Arthur Birling is one of the principle characters in J.B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls. He is a fairly stereotypical factory owner in 1913. However, due to the way the play in constructed you can read a lot into his character, personality and views. He serves as Priestly playing devil’s advocate and so is often seen to be wrong, “It’s called the Titanic… unsinkable, absolutely unsinkable.”
Arthur Birling is most likely a self made man, he makes a brief reference to being worked hard as a young man, and kept short of cash in act one when talking to his son and soon to be son in law. He owns a factory or several factories in the fictional town of Brumly and is extremely proud of them. He takes the capitalist conservative view that a man has to make his own way and only look after himself and his family. He doesn’t have any concern for anyone but those who can affect his life, he considers it a free country where people can work where they like, he doesn’t seem to appreciate that people have reasons to stay in bad jobs, even though they don’t want to. He calls himself a “hard headed business man,” he probably thinks that he is tough but fair, in actual fact he is tough and selfish.
He clearly has some community status and is a politician of sorts. He was Lord Mayor of Brumly in 1910 and he’s still on the bench, he considers himself an authority on all matters, social and political. His daughter, Sheila, getting married to Gerald Croft is something he sees more as a business merger than a family event since Gerald is the son of Sir George Croft, a “friendly rival in business for some time now, though Crofts Limited are both older and bigger than Birling and company.
When the play begins there is a chance of a knighthood for him, something he deeply desires, he seems to believe that raising his social rank will impress others more than his actual achievements, in fact when the Eva Smith Issue is raised by the inspector he is only worried because of the scandal it could cause if it ever got out into the public eye. When it is revealed that his son, Eric, slept with the girl and ended up getting her pregnant, he is more annoyed at the fact that Eric had been supporting her using money he had stolen from the company.
He feels no guilt over his actions and believes that there was no real consequence of the girl’s death other than the fact it may hurt his social status. He remains adamant that his views on politics and socialism are correct.
In the experimental piece, “Birling,” Arthur’s company goes bust and he is forced to move into a small house and live as a worker in someone else’s business, it isn’t mentioned but it may be Crofts Limited. He develops a split personality and ends up going mad.