How does Priestley present the character of Gerald Croft?
- The fiancé of Sheila Birling.
- The audience may initially consider Gerald to be a dandy but in the stage directions Priestley specifically states that is not the case, that he ‘is rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy well-bred young man-about-town’.
- He is not a character the audience will necessarily sympathise with. He has had a privileged upbringing being the son of wealthy businessman Sir George, and his wife Lady Croft.
- He takes his social status for granted and can be seen as arrogant and aloof.
- He appears pleased with himself and relaxed; the opposite of Eric.
- He appears more stereotypically ‘manly’ than Eric as he is presented as strong, confident and unlike Eric, he can take his drink.
- The audience perhaps feels Mr Birling would rather have someone like Gerald as his son than the child like Eric.
- Gerald can be seen as somewhat of a hypocrite when it is revealed he visits prostitutes and does not give Sheila the attention she desires but at the beginning of the twentieth century it was not uncommon for men of Gerald’s class and status to have a ‘mistress’ and that could be the reason the family, with the exception of Sheila, takes the news of Gerald’s affair reasonably well.
- Gerald is presented as somewhat of a sympathetic character when it is revealed he was discreet in the affair, did not impregnate her and started the relationship out of a genuine desire to help her. Indeed, the Inspector states that ‘he at least had some affection for her and made her happy for a time’.
- However, his rather callous ending of the affair on his terms, reminds the audience that he should not be seen as too sympathetic a character.
What has Gerald learned by the end of the play?
- Gerald is absent for a large proportion of Act 3 and it is difficult to measure how much the evening’s events affected him.
- At the end of the play, he represents the voice of reason as he deduces the ‘crime’ never actually took place, thus suggesting he is intelligent and rational.
Gerald Croft is presented as being much the same as the Birling's - self-centred, selfish, conceited, privileged and spoilt.Eva Smith has been as much a victim with him as she has been with the Birlings. He manipulates and uses her and when he has had enough of her, discards her. He believes that his money and privilege entitles him to do as he pleases with her and he tries to whitewash his guilt by providing her with money and a temporary home.
In Act One, we find that Gerald shares the same kind of perspective about things as his future father in law. They especially agree about their position and the accumulation of wealth. When Mr. Birling states the following, he agrees wholeheartedly:
We employers at last are coming together to see that our interests – and the interests of capital – are properly protected. And we're in for a time of steadily increasing prosperity.
He comes across as a sycophant, agreeing with practically everything Mr. Birling says, no matter how illogical or unreasonable it may sound. He and Mr. Birlng are of one voice when they discuss employees, for example. They both expose their uncaring nature and the ends to which they would go to maintain their profits, even if it means dismissing employees and literally throwing them out onto the street. He also adopts Mr. Birling's attitude to the inspector and criticizes him for being meddlesome and harsh.
When the inspector confronts him and speaks about his relationship with Eva Smith, when she called herself Daisy Renton, he attempts to create the impression that he was her knight in shining armor who saved her from abuse because he felt sorry for her when, in fact, he was abusing her vulnerability and preying on her.
Although Gerald tries to sound sincere about the fact that he had no choice about having to break up with Eva, it is quite clear that he had grown bored of the affair or that he felt it was too risky, or even that he had realized that having an intimate relationship with a girl from a lower class would compromise his position. The fact is, he definitely did not want to pursue their relationship any further. He was cold-hearted and uncaring. Eva then went away and spent time getting over the affair since she had obviously fallen in love with him.
It also becomes apparent later in the play that Gerald is quite sneaky, for he went to enquire about inspector Goole. He later, on his return, gleefully announced his findings:
Yes. I met a police sergeant I know down the road. I asked him about this Inspector Goole and described the chap carefully to him. He swore there wasn't any Inspector Goole or anybody like him on the force here.
Gerald is also the one who persists in stating that they had been the victims of a hoax and who questions Inspector Goole's purpose. He goes out of his way to denounce the inspector. His actions quite clearly suggest that he wants to avoid taking responsibility for his complicity in Eva Smith's horrible suicide, just as much as the older Birlings do. It is quite ironic that he does not share Sheila and Eric's sentiments in this regard, for they adopt a much more mature stance and accept the roles they played which culminated in Eva's tragedy.
In the end, we are left with the impression of a young man who does not seem to have much integrity. He was prepared to cheat on his future wife and when things became complicated, he decided to dump his victim. At the end of the play, when we learn of an impending investigation into Eva's death, we must hope that he, just as much as the Birlings, will get his just desserts.