In the musical Dear Evan Hansen, the title character, a depressed, anxious, socially awkward teenage boy named Evan, spends much of the show living a lie. Evan convinces the family of a classmate who took his own life that Evan and the other boy, Connor, were friends, even though they barely knew each other when Connor was alive.
Many viewers seem to think that Evan is selfish and manipulative, and that he purposefully lies to Connor’s family, the Murphys, and others in order to take advantage of everyone else and use them for his own purposes. I completely disagree with that interpretation. I think that the show makes it clear to us that Evan is not the user in the show – the users are the people who push him into going with the falsehood that the Murphys assumed to be true. Evan’s fellow students Jared and Alana, and Conner’s parents Larry and Cynthia, whether intentionally or unintentionally, guilted, pressured, and scared Evan into continuing the lie.
At a certain point, Evan did fall into perpetuating the lie himself, and become a more confident participant, but he never initiated any of it. And – most importantly – when going along with the lie will help the Murphys find comfort, Evan does. When it will only harm them further, he tells them the truth. That’s how we really know what his true motivations were, even regardless of how active a participant he was in the lie: he lies to help the Murphys; then he tells the truth to help the Murphys.
Before we go any further, let’s establish some facts about the show, and some of my opinions that have bearing on the conclusions I’ll be drawing here.
- Alana is a flat-out narcissist, while Jared is an everyday bully. Neither value the truth, only furthering their own interests. The difference between them is that Alana is ambitious about it and takes control of situations while Jared just takes whatever opportunity is in front of him in the moment.
- Larry and Cynthia are grieving parents who don’t want to believe that the note that they think is all they have left of their son is really some stranger’s creation, and don’t let Evan tell them otherwise. They dismiss him as being in shock. Evan does tell the truth in the beginning. They don’t want to hear it.
- Zoe, on the other hand, is very doubtful of the lies Evan tells and, rather than insisting to him that the truth is false, she points out all the flaws in his accounts, like she’s searching for falsehoods in it. Or has an analytical mind that sees straight to the truth, which is my belief.
- Evan has a natural tendency to try to make people feel better. He does this both because he’s a genuinely good person and because he’s so uncomfortable with social situations that he tries to keep everyone around him from getting upset and putting more pressure on him than he already feels.