An Inspector Calls

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Mrs. Birling Character Analysis

Mrs. Birling is described as being “cold” and Mr. Birling’s “social superior.” Throughout the questioning process, she resists the Inspector’s inquiries and reminds him, to Sheila’s frustration, of the Birlings’ high social status. Despite her reluctance, Mrs. Birling finally admits to having used her influence in the Women’s Charity Organization to deny aid for Eva Smith because she was prejudiced against her manner and offended by the girl’s falsely assuming the name “Mrs. Birling.” After the revelations at the end of the play that the whole inspection was a hoax, Mrs. Birling prides herself on having resisted the Inspector more than the rest of her family. And, like her husband, she feels completely relieved of any responsibility she had felt previously.

Mrs. Birling Quotes in An Inspector Calls

The An Inspector Calls quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Birling or refer to Mrs. Birling. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dramatists Play Service, Inc. edition of An Inspector Calls published in 1998.
Act 2 Quotes

You know, of course, that my husband was Lord Mayor only two years ago and that he’s still a magistrate?

Related Characters: Mrs. Birling (speaker), Arthur Birling
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Mrs. Birling's hypocrisy is clear. She insists that Inspector Goole should leave as soon as possible, sparing the family any further consternation. Her reasons for insisting so are fascinating: she claims that good, respectable people like her family members have nothing of substance to learn from the life of a poor girl like Eva Smith. Even worse, Mrs. Birling cites the fact that her husband used to be a Lord Mayor, and still works as a magistrate. Such information, we're left to assume, is supposed to mean that Mr. Birling is above all moral suspicion. High-ranking people can't possibly be bad!

The statement could also be interpreted as an implied threat: it's as if Mrs. Birling is reminding Inspector Goole that he's playing with fire by inquiring into the lives of powerful people. If Goole isn't careful, Arthur Birling could ruin Goole's entire career. Mrs. Birling is one of the most openly hypocritical characters in the play; simultaneously threatening her guest to close the investigation and claiming that her husband is above all suspicion.

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You’ve had children. You must have known what she was feeling. And you slammed the door in her face.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, the Inspector's questions to Mrs. Birling become considerably more pointed and accusatory. It has come out that Mrs. Birling used her influenced position in a charity to deny care and comfort to Eva Smith (now possibly named Daisy Renton) when she came for help. Smith was pregnant, it's revealed: she wanted charity from Mrs. Birling, but Mrs. Birling gave her none.

Inspector Goole's accusations suggest that Mrs. Birling has committed a grave sin: she refused help, not only to a grown woman but also to a child. Mrs. Birling claims that the woman should have known better, but such an explanation simply isn't satisfactory. While Mrs. Birling objects to Eva Smith for having gotten pregnant without being married, her refusal to help Eva Smith punishes an innocent child for its parents' supposed mistakes. Goole phrases his indictment of Mrs. Birling in highly gendered language: it's particularly bad for Mrs. Birling to deny Eva help, he claims, because Mrs. Birling herself has been a mother. Mrs. Birling refused to listen to one of the most basic instincts in her body--a mother's instinct to help other mothers--because of her narrow morality and her petty emphasis on appearances and class.

Act 3 Quotes

There’ll be plenty of time, when I’ve gone, for you all to adjust your family relationships.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Birling family has descended into arguing. A once-happy betrothed couple has split up, and everyone else is shouting at one another. The Birlings have learned that they're all greedy, drunk, disloyal, and even complicit in a woman's death. Goole listens to the Birlings arguing, and tells them that they'll have to work out their new "relationships" later--for now, they need to focus on Eva Smith.

Goole's statement can be taken in any number of senses. First, it's a sign that the Birlings, in spite of the new information they've received, are still making a big mistake: they're focusing too exclusively on each other's private faults, instead of showing real compassion for the deceased, or accepting the larger social ramifications of their actions (the fact that because they are so wealthy and powerful, they have undue influence over others). Second, Goole's statement reminds us that his investigation has permanently changed the Birling family. It's possible that the family will be permanently disgraced, or fall apart from within. Yet it's also possible that the Birlings--particularly Sheila--will learn from the experience and try to become better people.

This girl killed herself—and died a horrible death. But each of you helped to kill her. Remember that. Never forget it. But then I don’t think you ever will.

Related Characters: Inspector Goole (speaker), Arthur Birling, Mrs. Birling, Sheila, Gerald Croft, Eric, Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

The Inspector comes to the conclusion he's been anticipating this entire time. He's shown the Birling family that they caused the death of Eva Smith: in various ways, each Birling (and Gerald) has ruined Smith's life and pushed her to kill herself. Goole predicts that the Birlings will never be able to forget their sins.

