Analysis of the character of Eva Smith, exploring her personality traits, motivations, and the impact she has on the other characters in the play. Through this post, we will gain a deeper understanding of the themes explored in the play and the social commentary that Priestley is making about the world in which we live.
|TASK: Before you look at the analysis, make a list of the characters that you remember from the play. For each one, briefly answer the following questions:
- Eva is a young, kind, beautiful and intelligent girl who symbolises lower class oppression – she has no support network, and therefore fails in life due to bad luck and her social circumstances, rather than because of any lack of effort or talent on her part.
- Eva is portrayed as a tragic victim of a highly capitalist, individualist society where people are encouraged to care only for themselves and their immediate family.
- The name ‘Eva’ is an allusion to Eve, from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Eve was the original woman, suggesting that Eva is an everywoman figure, intended to represent all women of her class and status.
- Eva has died before the play begins, so we never see her. A photograph of her is passed around to the characters onstage, but the audience never gets to see this either.
- The inspector says that Eva killed herself with “a lot of very strong disinfectant” demonstrating that she was desperate and deliberate in her suicide attempt – this also suggests that she felt a need for purification or cleansing. In Christian belief, she would have gone to hell for this as suicide is considered a sin – so, Christians watching the play would pity Eva not only for the tragic life that she led, but also for the fact that her soul was eternally damned afterwards.
- Eva’s situation also shows the oppression of women within a patriarchal society – her life is made much harder by the fact that she’s a single woman, with limited opportunities available to her. She is exploited by at least two men – Gerald, then Eric, because of her looks and kindness.
- Her plight highlights the need for a welfare state – a system of government which supports those less fortunate in society by providing relief from poverty.
- Changing her name to ‘Daisy Renton’ is intended as a fresh start, but it also foreshadows her tragic end. The name ‘Daisy’ is an allusion to the expression ‘pushing up daisies’, a euphemism for death. The surname ‘Renton’ connotes the idea of a ‘rent girl’, a term used to describe working girls or prostitutes.
- Sheila is described as a “pretty girl in her early twenties”; while Eva is “twenty-four” and “very pretty” – this encourages the audience to draw parallels between the two women, understanding the significant impact that privilege or lack of privilege had upon their lives.
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