16 Feb 2010

Sample Essay: Eva Peron

Eva Peron was one of the most powerful women of our time. From a poverty stricken, illegitimate child to the First Lady of Argentina, Evita traveled a long road. Loved passionately and hated equally as strongly, there are many myths and legends surrounding this woman. From the power she wielded during her life to her legacy that is still living, Eva was indeed a remarkable woman. Described as the Cinderella of Argentina, Eva did indeed make all her dreams come true.

Evita Peron, born Eva Maria Duarte, in contrast to the heights to which she rose, came from very humble beginnings. Eva was born in 1919 in Los Toldos, Argentina to Juana Ibarguren. Eva’s father, Juan Duarte had a fifteen year long affair with Juana, although he was already married. The couple was stable, though, and Eva and her four siblings, Blanca, Elisa, Juan and Erminda were all legally acknowledged by their father. Even though the children were acknowledged, when their mother took them to their father’s funeral in 1920, they were not allowed to enter. Eva’s family lived in very poor economic circumstances and in order to survive, her mother and sisters hired themselves out has cooks to wealthy families. In this life of struggling for money, Eva got her first glimpse of the differences between the rich and poor in Argentina and the ideal of social equality would be one that would carry through to the rest of her life. Eva attended school in the town of Junin, where she and her family ended up settling down. Eva had very difficult early years, she wasn’t a very promising student, receiving average grades, and remembered by most of her classmates as being rather awkward looking. Realizing that she didn’t have much of an academic future, Eva became interested in acting. When she got a small part in the school play, Arriba Estudiantes, Eva made up her mind that she would one day become a famous actress.

When Eva was fifteen years old, a tango singer named Agustin Magaldi came to Junin to perform, a few days later, Eva left with him for Buenos Aires and the opportunity to realize her dream of becoming an actress. Life was very difficult for a fifteen year old girl in a big city, and Eva had to take on lovers who would support her. Eva finally got her first jobs as a model for magazines. She was very thin, but beautiful and Eva achieved some success posing for ads. Eva got her first break as an actress in a bit part in the play, La Senora de Perez, in 1935. It was a very small part, though and troubled by ill health and few roles, it seemed that Eva’s dream of becoming an actress would never be realized. Eva finally used one of her male connections to land a part on one of the radio soap operas that had become popular at the time. Eva became increasingly popular as a radio actress and she used her popularity to make connections in the military and continue her relationships with men in power. Eva’s friendships with high ranking military officials resulted in raises and small parts in movies. Although Eva was not a great actress, she loved the movies and quickly learned that making friends with the director was the best way to a good part. Eva was mildly successful, but no where near as great as the star she aspired to be, when she met a young army colonel named Juan Peron at a fund-raising benefit. Eva met Juan Peron at an earthquake relief fund raiser in 1944. They fell in love and Eva began living with him very shortly after they had met. Juan was handsome and dashing and Eva was young and glamorous, they made the perfect couple. Eva lived for almost two years as Peron’s mistress and was by his side as he rose to power. Peron’s ambition was as great as Eva’s and together they made a perfect political team. Peron became very popular with the people of Argentina. He became the Secretary of Labor and Welfare, pledging himself to be a man of the people, he established a minimum wage and better conditions for the working man. Peron made powerful alliances with union leaders and became very much a man to be feared in the government. Peron would jail union leaders who did not join with him and used his position of power to bully those around him. In spite of his lack of tolerance for opposition, Peron became incredibly popular with the people and stood in a position to take over the government. Eva was a key part in Peron]s rise to power, she encouraged and sometimes bullied him towards success, but her role as his mistress still kept her very much behind the scenes. Finally, Ramirez grew tired of Peron’s power and defiance and had him arrested on October 11th, 1945. Eva’s response was immediate, she quickly phoned all of Juan’s friends in the trade unions and organized a rally in the capital for the release of Juan Peron. Peron was released on October 17th and his position as the most powerful man in Argentina was secured.

