An Inspector Calls' Key Quotes (Mrs Birling ("I don’t think you…
An Inspector Calls' Key Quotes
"I don’t think you ought to talk business on an occasion like this."
Mrs Birling, being of a higher social class, understands the rules of pre-war
etiquette (custom behaviour)
very well. She
scolds (tells off)
her husband for discussing business at the dinner table, when they are celebrating and her daughter is present.
Mrs Birling is obsessed with how she and her family are perceived by others – she does not want to risk Gerald thinking that they do not know how to behave properly in society because this could damage the Birlings’ reputation.
She also disapproves of Mr Birling mentioning business matters in front of Sheila. This is because it was not considered appropriate to discuss business with women, who were thought to be too fragile, unintelligent and emotionally unstable to take part in such conversations.
"It would be much better if Sheila didn’t listen to this story at all."
Mrs Birling focuses on how her family should behave around other people – she feels that Sheila should not be exposed to the nasty reality of the tale of Eva Smith.
She tries to protect Sheila from the harsh truths of life.
This suggests that the upper class did their best to avoid recognising the hardships of working-class people – these harsh truths are considered inappropriate for Sheila to hear. Mrs Birling is happy for Eva Smith (who was around the same age) to experience them first-hand – because she is lower-class.
"I was the only one who didn’t give in to him."
Mrs Birling views it as a victory that she did not accept any of the blame the Inspector tried to lay at her feet. She is almost smug in this statement because she mocks the others for answering Inspector Goole’s questions truthfully. In some cases, she mocks people for feeling the guilt he was trying to get out of them. Again, this emphasises her selfish, uncaring and cold nature.
"Is there any reason why my wife should answer questions from you, Inspector?"
This quotation highlights Mr Birling as the patriarchal head of his household. Mr Birling assumes a protective role over his wife. He tries to defend her while treating her as if she cannot defend herself. This power struggle returns between the two men, while Mrs Birling is not directly addressed, even though the conversation is about her.
Alternatively, this could be more about Birling highlighting his expectations as a member of the upper-middle class – he does not feel that the Inspector’s questions deserve any sort of response from his upper-class wife. He feels that she is above this interrogation. The tone of this seems quite
condescending (having or showing an attitude of patronising superiority)
on Birling’s part and is designed to put the Inspector in his place. Mrs Birling will not even respond to him herself because he is beneath her.
"Well, it’s my duty to keep labour costs down, and if I’d agreed to this demand for a new rate we’d have added about twelve per cent to our labour costs."
Mr Birling is used to show the capitalist viewpoint throughout the play. His primary aim is to succeed in business, and so he cares about money more so than people. He argues with Inspector Goole that he could not have raised Eva Smith and the others’ wages, as he needs to run his business effectively – he needs to make as much money as possible, which he cannot do if he pays the workers more. This highlights the selfishness of capitalism. Capitalism was designed to reward the business owners, not those actually doing the work.
"You! You don’t seem to care about anything. But I care. I was almost certain for a knighthood in the next Honours List."
Mr Birling exclaims this at Eric.
The irony here is clear – Mr Birling repeatedly says that Eric doesn’t care about anything; in reality, it is Mr Birling who does not care about anyone but himself.
Mr Birling uses the second-person pronoun
to verbally attack his son and show how he is separating Eric’s ideas from his own – they have become
, two very different people who have completely opposite ideas about life. Eric wants the family to take responsibility for their actions and think of other people, while Birling is obsessed with his reputation and is desperate to get his knighthood. This shows a huge crack in the façade of the Birling family.
[Not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive].
Eric is immediately described as someone who is uncomfortable as part of the Birling family. This separates him from them straight away. He seems to be shy and unsure around his own family, which suggests there are cracks in their family relationships straight away.
His parents think of him as a child, and do not take him seriously – he feels like he cannot be himself around them. This adds to the idea that upper-class families present fake images to protect their reputations.
"Why shouldn’t they try for higher wages?"
Eric is the first one to suggest that lower-class people should be treated better (despite him treating Eva so poorly). It is obvious why Eric and his parents do not share a close relationship - their personalities are so different, and Eric obviously leans more towards socialism than capitalism. This could be why he is so uncomfortable being in their company. He seems to be tired of their judgements around lower-class people and seems to be the most socially aware member of the family at the start of the play.
He openly contradicts his father in front of people – a serious social
faux pas (mistake or not polite)
at this time.
"I don’t give a damn."
