An Inspector Calls

Arthur Birling Character Analysis

Arthur Birling is introduced as a “fairly prosperous” manufacturer and a family man with a wife and two children, Sheila and Eric. He is large-bodied and middle aged, with easy manners and provincial speech. Birling is identified by the Inspector as the initiator of Eva Smith’s downfall: he refused her request for a raise in his factory and forced her to find work elsewhere. He is portrayed throughout the play as a fierce capitalist, who cares only for the prosperity of his own company—even at the sacrifice of his laborers’ well-being—and for the prospect of ever greater success. He further seems to care more for success than for his own children, as people. When, at the end of the play, the Birlings discover that the Inspector was a fraud and no suicide has taken place, Mr. Birling is triumphant and relieved that the revelations will not precipitate a social scandal. He is resistant to any lesson that might be gleaned from the Inspector’s interrogation, and remains unchanged by it.

Arthur Birling Quotes in An Inspector Calls

The An Inspector Calls quotes below are all either spoken by Arthur Birling or refer to Arthur 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 1 Quotes

There’s a good deal of silly talk about these days—but—and I speak as a hard-headed business man, who has to take risks and know what he’s about—I say, you can ignore all this silly pessimistic talk. When you marry, you’ll be marrying at a very good time.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker), Sheila, Gerald Croft
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tell you, by that time you’ll be living in a world that’ll have forgotten all these Capital versus Labor agitations and all these silly little war scares. There’ll be peace and prosperity and rapid progress everywhere.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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A man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—and his family, too, of course, when he has one—and so long as he does that he won’t come to much harm. But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker)
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

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If we are all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it?

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

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Birling: It’s a free country, I told them.
Eric: It isn’t if you can’t go and work somewhere else.

Related Characters: Arthur Birling (speaker), Eric (speaker), Eva Smith
Related Symbols: Eva Smith
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:

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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:

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Arthur Birling Character Timeline in An Inspector Calls

The timeline below shows where the character Arthur 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
Class Politics Theme Icon
The curtain lifts to reveal a family—the Birlings—and one non-family member, Gerald, sitting at the dining-room table. Edna, the maid, is cleaning the... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Mr. Birling opens the play by thanking Edna for the port she has brought out of the... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Birling encourages his wife to drink, reminding her that it is a special occasion. Edna takes... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
...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
...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
Class Politics Theme Icon
Birling rises to deliver the promised toast. He prefaces the speech by regretting that Gerald’s parents... (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
Birling mentions that there’s been a lot of “silly talk” around lately, but he encourages Gerald... (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
...port. He reports, dismissively, that he has left his mother and sister talking about clothes. Birling informs him that clothes mean more to women, because they function as a sign of... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Birling begins in again on his lecture. He tells Eric and Gerald that a man has... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that a police inspector by the name of Goole has called on an important matter. Birling instructs her to let him in, and jokes with Gerald that Eric has probably gotten... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
When Birling presses the Inspector on the reason for his appearance, he explains that he is investigating... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
At the Inspector’s prying, Birling admits that he does remember Eva Smith, and that he had discharged her from his... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Birling contests that he had nothing to do with the girl’s suicide, because her time at... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Eric chimes in with a reference to his father’s previous pep talk, and Birling explains to the Inspector that he had recently been giving Gerald and Eric some good... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
After the Inspector expresses allegiance with Eric’s disapproval, Birling inquires how well the Inspector knows Chief Constable. The Inspector replies that he doesn’t see... (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
...higher wages, and adds that in the same position, he would have let them stay. Birling chastises Eric, then asks the Inspector what happened to the girl after he let her... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
When Birling and Gerald chime in that there’s nothing more to be revealed, the Inspector asks if... (full context)
Class Politics Theme Icon
...than one name, and then tells them that, for the months following her dismissal from Birling’s, the girl was unemployed and downtrodden. He reminds the family that many young women are... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...and then sobs and leaves the room when the Inspector shows her the girl’s photograph. Birling scolds the Inspector for upsetting his daughter and their celebratory evening. (full context)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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
Birling enters and reports that Eric has refused to go to bed as his father asked... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
Birling takes offense at the Inspector’s tone and handling of the inquiry. The Inspector coolly proceeds... (full context)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...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)
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...who sat down to dinner, and that they would have to re-build their relationship anew. Birling tries to convince Sheila to be more reasonable, but Sheila replies that Gerald knows better... (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 Inspector... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
...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)
Wealth, Power, and Influence Theme Icon
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Mr. Birling asks why his wife should answer the Inspector’s questions, and the Inspector informs him that... (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
...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
...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
...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
When Mr. Birling asks where the fifty pounds came from, Eric confesses that he took it from his... (full context)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Public versus Private Theme Icon
...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
...responsible for the death of Eva Smith. He tells them to never forget it. Mr. Birling offers the Inspector a bribe of thousands of pounds, but the Inspector refuses it. (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
...happened. She then wonders aloud whether the Inspector wasn’t actually a police inspector at all. Birling judges that it would make a big difference if the Inspector had been a fake,... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
The Birling parents are very excited by this news, and Birling calls Chief Constable to verify that... (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
Birling demands that Eric, who is looking sulky, begin to take some interest in the matter.... (full context)
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
...significance—that Eva Smith is dead—may not even be a fact after all. He asks the Birlings how they know that they’ve all committed offenses to the same girl, suggesting that the... (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)
Blame and Responsibility Theme Icon
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Birling triumphantly continues to hypothesize that the Inspector simply shocked them into submission with his initial... (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... (full context)
Class Politics Theme Icon
Morality and Legality Theme Icon
Just as Birling begins to make fun of his overly serious children, the telephone rings. After Birling hangs... (full context)