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We are led to believe at the beginning of the play that the dinner we are witnessing contains the elite of society at the time. Gerald Croft is the son of Lady Croft, and he is joining the Birling household as he is engaged to Sheila Birling. Mr Birling indicates to Gerald that he too will be receiving a knighthood soon.
We are sceptical of Birling's understanding of society, however, as he makes assertions about the future which we know to be misguided-
BIRLING:The Germans don't want wa. Nobody wants war, except sone half-civilised folks in the Balkans....I'm talking as a hard-headed practical man of business. And I say there isn't a chance of war...There'll be peace and prosperity and rapid progess everwhwere.
Birling and his contemporaries hold the balance of power in the UK, and yet he seems hopelessly ignorant. His values are also selfish and insular -
BIRLING: ...a man has to mind his own business and look after himself and his own.
Birling believes that his power and influence should have a bearing on the way he is treated by the inspector-
BIRLING: I was an alderman for years - and Lord Mayor two years ago - and I'm still on the Bench...
However we see that the inspector does control the investigation in who he interrogates and who he shows the girl's picture to-
INSPECTOR: You heard what i said before,Mr Croft. One line of inquiry at a time.
By the end of Act 1 at least Sheila has realised that they are all in the control of the inspector, and that their past indiscretions will all soon be laid bare-
SHEILA:Why - you fool he knows. Of course he knows. And I hate to think how much he knows that we don't know yet.
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