Why, exactly, did Goole come to visit the Birlings? His visit seems far different from that of a typical police officer: he seems more philosophical, and more concerned with morality than with solving a crime. It's as if Goole just wants to teach the Birlings a lesson about the importance of personal responsibility. While Arthur Birling wants to believe that it's "every man for himself," Goole has endeavored to prove the opposite point of view.

Whoever that chap was, the fact remains that I did what I did. And Mother did what she did. And the rest of you did what you did to her. It’s still the same rotten story whether it’s been told to a police inspector or to somebody else.

Related Characters: Eric (speaker), Mrs. Birling, Inspector Goole
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Sheila isn't the only one who's learned a valuable lesson from Inspector Goole. Eric, Sheila's sister, agrees that it doesn't matter whether or not Inspector Goole was a "real" police officer or not. Goole's credentials don't change the fact that Eric did what Goole said he did: he impregnated an unmarried woman and then abandoned her.

The passage reinforces the possibility that some of the characters will choose to learn from their mistakes. Eric probably won't face any actual punishment from society for his actions, and yet it seems that he'll try to be more morally upright in the future, never again hypocritically claiming to be a "good" man when he's not.

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Mrs. Birling Character Timeline in An Inspector Calls

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Birling appears in An Inspector Calls. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
...a special occasion. Edna takes her leave and Birling remarks how nice the evening is. Mrs. Birling reproaches her husband for having made such a comment, but he responds that he was... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
...her the summer before. He defensively cites how busy he was at the works and Mrs. Birling chimes in that once Sheila is married she’ll realize that men with important work sometimes... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
...calls him “squiffy.” Eric provokes Sheila, and she calls him an ass, at which point Mrs. Birling tells the two of them to stop it. To change the subject, she asks Arthur... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling and Sheila object to Arthur’s discussing business on such a night, so Arthur raises his... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling leaves with Sheila and Eric, who is whistling “Rule Britannia,” and Birling sits down with... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...the manager of Milward’s to fire the girl, threatening that if they didn’t fire her, Mrs. Birling would close the family’s account there. Sheila admits that she was acting out of a... (full context)
Act 2
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Before he can respond, Mrs. Birling strides in. She has been informed of the proceedings, and insists to the Inspector that... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling suggests that Sheila go to bed, because she won’t be able to understand the motives... (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling reports that her husband is in the other room calming Eric down from his excitable... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...The Inspector insists that Eric wait his turn. Sheila provokes her mother, “You see?” but Mrs. Birling doesn’t understand. (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...that at the moment he noticed her she was being harassed by Old Joe Meggarty. Mrs. Birling bristles at the idea that Gerald is speaking of Alderman Meggarty, whom she had always... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling announces that it seems they’ve almost reached the end of it, but Gerald interrupts that... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Inspector shows the photograph to Mrs. Birling , who denies recognizing it. The Inspector accuses her of lying. Birling demands that the... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...about whether Gerald has returned or Eric has left. The Inspector continues his interrogation of Mrs. Birling by identifying her as a prominent member of the Brumley Women’s Charity Organization. He asks... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Inspector asks Mrs. Birling why the girl wanted help, and Mrs. Birling initially refuses to answer, determined not to... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...but that she didn’t want to take it because it was stolen. The Inspector asks Mrs. Birling if it wasn’t a good thing that the girl refused to take the money. She... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...the Inspector voices his eagerness for Eric’s return. When the door slams, signifying Eric’s return, Mrs. Birling finally understands and asks the Inspector if her son is all mixed up in this.... (full context)
Act 3
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...girl into trouble. Eric bitterly accuses his mother of making it difficult for him, and Mrs. Birling defends that she couldn’t have known the man in question was him, as he’s not... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...the fifty pounds came from, Eric confesses that he took it from his father’s office. Mrs. Birling enters again, curious, and her husband informs her of both of the son’s wrongdoings—impregnating the... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...him afterward, but then he asks how the Inspector had known that. Sheila reveals that Mrs. Birling sat on the committee that assessed the girl’s need for aid. Eric turns to his... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Sheila is left crying, Mrs. Birling is collapsed in a chair, Eric is brooding, and Birling pours himself a drink and... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Mrs. Birling reminds her family that she was the only one who didn’t give in to him,... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...he’s taken too much interest, and Sheila joins him in this sentiment. Mr. Birling and Mrs. Birling voice their desire to “behave sensibly” in the circumstance, but their children rebut that they... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald asks what happened after he’d left. Mrs. Birling recounts that the Inspector accused her of seeing Eva Smith only two weeks previous, and... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Gerald, Mr. Birling, and Mrs. Birling relax at this news and pour themselves a drink. Sheila refuses to celebrate, and continues... (full context)