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Birling is described as a “heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties with fairly easy manners but rather provincial in his speech. ” As is later seen in the play Birling is quite an arrogant man and regards himself as much more important than he actually is. Mrs Birling is “about fifty, a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior. ” Just as Birling knows his superiors include Sir George Croft, Mrs Birling is one too. She is clearly a snob and is always defending her family honour and their status.
Both Mr and Mrs Birling suffer from being overly proud of their family, and because of this their anger towards the inspector causes them to blurt out incidents that further open up the story. Sheila is described in the beginning as “A pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited”; once the inspector arrives we see how Sheila is quite emotional and concerned about Eva, and then she is then horrified to find out that Eva was the girl who she was so jealous of at the department store.
Sheila becomes quite angry with her parents and Gerald as the story unravels, showing how she is much more considerate than other family members. Gerald and Eric, although quite different in many ways, both have a sexual desire. Gerald, described as “an attractive chap about thirty, rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy well-bred man-about-town”, is considerably higher class than the Birlings, so they treat him with a large amount of respect. Because Gerald is also quite arrogant and proud, by the end of the play he has gained no sense of moral for the loss of Eva Smith.
Eric on the other hand is aware of his responsibility although in the beginning he seems quite lazy (sloth) and immature. With all the characters and their traits there is some relation to the seven sins: Pride, envy, gluttony, sloth, anger, lust and greed. This is a theme in the play that plays on the audience’s mind, much like other themes; this trait sticks with the character and later on the audience can see these more and more. However Sheila and Eric seem to lose these traits, showing their separation between Mr and Mrs Birling and Eric.
This is because of Eric and Sheila’s social responsibilities, and their realisation that what they did was wrong. The exit of Eric brings about an opportunity for Birling to talk to Gerald ‘man-to-man’ where he brings up the possibility of him being on “the next Honours List”, which seems to impress Gerald. This, to Birling, is a very big occasion and even though it is not definite he feels he must tell Gerald, as his father is also a ‘Sir’. This information is only exchanged with Gerald, as Birling is barely confident that he will receive a knighthood, he just wants to boast in front of his future son-in-law.
When Eric re-enters Gerald and Birling are laughing but they do not share the joke with Eric, “Eric: What’s the joke? Started telling stories? Birling: No. “, they feel he is not man enough to be brought into the conversation they are having. This exit signifies how Eric is seemingly not mature enough to be in a man-to-man conversation, even though later we find Eric to be much more responsible than he was initially thought, as he ‘borrows’ money from his father to support Eva and her baby.
The other example of Eric seemingly being immature is when there is talk about ‘not knowing what the young ones get up to these days’, this shows just how the family single out the youngest, ageism, and believe him to be doing bad things just because of his age. In some ways the family is right because Eric has done some bad things but the fact they stereotype and think badly of the young shows their narrow mindedness.