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Friday, September 24, 2021

Eric Birling-Character Analysis | An Inspector Calls

J.B. Priestley’s three-act play “An Inspector Calls” deals with the theme of social responsibility and it unveils the hollowness and hypocrisy of modern age. The rich and sophisticated members of the Birling family do not bother about the other people and exploit them. Eric Birling, son of Arthur Birling belongs to this class. The play “An Inspector Calls” reflects artificiality and hypocrisy under which such people hide their irresponsible acts.

Eric Birling-Character Analysis | An Inspector Calls
Eric Birling-Character Analysis 


The same has been exposed by Priestley through an enquiry, Inspector Goole holds with the characters one by one in the play. It also comments on the materialistic and capitalist point of view of the Birlings and the socialist principles of Inspector Goole. The playwright wants to show adverse effect of irresponsible behaviour of the upper strata of society which becomes main cause for the tragedy of a working class girl, Eva Smith.

Role of Eric Birling in 'An Inspector Calls'  

Eric Birling is one of the reckless and irresponsible characters in the play. He is in his twenties and behaves in an indifferent manner. Eric has nothing to bother about and vile away the time and money in enjoying luxuries of life. His mother, Sybil Birling has wrong estimate of him and considers Eric good and virtuous. 

Actually Eric is good for nothing fellow and his addiction to liquor and enjoyment reflects Eric’s own idea of happiness. Eric’s sister Sheila Birling knows about his addiction whereas Arthur and Sybil Birling connives at his addiction to liquor. 

Probably Eric gets addicted to liquor due to his exploitation of Eva Smith and his guilty conscience troubles him and makes him realise his true nature. He goes to his room in order to get some more liquor so that he can confess his crime.       

It appears form Eric’s dialogues that he has sympathy for the poor. Inspector Goole discloses the tragedy of Eva Smith and the way she has been treated by the Birling family. Eric remarks, ‘I would have let her stay’, clearly reflect that he is quite sympathetic to the poor. But it is probably because Eva was pretty and beautiful. 

Therefore, Eric wanted his parents to offer shelter to that miserable girl. He has no true love for Eva and knows how to take undue advantage of her sorry state. Eric offers Eva some amount of money which he stole from his house and pretends to share the misfortune. But his intention is only to exploit the opportunity. He does not help Eva as a pact of social responsibility. 

The only difference is in the fact that he is not ashamed of his behaviour. He expects the same. He confesses his share in Eva’s misfortune because it has been exposed. There is neither realisation nor repentance on the part of Eric. 

Though he does not approve treatment given to Eva Smith by his parents, he does not oppose them strongly. It is because he is not selfless, on the other hand he is an opportunist who takes advantage of Eva’s poor state. 

Eric has no courage to accept reality and face the challenges. He wants to run away from social responsibility. This shows his lack of confidence. Eric makes Eva sleep with him by offering her money and forms an illicit relationship with her. 

In the end Eric confesses his ugly part in the tragedy of Eva Smith. But as soon as the Inspector departs, he falls back on the old ways. Thus Eric Birling appears to be a spoilt son of a wealthy industrialist who has nothing to do of his own but to enjoy and relish life in all the possible ways.   

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