Sybil Birling
Quick revise

Question 1

How does Priestley present the character of Sybil Birling?


  • She is a very unsympathetic character and the stage directions reinforce this (about fifty; a rather cold woman and her husband’s social superior).
  • She is typical of her time in her prejudiced and class conscious manner.
  • She is off stage for most of Act 1 but when she does return she is represented as a heartless, compassionless woman who patronizes the Inspector and threatens him with her social connections.
  • She is blind to her son’s drinking or the behaviour of her husband’s associates, and her understated reaction to Gerald’s betrayal of his fiancee illustrates her high level of hypocrisy. She only sees what she wants to see; anything which offends her Edwardian sense of morality is ignored.
  • 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.
  • The Inspector arguably blames Mrs Birling the most for the death of Eva Smith but his accusations of heartlessness have no effect on her at all and shifts the blame to the man who made her pregnant, little knowing it is her own son.

Question 2

What has Mrs Birling learned by the end of the play?


  • Nothing. She feels she has done her duty and refuses to accept or acknowledge any responsibility.
  • She quickly joins in the cover up and arrogantly declares she was the ‘only one who didn’t give into’ the Inspector.
  • She is perhaps the most unsympathetic and uncharitable character in the play.
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