Planning your answer
Before beginning an answer, it is important that you plan it carefully. You must ensure that all the points you make are relevant to the question and that you are addressing the assessment objectives.
Below is a structure you could use for your answer:
- Introduction - show you know where the extract is from.
- Who is Mr Birling?
- Point 1 - How is he presented in this extract?
- Point 2 - What ideas does he represent?
- Point 3 - How is he presented in the rest of the play? Does he change?
- Conclusion - sum up your main ideas.
Consider how Mr Birling is presented in the extract and the ideas he represents.
Sample answer 1
In this extract Mr Birling is shown as being ignorant; he makes a joke out of young peoples' behaviour, suggesting "you don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays" but he does not know that his own son has been drinking heavily and mistreating Eva Smith. Mr Birling also shows that he is very arrogant, stating that "a man has to make his own way - has to look after himself" showing that Mr Birling believes that everyone should look after themselves. J B Priestley did not believe this. He thought we should look after one another. Finally, Mr Birling shows that he can be quite sexist. After talking to Eric and Gerald, he says that they will "join the ladies. That'll stop me giving you good advice". Mr Birling sees men and women as being two separate species: the advice he gives is only good for the men that he is with. This shows that he does not see men and women as equal.
Feedback - good but could be improved
- This answers the question but there could definitely be further exploration.
- There are good quotations chosen but they explain their impact rather than explore them. They could consider the impact on the audience further.
- Some of the writer's ideas are mentioned but there is not enough detail. Ideas on age, social responsibility or context of the play are not mentioned.
Sample answer 2
Priestley presents Mr Birling in a negative light in this extract. Priestley does this by showing Mr Birling's ignorance when he says that they "don't know what some of these boys get up to nowadays." He is joking here about the behaviour of young men, but he has no idea that his own son has a drink problem, has stolen money from him and has had an affair that resulted in an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps Priestley is making a point about gender and age, that older male role models do not take the excesses of younger men as seriously as they should. This lack of understanding between the generations is reflected again when Mr Birling states that "so many of you don't seem to understand now". Mr Birling again shows his ignorance, referring to young men as 'you', putting them all together in one group and not seeing them as individuals. Mr Birling’s ideas about social responsibility are summed up when he tells Eric and Gerald that is “a man has to make his own way – has to look after himself”. Here Priestley presents in a very obvious way Mr Birling’s selfish outlook and lack of concern for others, highlighting one of his key ideas in the play, that of social responsibility. Mr Birling doesn’t agree with the idea that we should look after one another “like bees in a hive”; Priestley strongly disagreed with this idea and used the play to try to convince the audience of the time that they should care for the needy, not just ignore them. It is interesting to note that whilst Mr Birling is in the middle of his speech, suggesting that a man should "look after himself and his own-and-", he is interrupted by the 'sharp ring' of the doorbell. This signals the arrival of the Inspector. The ring of the doorbell at this moment could be a suggestion by Priestley that it signals the arrival of a character who has the power to interrupt Mr Birling and to challenge his arrogant assumptions.
Feedback - much better!
- This answer shows a good understanding of the question. The response is clear, thoughtful and evaluative.
- The quotes are explored in detail, considering the impact of specific words. The impact on the audience could be looked at more.
- The answer shows a clear understanding of the ideas that J B Priestley wanted to get across with this play and the points are explored fully. There could be a bit more detail around context - what were the issues at the time of writing?
Use the skills you have learnt and revised whilst reading this chapter and write your own response to An Inspector Calls. Time yourself and try to hit all the assessment objectives.
Mr Birling is a prominent character in the play and is a ‘heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners but rather provincial in his speech. ’ His physical appearance is similar to Winston Churchill; Priestly may be trying to prove a point here. Mr Birling is pleased with what he has achieved throughout his life, but his eagerness for being knighted is emphasised on page 8 as he mentions it twice and even says, ‘I gather there’s a very good chance of a knighthood,’ (Heinemann Plays Edition).
This shows the reader how boastful Mr Birling is and how he likes to brag about his status. Also, he states, ‘it’s exactly the same port your father gets from him,’ whilst talking to Gerald, to indicate he is on similar levels or the same class as Gerald’s father. Gerald’s father is Sir George Croft of Crofts Limited. On page 13, Birling says, ‘the son of Sir George Croft – you know, Crofts Limited. ’ This shows the Crofts are well known, as the words ‘you know’ imply, ‘you must have heard of them before’.
It also shows how Birling is trying to show off to the Inspector by showing family connections. From this, we know Mr Birling cares for only his social status and wealth. His manners are somewhat complex. Throughout the play, his mood changes many times. Towards Gerald, he displays an energetic and conceited attitude, mentioning the Honours List and the Companies. We can clearly understand his intention is to impress Gerald. On the contrary, his attitude towards the Inspector is significantly different.
He attempted to frighten the Inspector with threats, such as, ‘I was an alderman for years – and Lord Mayor two years ago – and I’m still on the Bench – so I know the Brumley police officers pretty well…’ By stating these facts, Mr Birling immediately shows who has the upper hand, but is at unease by the casual reply of the Inspector, ‘Quite so. ’ The Inspector’s calm tone shows he isn’t affected by these facts and is confident with what he has to say. We know now the Inspector isn’t here to play games.
Birling’s attitude towards Eva Smith’s death also interests us because it is the exact opposite of Eric’s and Sheila’s. Eric has the immediate reaction of, ‘My God! ’ His stage direction is involuntarily, showing us he wanted to keep his reaction inside, in the event he exposes something clandestine. Sheila’s reaction is less instant, as she pauses for a moment to take it all in then express herself, ‘Oh – how horrible! ’ However, both of Birling’s children have a similar response. Birling initial reaction was, ‘Yes, yes. Horrid business. ’
The stage direction, rather impatiently’ tells us he could not care less, which portrays him as a cold individual. This also tells us he does not want to be involved with a ‘country-bred’ as he feels he is much more worthy. Mr Birling’s relationship with his son is tense. On page 9, Eric jumps into a conversation between Gerald and Birling. The stage direction is to say it eagerly, ‘Yes, I remember. ’ The word ‘eagerly’ suggests he wants to be recognised/realised by his own father.
This makes us feel he has not been accepted as someone who can deal with their own issues, by Birling. His intention to seem mature and talk in an adult conversation backfired, which made him seem foolish when he couldn’t answer Birling’s question. Birling embarrassing Eric in the company of Gerald also suggests the fact that, Birling thinks nothing of Eric, but a mere jester, to use as a tool. Sheila and Birling do not have a relationship as intense as Eric’s, but rather the contradictory.
Birling is happy with his daughter’s marriage and when Sheila hands the engagement ring back to Gerald, he steps in and says, ‘you must understand that a lot of young men…’ in an attempt to bring them back together, not for their sake but for the merging of the Companies and doesn’t want to risk losing his chance to make a close connection with the Crofts. He takes no particular interest in his daughter’s happiness, except for, ‘She’ll make you happy and I’m sure you’ll make her happy,’ and ‘Here’s wishing the pair of you the very best that life can bring.
Then carries on talking about business, ‘Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now. ’ This upsets Sheila and she agrees with her mother, Mrs Cybil Birling, who thinks Birling shouldn’t ‘talk business on an occasion like this. ’ From this, we can deduce the fact that, Mr birling thinks more of his business than he does of his daughter’s wedding. The aspect given to us, at the beginning, was Mr Birling was a kind-hearted and welcoming man. Later on through the play, his inner self was shown and he was displayed as ignorant and selfish.