Eva and Juan were married in a civil ceremony on October 18, 1945. At first the marriage was kept quite, because Eva was of low birth, his former mistress, and an actress, she was viewed as unworthy of entry into the social circles in which Juan moved. It was a risky marriage, a great many of Juan’s army friends disliked the control that Eva had over him and his political life. In fact, the two were not married by the church until several months later, on December 9th. Eva was delighted with her new husband, she had spent her life desiring to be wealthy and glamorous and with the marriage certificate, she felt that she had finally gained the respect that she deserved. Eva was by no means using Juan to achieve power, though. Eva loved and even worshiped her husband. In her autobiography, she describes the marvelous day on which she first met her husband. In reading Eva’s own words, one can truly see how much she adored Juan. She truly believed that he was next to a living god and their marriage was a source of great pride and happiness to her. Juan adored Eva as well, the proof of this being in the enormous risks he took in marrying her. Eva was viewed as a second class citizen by the higher society in Argentina, but Juan never forgot all that she had done for him and kept her firmly by his side. The Perons marriage was and ideal one, perfectly matched in love and ambition, they became the successful team that could rule Argentina.

Peron was elected president soon after they were married, and Eva soon became a force to be reckoned with in the government of Argentina. Now that Eva was Juan’s wife, she could be given some of the public attention that she had longed for. Eva quickly became very popular with the working class of Argentina, she used her own humble beginnings to show that she had sympathy for the poor people and their plight. Eva encouraged the people to call her “Evita” and began to truly reach out to the public. She was given her own office in the capital and from there she organized her work for the less fortunate citizens of Argentina. Eva founded the Eva Peron Foundation, and used that organization to distribute wealth to the poor. The organization was funded by the yearly donation of a days salary from each of the citizens of Argentina. Eva built hospitals and schools, she helped the elderly and became know to many as the “Lady of Hope”. Eva also built a housing project for the poor known as “Evita Village”, it held 4,000 new homes, each completely furnished and ready for a poor family to move into. Eva also helped a bill allowing women to vote be passed and in the next election hoped that her feminist supports would back her husband. Eva also wanted power for herself as well. In a rally nominating Juan for a second term as president, the crowd also demanded that Eva run as vice-president. With the support of the public, Eva accepted the nomination, but pressures from the military against a woman in such a high position forced Eva to back down. Although Eva did many great things for the poor of Argentina, she was in many ways as ruthless a dictator as her husband. As Juan tightened his control over the country through the use of the military, Eva as well became more and more powerful. Eva was very vindictive and used her new position as first lady to have all those who had snubbed her when she was a mere struggling actress blacklisted. Eva had no tolerance for opposition, and those that dared to disagree with her and her husband were often put in jail. When the American magazine, “Time” ran an article stating that Eva was an illegitimate child, it was banned in Argentina for four months. Eva and Juan shut down any newspapers that opposed them and ruled Argentina with an iron hand.

In an attempt to increase her popularity, Eva visited Europe. She was very well received in her first stop, Spain. In an attempt to improve trade relations with Argentina, Franco treated Eva like royalty. She was presented with incredible amounts of gifts and the public was rallied in preparation to meet her. The other European countries were not as enthusiastic as Spain, though. The Pope had not forgotten that she had been Juan’s mistress and only spent twenty minutes with her when Eva visited the Vatican. Her reception in France was equally as cool and the English royalty refused to invite Eva to Buckingham Place. Eva returned to Argentina after three months, disappointed and eager to return to a country where she was practically worshiped.

