Discuss the Character of Mr. Birling and the Values He Represents in Act 1

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When the play begins, we are introduced to the dining room of a “fairly large suburban house, belonging to a prosperous manufacturer’, Mr. Birling. The room is described as being “heavily comfortable but not cozy and homelike”, suggesting that it is more like a showroom that exhibits wealth and social status, almost like a picture in a magazine. This is a very special occasion for the Birlings, because they are celebrating the engagement of their daughter, Sheila Birling, to Gerald Croft, a well-bred young man from another aristocratic family of an even higher class. There are port glasses on the table and the men are in “tails and white ties”, their evening dress, rigid rituals done to prove social rank to Gerald. The lighting is “rink and intimate”, conveying an idealistic, almost fantasy scene. Mr. Birling is described to be a “heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties”. He has “fairly easy manners” but is “rather provincial in his speech”, suggesting that he was not born into wealth and that he had to work very hard to earn money and his social status, which is why he has an accent. He is quite naïve about how to conduct himself and talk in a respectable way that is humble but still shows he is high-class. He goes too far trying to impress Gerald, and is a little tacky. He refers to the port they are drinking and points out that it is “exactly the same port [Gerald’s] father gets”, and brags about the dinner his cook has prepared. Being a self-made businessman, Mr. Birling believes strongly in individualism and has a Capitalist ideology. He says “a man has to make his own way-he has to look after himself-and his family too, ofcourse, when he has one- and so long as he does he won’t come to much harm”. He is against the idea of community, and makes that very clear when he says, “you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive- community and all that nonsense.” We can tell that he...
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