Mr Birling and Gerald also seem to be suspicious of Eric, which becomes apparent when the inspector is announced, “Eric has been up to something”. Eric becomes angry asking, “Here, what do you mean” and Gerald lightly replies, “only something we were talking about when you were out. A joke really”. When Eric uneasily states that he doesn’t find it “very funny”, Mr Birling sharply stares at him asking him what’s the matter with him. This is an example of Mr Birling preferring Gerald over Eric, as he doesn’t defend Eric, instead giving him sharp stares.
On the other hand, it is quite clear to see that Mr Birling not only regards Gerald as an equal but also as someone who is above him as shown by Mr Birling trying to constantly impress him. “It’s the same port your father gets” is an example of this. Also when Mr Birling and Gerald talk to Eric they share confidential nods and speak to each other rather humorously as friends do yet when Mr Birling speaks to Eric, he only seems to lecture him showing no love. The triangle of power is quite clear to see with Mr Birling being at the top of the triangle as shown when he “lectures” Gerald and Eric whom he refers to as “two young fellows”.
Gerald and Eric are below Mr Birling in the triangle of power with Gerald being placed higher than Eric. So far in the play, the audience have a clear impression of each character. Mr Birling is a selfish and rather pompous man whom believes that he is right about everything. This is shown when he ironically lectures the family about how there isn’t a chance of war and how the world is going forward with new ships like the Titanic being built, which he hails as “unsinkable”.
Ironically we know that the Titanic did sink and that there was a world war showing that Mr Birling was actually wrong. Also Mr Birling believes that it is everyman for himself and that he doesn’t believe in helping other people, “community and all that nonsense”. Instead Mr Birling thinks that a “man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own”. This shows that Mr Birling is self-centred and selfish, yet there is a nice caring side as shown when he jokes around cheerfully with Sheila and Gerald- “Here, I’m not a purple faced old man”.
Gerald seems to be a nice and caring young man who is also very polite as shown when he gets embarrassed when Mr Birling talks to Gerald about how his family feels that he “could have done better for himself socially”. He also seems to have a good humour yet there is something about “last summer” when he never came near Sheila that leaves us wondering what he was doing. The fact that he got a little angry and annoyed when Sheila didn’t answer him shows that he had a guilty conscience and must have done something quite unruly last summer.
Sheila comes across as a carefree and caring young woman who has a good sense of humour as shown when she jokes around with her dad and Gerald at the beginning. But there is something obviously on her mind, which she allows the audience to get a hint of when she tells Gerald that she doesn’t believe him when he says that he “was busy at the works”. Yet in spite of this it is clear to see that Sheila is in love with Gerald as shown when she gets very emotional when Gerald presents Sheila with her engagement ring. Sheila’s mother on the other hand is a rather cold woman, who seems to be fake.
She gets somewhat embarrassed when Mr Birling tells Edna to “tell cook from me” that it was a “good dinner”. The upper classes never acknowledged their staff and for Mr Birling to do this shows how lacking in breeding he really is. Mrs Birling gets a little flustered and this shows how superficial she is. Eric is the only character that remains a little mysterious. He gives the impression that he is unhappy yet he seems to joke around a lot -“steady the buffs”. He is hiding something as shown when he tells Mr Birling “I remember” yet when, asked what, he replies “nothing” in a rather confused tone.
Gerald quite rightly states that it “sounds a bit fishy to me”. Eric can’t decide whether or not he is happy or sad, confident or shy. There is something obviously in his past that troubles him. J. B. Priestley makes good use of irony throughout the play. This is the case when the inspector calls, as Mr Birling is just finishing his speech ” By the way some of these cranks talk… you’d think everybody has to look after everybody else… communities and all that nonsense”. This is ironic as the inspector has the exact opposite views to Mr Birling, which we will find out as the play goes on.
The inspector is announced as Inspector Goole, a man who although is not a big man at once “creates an impression of massiveness”. Inspector Goole is described as a “man in his fifties, dressed in plain darkish suit of the period”. Inspector Goole seems to be a very intense man who makes people uncomfortable by his hard stares. Also his name which is ‘Goole’ is rather weird and mystifying, which is probably the effect J B Priestley wanted as he made it sound the same as ‘ghoul’, a type of mystifying ghost.