Eric openly, and loudly, dismisses his father in front of his entire family and Gerald. He shows that he does not respect his father at all, which leaves the audience wondering what their relationship will be like after the play finishes. Eric is tired of his parents taking no responsibility for their actions and is fed up of Mr Birling’s obsession with his knighthood and himself. This line shows the breaking point in Eric’s relationship with his parents.
"I think my father would agree to that, too."
Gerald shows how similar his family’s beliefs are to the Birlings’ beliefs that the upper-class business owners should have lower costs and higher prices. Of course, the actual workers would see none of this increased profit. This presents Gerald as an
entitled (feels he deserves special treatment)
, wealthy, an upper-classman with no social responsibility – he agrees with the capitalist ideals, as does his father.
This also shows the audience that Gerald is on the villainous side of the story at the start – he does not care about individuals.
"I didn’t feel about her as she felt about me."
Gerald openly admits that he did not really have feelings for Eva, but used her for a sexual relationship and kept her as his mistress. Priestley does this to show how upper-class people would take what they wanted, regardless of the impact on others, or the emotional
it could take.
Gerald does not regret his actions, or truly feel sorry for how he treated Eva. Instead, he sees himself as heroic because he rescued Eva and gave her money.
‘What about this ring?’
Even though Sheila changes dramatically in the play, and breaks her engagement to Gerald because she feels that she does not know him, Gerald proves that he has not changed at all by the end. He offers Sheila the engagement ring back, suggesting that he wants to forget about everything that happened (the affair) and go on with their lives as normal. He expects Sheila to agree and pretend that the whole
ordeal (unpleasant experience)
with Inspector Goole has not happened. This also proves that he has not learnt anything from the story.
"Mummy – isn’t it a beauty?"
As the play opens, Sheila plays the stereotypical young, pre-war, higher-class woman whose role is to marry well and produce children. She is excited to be marrying a good-looking, wealthy man and shows off her expensive engagement ring.
She uses the noun
when talking to her mother – this language suggests that she is quite child-like at the start of the play. That she feels like she needs to show off her ring also suggests she is childish. Priestley uses this to highlight how much she changes later on.
"Mother, I think that was cruel and vile."
By Act 2,
in Sheila’s eyes. She has shifted from her initial child-like behaviour to telling off her mother and openly disagreeing with her. This was completely unacceptable in pre-war etiquette. This suggests that she is so upset and angry that she is happy to break social rules at this point.
Her using the more formal word
suggests that she is annoyed with Mrs Birling and that she refuses to be viewed as a child at this point. She may no longer feel a sense of closeness with her mother. Her
illusions (false images)
of her parents have been shattered by the Inspector’s interrogation; her parents are not who she thought they were.
"It frightens me the way you talk."
Sheila becomes more socially aware and more upset by the family’s actions as the play goes on. By the end of Act 3, she openly admits to Mr Birling that his and Mrs Birling’s attitudes are scaring her because they refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong.
She worries that her parents have not learnt anything, and so could do the same thing again and cause the death of another person.
She feels helpless because she cannot convince her parents to reconsider their attitudes.
"A chain of events."
Inspector Goole shows that, while a single action might not have dire results, the build-up of a series of bad events (caused by the Birlings and Gerald) can ultimately lead a young girl to suicide. In this way, Priestley encourages the audience, and the characters, to think about the role they play in other people’s lives. He encourages them to think carefully about the dangerous effect their actions can have if they do not think of others and abuse their power.
"And you think young women ought to be protected against unpleasant things?"
This is a direct reference to Gerald’s mistreatment of Eva Smith. Inspector Goole uses this opportunity to highlight the
hypocritical (act in the opposite way to their beliefs)
nature of the upper classes – they want to protect their own, fragile, innocent women, but they feel it is acceptable to use lower-class women for their own enjoyments.
While Mr Birling and Gerald try to protect Sheila from hearing ‘unpleasant things’, neither of them feel the need to protect Eva from them. Gerald did protect her for a while, but he kept her as a mistress and then discarded her. This is something that upper-class men would not think to do to upper-class women because they’d have too much respect for them.
"The time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish."
Priestley uses the Inspector to warn the Birlings and Gerald of the consequences of their selfish attitudes – if they do not begin to take some responsibility for other people, including the lower classes, then society will face
He is referring to World War One and Two here, which his 1946 audience would have lived through. This could be designed to show audiences the real cause of the wars: selfishness and greed. This would deepen their dislike of Mr Birling, Mrs Birling and Gerald. In the next part of this act, they completely ignore this warning and begin to act selfishly once more.