Educating Rita Essay, Research Paper
Educating Rita is a play about change.
To what extent is this true?
Educating Rita, written by Willy Russell, is a play about Rita, a working class hairdresser who yearns for a change in her life and to be better educated; also it is about a dissipated literature professor who tutors Rita to earn some extra money.
Many of the changes in the play occur mainly due to the ways Rita and Frank interact and change each other. In ways this play is about many aspects that centralise on choice, culture, priorities and education. There can be many different reader responses to the play and what it is about but I will compare these with authorial intention. From this I will conclude whether this play is mainly about how education changed Rita for the better, and in what ways has it had a negative effect and what has getting to know Rita taught Frank.
At first Rita is uneducated. Her background is the working class, but she wants to change her life for a better way of living. She has the will to learn very hard and she wants to reach her aims. Here we see Frank confronted by Rita whom is a pupil wanting nothing more or less than a total education e.g. Frank asks, “What can I teach you?” and Rita replies, “Everything.” Later on she seems to think that she has acquired and learnt everything. “I’ve got what you got Frank, and you don’t like it.”
At the beginning he finds himself faced with an unexpectedly fresh and uncluttered mind. Rita tests Frank’s intellectual talents to the full, by requiring constant justification and explanation of statements that would usually be taken for granted and accepted in a conversation between a student and a tutor. Frank is intrigued by her freshness in Act One Scene One showing that what Rita possesses is individuality, “I think you’re the first breath of air that’s been in this room for years.” But to his dismay she comes near to losing her identity at the end.
Rita rejects her working class origin and changes her name from Susan to Rita. During the story you can realise the changes in Rita. At the beginning she isn’t interested in Howard’s End and she couldn’t interpret books that Frank lent her correctly. Rita is too subjective and you can see the influence of her social background, such as when she stops reading Howard’s End because E.M. Forster quotes in the book that, “we are not concerned with the poor.” This shows that she was very subjective at the time. Also she lacked courage and confidence to go to Frank’s dinner because of the academic class and was afraid of talking to the other students. Changing her life Rita leaves her husband who objects to Rita getting an education. One step was that Rita interprets the books more objectively and went to the theatre. While Rita has lost her husband she wanted to be changed by Frank’s help but he was worried because he likes her natural character.
The biggest step for Rita was the summer school. At the summer school Rita has learned much about authors and she comes in contact with students. Frank is very impressed of her abilities. She changes her lifestyle with new clothes and a new hair colour and was also influenced of her flatmate Trish. We then see that Rita has attained a new role model, her flatmate. She is someone who influences Rita to change in many ways. One way is she encourages Rita to change her voice, “As Trish says there is not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice.” She is changing herself by becoming more like others, Rita is losing her individuality and originality mainly towards Trishs opinions. “Me an’ Trish sat up last night and read them. She agrees with me…what makes it more-more…What did Trish say–?” She has become less original intellectually and usually just repeats facts from other people especially Trish to whom she refers to quite often throughout the play.
She seems a lot more arrogant to a point where she only talks about facts and repeats other people’s quotes. At one particular time where Frank is about to introduce her to Blake she disregards it as, “done him.” It’s a monotonous, non-sentimental and non-subjective answer unlike the old Rita who asked Frank whether he had read work by T.S. Elliot was more excited by literature. “Have you read his stuff…All of it…Every last syllable.” Frank realises this and explains to Rita that she has changed from her innocent freshness to becoming an echo to other people. “And your views I still value. But, Rita, these aren’t your views.” Rita blatantly proves this in the next line by saying that she had talked to a wide variety of people, read other books and consulted a wide variety of opinions and came up with an answer, an answer which contains no personal thought. Instead of being subjective, innocent and unique she is now standardised in her judgement. This is what Frank feared, Rita losing her individuality and uniqueness.
Rita changed her job because she thought that she could talk in the bistro about more important things than the hairdresser job, she also begins to drift away from Frank by being less personal. This can be seen as seen in Act Two Scene Four. “I can look after myself…I wanna read and understand without havin’ to come running to you every five minutes.” This proves that she is beginning to separate from Frank because she doesn’t come to tutorials on time and if she’s late she would try to leave, “No-honestly, Frank-I know I’ve wasted your time. I’ll see y’ next week, eh?” Before she used to say that she could get through the weeks if she knew she had Franks tutorial to look forward to. Also she become less public about her life to Frank, such as the fact that she had changed jobs and didn’t tell Frank. She doesn’t discuss personal matters anymore. At one point near the beginning she used to tell Frank everything, “It struck me that there was a time when you (Rita) told me everything.”
