Gerald’s family are a higher social class than the Birlings, having a high social standing, yet Gerald “aspires” to become a Birling. He sees this as an opportunity to get rid of a business rival, and therefore his engagement to Sheila is for convenience. To make sure that his engagement to Sheila seems right and genuine, and therefore securing her hand in marriage, Gerald must appease Mr and Mrs Birling and show them that he is the perfect son-in-law. He is not socially awkward, which Mrs Birling favours, and he agrees with everything Mr Birling says, which is shown most obviously when he responds to Mr Birling’s speech about Capitalism and not having war; “I believe you’re right, sir.” This is dramatic irony, as the audience in 1946 would know, a world war did break out, and the Titanic did sink. Gerald is a ‘male chauvinist pig’, believing that women are lesser to men, as shown when he agrees with Mr Birling when Arthur says that clothes are “…a sort of sign or token of their self-respect”. This view is hypocritical and sexist. He also says “…she’s (Sheila) obviously had as much as she can stand…”, which indicates his view that men are superior because men get angry or irritated but can still carry out coherent conversations, whereas women get hysterical and burst into tears. He also believes that “young women ought to be protected against unpleasant and disturbing things”. Gerald constantly tries to assert his authority over the Inspector, like on page 22 where he says “Fortunately, it isn’t left to you, is it?”. Here, he is trying to bring the Inspector down to his level. Nevertheless, the Inspector rises above that and either cuts Gerald off when he is about to try to speak or merely responds with a completely sensible and logical answer, for instance:
“Gerald: I don’t see why-
Inspector: (cutting in, massively) You heard what I said before, Mr Croft.”
Gerald also tries to assert his authority through his money and company, and Mr Birling helps him to do so, when Arthur introduces him to the Inspector as “Mr Gerald Croft – the son of Sir George Croft – you know, Crofts Limited.”
Gerald’s engagement to Sheila is purely for convenience. He does not really love her and only sees this as an opportunity to get rid of a business rival, while also buying into more money. In this way, he is rather desperate, “…I insist upon being one of the family now. I’ve been trying long enough, haven’t I? (…) Haven’t I? You know I have.” and responding to the Inspector’s question of whether “Mr Croft is going to marry Miss Sheila Birling” with “I hope so” which implies that he knows the marriage is not definite yet. He is controlling towards her and treats her in very inferior way, as if women have not got the emotional capacity that men do, “I can make you happy as you deserve to be” not as happy as she makes him. He also treats her as if she were stupid and doesn’t understand what the men are talking about, when he reprimands her, saying “Don’t look like that Sheila”. This is another example of his chauvinist behaviour. He is dishonest towards her, and, according to Sheila, has been lying all the time that they have been together. He admits to his wrongdoing, but has a desire to minimise this, saying that his affair with Daisy was “all over last summer” and that he does not “come into this suicide business”. Gerald has automatically gone into his defensive default mode by saying “Why should I have known her?” This is characteristic of him, and he repeats this behaviour throughout the play, especially when the Birlings begin to turn on him after the Inspector’s interrogation.
Gerald is the only ‘Birling’ to treat Eva/Daisy as a human being. He shows grief and distress when he finally realises that Daisy is dead. Priestley has even written “(distress)” in Gerald’s acting directions. He also shows remorse, tenderness and regret after stopping his relationship with Daisy, saying to the Inspector, “She didn’t blame me at all. I wish to God he had now. Perhaps I’d feel better about it.” However, he refuses to admit that he used her, instead trying to affirm his unselfishness, saying “I didn’t ask for anything in return” when in fact he did. The audience get the feeling that he may have loved Daisy and not Sheila, but did not marry her because of society – Daisy was working class and Gerald was upper class, therefore, they could not be married or even seen together.
Upon returning to the house after the Inspector leaving, Gerald begins do deconstruct both the Inspector and Eva/Daisy in an obsessive and desperate way. He left the house earlier in the play, leaving the audience thinking that he had gone to reflect, however, when he returns to the house, he seems to have spent his time finding out whether the Inspector is real or not. The Birlings are surprised by the news that he “wasn’t a police officer” and the elder Birlings and Gerald take this as their cue to clear their names. Gerald convinced the elder Birlings that Eva was not real by presenting the idea that the photograph that the Inspector showed them was not the same photograph that any of the others saw, saying “…how do you know it’s the same girl?” He does not learn from his mistakes, like the elder Birlings, and they accept him back into the family. However, Sheila is not so ready, responding negatively when he says “Everything’s all right now, Sheila. (…) What about this ring?”
Gerald seems as if he never will change, as if to become much like Arthur Birling as he ages. The idea that Sheila will marry him will probably be true, however, she will most likely treat him with a cooler attitude than before. Mr and Mrs Birling will get a boost on the social ladder from the marriage, and the joint venture in the company will prosper. However, Gerald will grow up to be a not so very nice man in his senior years.