How does Priestley present the Birling family in the play An Inspector Calls?

In An Inspector Calls, Priestley initially presents the Birlings as a solid, respectable family unit. As the play progresses, he reveals their hypocrisy and division, until it becomes clear that Eric and Sheila are completely estranged from their parents.

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In An Inspector Calls, J. B. Priestley reveals the true nature of the Birling family over the course of the play. Initially they seem to be a happy, prosperous, conventional family, headed by a pompous but essentially good-natured father. They are looking forward to Sheila Birling's wedding and to...

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In An Inspector Calls, J. B. Priestley reveals the true nature of the Birling family over the course of the play. Initially they seem to be a happy, prosperous, conventional family, headed by a pompous but essentially good-natured father. They are looking forward to Sheila Birling's wedding and to the social advancement of the family, and there is a cheerful atmosphere of celebration as they dine.

Under the spotlight of Inspector Goole's examination, this comfortable image falls apart. Arthur Birling is shown to be grasping and tyrannical, while his wife Sybil is revealed to be the worst kind of shallow religious hypocrite. It is Eric, who has always been the black sheep of the family, his drinking and dissipation quietly ignored, who turns out to be more conscientious and self-aware than his parents. His sister, Sheila, recognizes this and progresses from her initial shallow selfishness to share Eric's compassion.

The play ends with the Birling family split between the generations. Arthur and Sybil Birling are desperate to return to their former hypocrisy and concealment. Eric and Sheila see that this is impossible: whatever the legal state of affairs, they have undergone a moral transformation. Gerald Croft, who is much closer in age to Sheila and Eric, sides with the older generation, an alignment which underscores the impossibility of his marrying Sheila.

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