Beneath the surface: a dedication to Gerald

I wrote a ‘short’ thread which unpicked aspects of Gerald’s character, and it was anything but short so have popped it here as a short post.

A little thread about Gerald. Jesus Christ, I am not a fan of Gerald. 

The way in which he behaves as a mouthpiece for both Sheila and Eva is incredulous. He’s not just an unreliable narrator because he lies by omission about the affair with Eva, but he perpetuates a version…Of events and a portrayal of Eva that just isn’t consistent. He’s also mightily fascinating on account of the way in which he fabricates the tale of a love affair from what is clearly a series of transactions, but best of all- BEST! – is that Priestley ensures that he is the curator of his own downfall, satisfying the audience with such subtlety that it makes me hit the table with my fist every time I read it. Ok, let’s go.

Watch the way in which he speaks for these characters- he states Sheila’s had a ‘long, exciting, tiring day’ and has..had about as much as she can stand,’ when, as Sheila is already more aligned with the Inspector in his pursuit of truth, explains ‘it might be better,’ not to hear the horrendous detail, but honesty. The use of the stage direction ‘bitterly’ demonstrates exactly how quickly his facade of charm can drop when he is not appeased. The contrast between his low regard for the ‘dough-faced’ women and chilling description of ‘young..fresh’ Eva highlights the predatory nature of this initial meeting, yet Priestley shifts this use of antithesis and spins it back to Gerald as he describes Meggarty’s ‘carcass’ closing in on Eva. Does he realise this depiction is simply a mirror for his ugly interior? Of course not. We do though, as he begins to use such telling language to speak on Eva’s behalf- she ‘let’ him rescue her, and was ‘grateful.’ Through this retelling, we also have an insight of his exertion of power- he ‘insisted,’ and ‘made her’ – he ‘allowed’ her- but all out of pity, of course. And such arrogance! ‘It was inevitable…. I became the most important person.’ Hero. And so through this repeated orchestration..Of Eva’s voice, he cleverly implies that he’s providing a balanced version of events. A few things though.

His convoluted digression about Charlie Brunswick to evade the fact he paid a prostitute as part of a long term agreement, perhaps? Or, the fact that Eva was awfully ‘gallant,’ completely inconsistent with the vulnerable, fragile, exploited, dependent wreck and far more in keeping with the Eva we heard about when she was working for Birling, dangerously full of her own views and opinions?(Nothing worse than a girl not crying her eyes out over your departure, hey Gerald). Or is it simply that it slots into the narrative a little neater, than if he were to leave her broken or distraught?

OR that ‘parting gift’ that reinforces the transactional nature of this relationship, where the power dynamics are just too unbalanced to be passed off as a love affair. That’s all a bit odd. Let’s be honest, every word in the entire section is gold and whilst Gerald is the first character so far that seems to have taken pity on Eva in real time before she dies, it’s pretty pitiful in its execution. But! My favourite bit is so underrated.‘She was a woman. She was lonely. Were you in love with her?’

With a rather heavy implication that states ‘you’ve spoken a great deal on this girl’s behalf. What about you?’

Gerald has a few options here.If he says yes, Jesus Christ he looks bad. Sheila will completely reject him, it doesn’t fit with his hero narrative, and wreaks havoc on all the work he’s done to demonstrate the positive influence (his opinion, of course) of his assertion of power. 

If he says no?Well, he looks like an obviously callous, merciless, manipulative joke who throws cash at everything to fix problems or make them go away. This will mess with his narrative that he is just an irresistible man who can’t help but save desperate, helpless women.Ah, so he doesn’t answer. Coward. And his response is what enables the audience to view the extent of his ability to deceive. ‘(Hesitatingly)’ tells us all we need: the fact he provides such an ambiguous response is sufficient. 

‘I didn’t feel about her as she felt about me.’Which demonstrates:

– he knew this was nothing more than a series of transactions
– he knew this could be damaging if it continued to the point that she was dangerously vulnerable
– he knew that to admit love would shift the dynamic to something less believable.But it’s ok, because Priestley employs him to state ‘nearly any man would have done.’ And that is the sad thing really, isn’t it? He was merely the better dressed carcass.

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