How is Eva Smith presented in the play
- Pages: 8
- Word count: 1773
- Category: Play
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Throughout the play the other characters reveal things to us about Eva smith however their perceptions of her are not always the same as the view that comes across to the audience about her. Mr Birling see that his action of firing Eva smith was completely justified in that it is ‘his duty’ to keep ‘labour costs down’ when she protests to get the workers, not just herself more money. This to Mr Birling is an impossible and outrageously rude request and believes Eva to have an indiscreet lack of disrespect for him so she simply had to go despite being a good worker.
To the audience, however this shows Eva not only has incredible courage to stand up for what she believes in but a generous heart to risk her job for the sake of others, the fact she was ‘the ring leader’ tells the audience this. Priestley present her in this way through Mr Birling in the beginning to not only lure the audience into feeling sympathy towards Eva but disliking Mr Birling greatly for his unfair and unjust act against her.
Mr Birling judges Eva quickly and assumes she is a trouble maker as when she was accepted for a job at Millwards Mr Birling is not quick to say, ‘got herself into trouble there. I suppose? ’ This isn’t however what the audience feels. Eva Smith is not quick to give up as she soon finds another job showing her determination to have a decent life and works hard at Milwards. Another way in which Priestley uses Sheila to present Eva Smith is the praise worthy attribute of not blaming Sheila for firing her and not judging her as she was judged even though she was stripped of her last hope of a decent life.
Priestley uses Sheila’s jealously towards Eva to suggest how quick to judge without understanding society was. This initial envy towards Eva is what causes to ‘almost break down’ and feel ‘distressed’ for the rest of the play because she realises that her quick criticism of Eva was undeserved and as a female, the superior sex at this time, she has empathy for Eva understanding what it is liked to have people to form an opinion of her based primarily on her appearance and situation, rather than truly understood.
Even Sheila’s fiance does not truly understand for when she begins to speak out and ‘almost in triumph’ takes control of their relationship Gerald ‘looks crushed’ as if his perception of Sheila, the girl he was about to marry has been shattered. And this is one of the reasons Sheila, as quick as she was to judge, was quick to feel remorse and take responsibility for what she had done.
After hearing Gerald’s encounter with Eva or Daisy the audience begins to understand a bit better the terrible life she has had to endure and although she is in the palace bar to exploit herself into prostitution, it is only because she has no other choice. It is not her flaws and vices that have led her to this situation but is purely a consequence of society’s lack of consideration and empathy.
Eva Smith is quite commendable at this point because despite Gerald ending their relationship to suite himself, Eva is very understanding and ‘didn’t blame (Gerald) at all’ Eva is constantly portrayed by Priestley as ‘the bigger person’ who always manages to see the good in people even if they are doing things for their own selfish reasons, she looks at a judging society full of apathy and sees no reason to judge and condemn just to carry on with life without blaming people for her misfortune although the inspector correctly insists that the Birling’s should accept the responsibility they have for her death.
These admirable morals that Eva has in her life are what makes her character so powerful and impacting as well as what enable her to live in such a society and die without passing an unjust judgement and with higher standards than those of a higher class. Through Eric the audience learn more about Eva’s beliefs and morals as well as her life and herself as a person.
Eric forces himself upon Eva and having nothing better in life eventually gave up and bedded her which landed her into a worse situation of being pregnant with Eric’s child and so it would see, he offered to marry her as she did not suggest it. The audience sees that although given the opportunity to manipulate someone of a higher class into marrying her giving her a much better standard of life than the one she is living, but she ‘didn’t want to marry (Eric)’ as he didn’t her.
This shows despite all she’s seen and been through she still believes in love and marrying for love which even Sheila possibly may not consider, wanting to marry above herself, is the normal attitude of middle class in society as they yearn for power and reputation however Eva clings to the last bit of hope she has for her life and humanity; the ability to fall in love was the dream of the lower class as no matter their situation if they fell in love and had someone to support them everything would be better.
