Eric Birling is in his early twenties, he is _‘half shy, half assertive’’. _In some aspects of life he lacks confidence yet he likes to question other people’s perspectives. His assertive behaviour is evident towards the end of the play, as it is clear that he is a very forceful character when he wants to be.
He has had a very affluent upbringing, because his family are wealthy. When he was young, he attended a prominent school. Eric is presented as somewhat of an outcast in the family, because of his poor work ethic and his habitual drinking.
As the play progresses, it is clear that, like Sheila, Eric is a malleable character. He is extremely guilty for his actions and sees the importance of change. He reflects socialist ideas, by deciding that he will not adopt his parents’ attitude.
Eric is the son of Mr and Mrs Birling. His mother is from a wealthy Middle Class family and his father is factory owner who is intent on climbing the social ladder. He works for his father in the family business, Birling and Company, and will be heir to the company in the future.
Eric does not have a close relationship with his father who seems to talk him down all the time.
There is a generation gap between Mr Birling and Eric which results in many instances of conflict. He doesn’t feel that he can approach his father and talk to him about his problems.
Although Sybil Birling seems to mollycoddle her son, she too is ignorant to his true feelings. She is unaware of his drinking habits and sees him as a little boy who can do no wrong.
The play begins with the celebratory dinner for Gerald and Sheila who are announcing their engagement. There are expressions of sibling rivalry between Eric and his sister. He laughs at inappropriate times and is not taking the event seriously.
The siblings have banter during the meal and Sheila calls Eric _‘squiffy’, _which she later confirms to be a serious drink problem. Sheila knows more about her brother than the mother.
However, there is still a distance between them, because she doesn’t know why he drinks so much.
- How does he know the victim?
- Your answer should include: Palace Bar / Drinking / Forced / Pregnant
Eric is the son of a Middle Class business owner and therefore, he has been born into this social status.
He doesn’t show signs of wanting to climb the social ladder for more prominence.
- Where does Eric Birling work?
- Your answer should include: Birling / Company / Father's business / Factory
Eric Birling’s character is extremely important in the outworking of the play. First, he is introduced as an inebriated character, who cannot control himself. He questions his father’s theories about future events which shows him to be a logical and reasonable character.
Eric is reintroduced in Act three, it is revealed that he forced himself on Daisy Renton one night after they had had drinks together. He admits that he was so drunk that he doesn’t even remember what he did that night. They met many times afterwards and they learnt that they were to be parents.
Eric wanted to get married to Daisy but she refused, because she didn’t believe that he loved her. He stole _‘about fifty pounds’ _from his father’s office to try support her but she refused this too.
He is grief-stricken to learn that his mother refused to help Daisy Renton and this final act resulted in a tragic suicide.
The Inspector is successful in his visit, because Eric learns that his actions along with those of his family have had a disastrous impact on the life of another person. Along with his sister, Eric defiantly stands in opposition to his parents. This character is used as a vehicle to present an alternative attitude: Socialism.
- How has his character changed by the end of the play?