She is described as "about
fifty, a rather cold woman".
Many regard her as the least sympathetic character in the play.
Snobbish and blind to her own family's faults she refused to give help to Daisy
Renton, the final link in the "chain of events", which lead to the terrible tragic death.
Speaks in a very aristocratic manor showing she is a member of the bourgeoisie, she also does this to show
she is of a higher class, even higher than her husband, telling the servant, Edna: "I'll ring when we want coffee".
She is a snob, very aware of the differences between social classes. She is
irritated when Mr Birling makes the social gaffe of praising the cook in front
of Gerald and later is very dismissive of Eva, saying "Girls of that class".
Priestley's use of Mrs Birling
Priestley cleverly links the play with the seven deadly sins. As the majority of his audience was Christian at the time and the seven deadly sins were part of Christian teachings, they would find it
easy to relate to the seven deadly sins. Each character is linked with one of the sins. Mrs Birling represents wrath as she is angry at Eva Smith for using her name, in what she thinks is a spiteful
way. Mrs Birling’s also represents pride; if she hadn’t been so proud and felt so outraged when Eva used her name, she wouldn’t have contributed to her death. The strong correlation towards
the seven deadly sins clearly helps the Christian audience at the time to understand that each of the characters did things that could happen in everyday life and that these things are wrong.
Mrs Birling felt she had not done anything wrong and that she had done “no more than her duty”. This suggests that Priestley
is saying the direction that society is currently heading towards, will not be changed by the older members of society.
She sees the lower class as morally inferior – Priestley hated this kind of attitude and
believed that people with these attitudes had to change if society was going to improve.
Priestley demonstrates why people like Mrs Birling should't be in charge of charities as they make bias and wrong
decisions and lack any concern for others. Mrs Birling seems only to be in a charity to assert her social superiority.
Priestley represents Mrs Birling, as a very posh and high class woman. She, like her husband, can be very self-important, for example, when
the Inspector says, "You're not telling me the truth" and she replies, "I beg your pardon!" She seems horrified that somebody could speak
like that to a lady of her class. This is not only an example of how she is portrayed as self-important but also how class-conscious she is.
Social Standing within...
Although the early 20th Century was a very Patriarchal society, Mrs Bilring is still
"her husband's social superior": "Arthur, you’re not supposed to say such things".
Traditional views of woman as she tells Sheila to accept the fact that men must
talk about business... she goes out of the room so can "leave you men" as if women
cannot think. This also shows the deep gender boundaries in society at the time.
Treats Sheila like a small child and doesn't know
her son, Eric, is an alcoholic, saying: "he's only a boy".
No bond with children
She is a very prominent member as "chair" of of the local charity doing "a great deal of
useful work in helping deserving cases. However she lacks in both compassion and remorse.
Even though she is "her husbands social superior", in a male dominated society she is still expected to
know her place as a woman. She upholds this gender hierarchy by telling Sheila to "leave the men".
She exploits her power and control as "chair" of the committee as
she "used some of my influence to have it (Daisy's case) refused.
Inspector's Interrogation & Eva Smith/Daisy Renton
She turns Daisy away as she was not a "deserving case" and was very angry of the "gross impertinence" of
Daisy calling herself "Mrs Birling". According to her, Daisy didn't seem humble/thankful enough to receive help.
She has the least respect for the Inspector of all the characters. She tries, unsuccessfully, to intimidate him and
force him to leave, then lies to him when she claims that she does not recognise the photograph that he shows her.
She tries to deny things that she doesn't want to believe: Eric's drinking, Gerald's affair with Eva, and the fact that
a working class girl would refuse money even if it was stolen, claiming "She was giving herself ridiculous airs".
Like her husband, Sybil is delighted that the inspector was a "hoax". She says Eric and Sheila are
"overtired", again treating them like children and also tells Sheila that life can go on as before.
She is a liar. When first presented with the photograph of Eva Smith, she pretends not to recognise her and her dismissal
of her in terms of ‘a girl of her sort’ and ‘a girl of her position’ highlight her lack of compassion and social prejudice.
Daisy's death led to the simultaneous death of her Grandchild, although this seems
to have some effect on her she still seems distant and unemotional from the fact.
She appears to also have the least remorse for Daisy, repeatedly saying "she only had herself to blame".
This unabridged lack of remorse may be why the Inspector goes on to treat her so heavy-handedly.
She accuses the father of the child (Eric), "If the girl's death is due to anybody, it's due to him" before she realises she's condemning her own son.