Eva Peron put on quite a facade to the world while she was first lady. Over one hundred furs, a wardrobe full of new Christian Dior dresses, a jewelry collection comparable to that of Cleopatra’s, and her full acting spirit shrouded Evita in mystery. Eva was loved by many throughout her life. Although the focus is generally on her worship of Juan Peron, it is said that he worshiped her equally. And the stories of how she was loved by her descamisados, or the shirtless ones, are infamous. The poor people loved her as their famous first lady, who built homes, hospitals, schools, and found jobs for thousands of Argentineans. She organized the Eva Peron Foundation, the Peronista Feminist Party, and gave women the right to vote. She won devoted fans for both her and her husband while she was in power. Juan Peron was becoming such a dictator that soon he needed Eva’s help in keeping the people loyal to him. Although fearful of many of Peron’s ideas, they were so willing to follow their Evita, that Peron remained in power. During Peron’s re-election rally in 1951, more than a million people stood calling for Eva until she accepted the nomination of vice president under Peron. After Eva’s death, the people remained just as loyal to her, although they quickly grew tired of Peron. The entire country mourned her death, and she is still celebrated as one of the best leaders of Argentina the poor have ever known. Despite how readily the poor of Argentina welcomed Eva as president, the higher social classes despised her. On a trip to Europe soon after becoming first lady, the pope denied her a title while in the Vatican. Several days later, on the same trip, the British royalty publicly refused to receive her in Buckingham palace. She was even insulted by the United States when Time magazine printed that she was an illegitimate child, for which the magazine was banned in Argentina for four months. Even in her own country, the higher classes opposed Evita. The Sociedad de Beneficencia, the group of aging social women who were in charge of Argentinean charities, was in the habit of making the first lady the honorary president. Eva did not receive this position, however, because the women claimed she had slept her way to power. In retaliation, Eva cut the societies funding. When Eva was popularly nominated for vice president by the people in 1951, she was ecstatic. The army, however, was not. Peron’s fellow officers had never agreed with the idea of a woman being as active as Eva in the politics of the country. Faced with the possibility that Eva would become the commander in chief of the army should something happen to Peron while Eva was holding the vice presidency, the army threatened to revolt. Peron told Eva to step down. As an illegitimate child, and mistress before wife of Peron, the beloved leader of the people of Argentina was never the less powerless against the people of the social status she could never truly claim.

Eva Peron was so famous that her legacy has extended even to today. In Argentina, masses are still celebrated for their famous leader, although she was never official designated as a Catholic martyr. And throughout the world, Eva’s legacy is being carried on by a famous musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and a new movie, which can still be found in some theaters. Although Eva Peron has been called the most powerful Latin American woman of her time, perhaps ever, many people in North America and Europe had never heard of her. In 1973, renowned lyricist Tim Rice, already famous (and rich) from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, was included in this group. Then, one day, Tim Rice happened to be listening to a BBC broadcast while driving his car, which was a radio show on Eva Peron. Since nothing else was on of interest, he listened to the program, and became fascinated by what he heard. He wasn’t sure, but he thought there was a chance for the story of Evita to be made into another musical. Rice’s next step was to call his old friend, Andrew Lloyd Webber. The two began to work on the musical. The musical opened in London in 1978, despite all the political controversy. Many people questioned the choice of writing a musical about Eva Peron, who was compared to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. Yet through all the controversy about the subject matter, the reviews of the play itself, and especially the music, were fabulous. When the musical traveled to Broadway, with the opening in September of 1979, the political controversy which had so racked the London stage was prevented. Hal Prince, the director, persuaded the authors to play up the part of Che, Evita’s main counterpart. With her infamous opponent playing a part as important as hers, critics could no longer claim a problem with politics behind the play. Still, some scenes from the musical are touchy. As one person described, the first act ends with a “scene suggestive of one of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, in this instance presided over by a beaming Peron”. Still, even with all the controversy, the musical became famous, and can still be found on stages around the world today.

Another follow up to Evita’s life is the recent movie version of the musical, with Madonna playing the role of Eva Peron. The honor to play Eva was fought over by several actresses, including Meryl Streep, but given to Madonna when the similarities in their lives ( not to mention her letter to him, begging for the part) caught director Alan Parker’s eye. Madonna promised to play the part as no one else could, and to many it seems that she did so. She and Che, played by flashy Antonio Banderas, bring a passion to the movie may not have been there without them. In general, the movie is hailed as a supreme tribute to the life of Evita Peron, or as a failure. No matter what one thinks of the movie, however, it is undeniable that Eva’s primary fear, being forgotten, is far from occurring.

Bibliography

“Eva Peron.” Accessed December 10, 2007, from http://www.jlhs.nhusd.k12.ca.us/ classes/social_science/latin_america/Evita%20Web/Legacy.html

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