J. B. Priestly presents Arthur Birling as a self obsessed, work oriented “hard-headed business man” in Act 1. The stage directions describe him as a “heavy-looking, rather portentous man” giving an impression that he looks rather threatening. He is very traditional and speaks formally, even around his family. He has worked hard to raise himself up the social ladder and is proud to think that he’s going to be knighted.
Even at his daughter’s engagement party, Birling’s head is still wrapped around business and this is evidently shown when he says “Your father and I have been friendly rivals in business for some time now…. and now you’ve brought us together, and perhaps we may look forward to the time when Crofts and Birlings are no longer competing…. ” He also states that the party is “one of the happiest nights of my life” but this could have a double meaning for not only is Sheila getting married, but it can be seen as a business opportunity.
These quotes show that Birling is very work oriented and uses Sheila’s marriage for his own selfish reasons. As well as being selfish, Birling is rather overconfident in his opinions. His mistaken view of the “unsinkable Titanic” is an example of dramatic irony. This is ironic as the Titanic actually sank but only the audience is aware of this. Another example of the use of dramatic irony is when Birling says “The Germans don’t want war. Nobody wants war…..
I say there isn’t a chance of war” This is also ironic as two years after this play was set, WWI began, followed by another. Priestly uses this device, in this sense to show how foolish and naïve Birling is and therefore the audience will begin to question his other views. As he is talking to Eric, he says “You’ve got a lot to learn yet” suggesting that Birling thinks he knows more than others. We can tell that he likes the sound of his own voice, when he says “Just let me finish, Eric. It implies that he doesn’t want to hear anyone else’s opinions but wants other to hear his.
His egotistical personality includes Birling’s ignorance of social responsibility. “Still, I can’t accept any responsibility. If we were all responsible for everything that happened to everybody we’d had anything to do with, it would be very awkward, wouldn’t it? ” This shows us how selfish and self centered Birling can be. “…. a man has to mind his own business” This quote tells us that Birling opposes to socialism and he shows this throughout the whole of Act I.