to be detached from anyone with a lower social status.  Mrs. Birling says during the dinner “(reproachfully) Arthur you are not supposed to say such things” the way that she criticises her husband from what comes across as a rare pleasant remark from Mr Birling shows how she doesn’t which to praise or associate her self with anyone below her in the social hierarchy.  This reflects Priestley’s point that the beneficiaries of Capitalism have little respect or have even the slightest sense of empathy for those below them in society. The way she also “reproachfully” condemns her husband is also very peculiar, it is almost as if she is unaware by the tension created by her remark on what is a very important family occasion. This may also be a sign of subtext that Mrs. Birling also might be dissatisfied with the social gap between her and husband. This could perhaps be a subtler view of Priestley’s about the lack of cohesiveness between classes in society.

Relationship with Sheila

Despite her daughter being a grown woman who is in the process of marrying, Mrs Birling is of the view that Sheila is incapable of speaking for herself.  When Sheila “(half serious, half playful)” criticises Gerald for “not coming near me last summer” Mrs Birling doesn’t pick up on the “playful” nature of her daughter’s remarks and instead tries to pacify the tension, which is ironic as it was created by herself in the first place, she decides to lecture her daughter and demean her importance and how she should use to being second rate for her future husband “men with important work to do…spend nearly all their time and energy on their business. You’ll have to get use to that, just as I had” and Sheila replies “I don’t believe I will” this also shows how Sheila clearly has a capacity to change which we experience later in the novel. This also represents Priestley’s view that men who go after an endless pursuit of wealth not only has a negative effect on society as a whole but also those most closest to them.

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Welfare State

Mrs Birling is used as a contrast of the future welfare state; in 1912 rich people would decide on their own prejudices on who deserves welfare and who doesn’t.  So Priestley’s attack is also how the rich keep even the most basic human rights away from the poor. When describing hearing Eva Smiths case she says “She was claiming elaborate fine feelings and scruples that were simply absurd in a girl in her position” Mrs Birling’s reference to a “girl in here position” highlights her class prejudice and how just because she was of a lower ...

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