However after becoming pregnant and being turned away by Mrs Birling’s charity extinguished the thought that love existed in this world and this finally along with her situation drove her to suicide, an escape route from this apathetic society full of people who just did not care. From Mrs Birling it is revealed to the audience that Eva is simply an icon of decency and morality which highlighted through the contrast with the ‘cold woman’ that Mrs Birling is, not even parenting her children properly.
Also Eva refuses to take Eric’s money once she finds out it is stolen which Mrs Birling is incapable of believing since not taken any interest in the lower class of society stereotypes Eva as ‘a girl of that sort’ and assumes she knows all about these people and so is able to judge them. Mrs Birling despite being the head of a charity committee feels getting to know and understand anyone of a lower class in her own society repulsive and unacceptable of a woman of her class who only cares about appearance and reputation.
Mrs Birling even after being investigated by the inspector still refuses to have any responsibility for the girl’s death and all the way through feels she has done nothing wrong although in the audience’s opinion she has committed the greatest act of injustice towards Eva involving turning her away in her a time she most needed help. Mrs Birling sees it as the individuals fault for being poor and she shouldn’t do anything about although it is the society with this dismissive apathetic view that causes people to live in poverty and eventually succumb to suicide.
When Eva Smith is presented to the audience by the Inspector, she is immediately shown to be the victim of the play he describes her as someone who ‘never did anybody any harm’ yet ended up in the worst situation possible as a result of other peoples actions. The Inspector highlights and describes how each of the members of the Birling family has used Eva Smith. The Inspector shows that each character has victimised her and that each of them has a part to play and is partly responsible for her death.
Priestley uses Eva’s life and story to convey to the audience his socialist view that there are consequence for your actions that not only affect you but those around you and how unaware the conservative party were in their view which are represented mainly by Mr Birling and that society should not return to this way of life. The inspector has respect for Eva and is determined for the Birling’s to take responsibility for their actions leading to her death.
This is highlighted towards the end when the inspector ‘Savagely to Mr birling’ explains the wrong that Mr Birling committed and this seemed to have the correct effect as with this Mr Birling for the first time in the play feels remorse and guilt. Priestley possibly uses Eva Smith to represent women of society making her the ‘every women’ of the play. This is emphasised when the inspector gives is closing speech on responsibility he mentions their being ‘millions of Eva Smiths and John Smith’ which insinuates that although it’s too late for one member of society.
Another reason Eva could be considered the ‘every women’ of the play is that Smith is the most common surname and Eva is close to Eve who was the first women God created on Earth. Eva was just an ordinary human that suffered, picked herself up and carried so many times until she could no longer carry on. By being ‘every women’ Priestley encourages the audience to feel sympathy towards Eva and to relate to her situation or that of the Birling’s so that could learn from their vices and be rewarded for their virtues.
The purpose of Priestley writing this play was to teach society the valuable lesson which is evident throughout and to get his point across. If the audience did not have a character to relate to and take a liking to and sympathise with this aim would to have been achieved. Eva not only aids the play and the plot but also the message conveyed within. By having Eva as an absent character Priestley not only forces the audience to use their imagination but keeps the focus primarily on the family of the Birling’s and the investigation that is undergoing.
This allows the play to concentrate on the society particularly the apathy of the middle class and above, rather than Eva’s life which then aids the plot as we find out more about her and her story from the characters themselves which is an effective way to keep the plot moving whilst leaving the audience with a sense of mystery as we know the outcome but follow the inspector on his investigation to discover the truth.
As the story of Eva Smith unravels and is revels to us by the Birling the tension begins to build and the audience is left in suspense. Eva becomes very symbolic in the play and Priestley effectively gives Eva more presence in the play through her absence because of this. In addition she also fulfils the role of a victim, as the audience are aware of her death whilst the other characters try to justify their involvement causing the audience to be less sympathetic towards them which is the result Priestley wanted.