One of the first changes that we come across in the play is when Rita realises herself is in Scene 5 where Rita says, “I’ve begun to find me-an’ it’s great y’ know, it is Frank.” Also further down the page when she says, “But she (the old Rita) can’t, because she’s gone, an’ I’ve taken her place.” This shows that Rita herself believes that she understands more about literature and she seems to understand that things have changed.
We also see a certain lack of confidence in Rita, which is displayed in Act One Scene Seven. In this Scene she doesn’t go to Franks dinner because she believes that she wouldn’t be able to fit in with the other guests, “An’ all the time I’m trying to think of things I can say, what I can talk about.” Later on in Act Two Scene One when Rita comes back from after summer she says that she was dead scared when she arrived a summer school. She didn’t know anyone and she was going to come home on the first day but she didn’t, she had acquired a confidence in herself. The old Rita would have left straight away. A few lines on she mentions that a tutor had approached her and asked her about Ferlinghetti, “…are you fond of Ferlinghetti?’ It was right on the tip of me tongue to say, ‘Only when it’s served with Parmesan cheese.’ But, Frank, I didn’t.” Rita is becoming more reformed, instead of making sarcastic remarks she has started to make interesting conversation when people talk to her but now we come across the fact that she is losing her innocent point of view. There is also a change in the way that she talks, ‘Oh, I dunno, I forget now, cos after that I was askin’ questions all week, y’ couldn’t keep me down.” Her language is not as bad; she doesn’t swear as much as before and is becoming to sound more educated. Also she has stopped smoking, a ritual commonly related to the working class society.
It is also visible that Rita is beginning to fit in with the other students because she stops on her way to the tutorial to talk to students on the lawn. “I started to talk to students on the lawn.” This then proves that she may have become over-confident because she said to the student that his opinion was wrong. “…I heard one of them saying that as a novel he preferred ‘Lady Chatterly’ to ‘Sons and Lovers.’ I thought, I can keep on walking an’ ignore it, or I can put him straight.” At the beginning Rita seemed to have assumed that there was a boundary between educated people and the working-class society. She used to be intimidated by them. “You used to be quite wary of them.”
By the end of the play Rita, having a mind trained to think although losing her originality, has acquired a confidence that allows her to make her own decisions and she has a wider choice of direction, “I dunno, I might go to France. I might go to me mothers. I might even go to France. I might even have a baby. I’ll make a decision. I’ll choose.” She is now presented with choice, which is what she wanted at the beginning.
It is also visible that not everything in Rita has changed because her decisions are still almost the same. “I know what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to see and what papers and books to read. I can do without you.” Before she didn’t know what to wear and wine to buy and so on.
The final change we can see is that Rita seems to prefer young classy people such as Tiger and Trish. “…I find a lot of people I mix with fascinating; they’re young, and they’re passionate about things that matter. They’re not trapped-they’re too young for that. And I like to be with them.” When she says ‘they’re too young for that’ the authorial intention could be that she is referring to Frank, and saying that he is too old and he is trapped which is why she doesn’t seem to spend much time with him anymore.
We also see how Rita moves from merely imitating Frank’s language to understanding and manipulating it. Moreover, she not only takes ownership of her own education, but she also teaches her professor a great deal in the process.
Although this play is mainly centralised around Rita and the ways she has changed in her attitudes to her class, other people, her choices, her priorities and culture, Frank has also learned from her presence.
One example is when Rita constantly questions Franks drinking and tells him its bad for him, this way it seems a subtle way of saying stop drinking although Frank is objectionable saying that Rita cannot reform him. “It’ll kill y’, Frank…just that I thought you’d started reforming yourself.” Frank replies, “Under your influence? Yes Rita-if I repent and reform, what do I do when your influence is no longer her?”
Another time is when she tells Frank to oil the door; she’s trying to change him without really realising it. “It’s that bleeding handle on the door. You wanna get it fixed!” Also there is a sense that Frank in a way used to control Rita at the beginning because she was inexperienced, but when she becomes educated she mentions that she doesn’t want to come running to him every five minutes.
In many ways there is a lot of change some for the better, such as Ritas gain in confidence and some for the worse, such as the loss of her individuality. As well as the few but significant changes in Frank as well as the other aspects of the play which explores cultures, choice, priorities, education and changes; but overall I would argue that, yes, this is a play about change.