Willie Russell's Educating Rita

Willie Russell's Educating Rita

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Willie Russell's Educating Rita


In this play, Willie Russell has created two extremes of culture and
put them together to focus on the differences between them and how
these two cultures change as the play develops. Firstly there is Frank
with a good job as a teacher and a large house and is well educated,
who is contrasted with Rita who has a council house, works as a
hairdresser and is not well educated. They first meet when Rita goes
to Frank because she wants to be educated. As the play continues,
Frank and Rita almost completely exchange roles as they are both
unhappy with their culture and want to be more like the other. This
play was written in the 1980's where the working, middle and upper
classes were still used widely to determine what your culture was and
how important you are to the social society at the time.

The theme of culture appears a lot in the play. One of the ways that
Willie Russell shows the two distinctly different cultures is how much
power the higher classes have over the lower classes. In the play
knowledge is shown as a symbol of power. Frank has the superior
knowledge over Rita so therefore he also has more power over Rita. But
when Rita returns from summer school and is more knowledgeable than
Frank because Frank wanted to be more like Rita, so Rita has more
power over Frank as she now has the superior knowledge. I think that
the swivel chair determines who is most in control over the other
person in terms of power and knowledge. At the start of the play Frank
is sat in the swivel chair, but once Rita is further educated she sits
in the swivel chair. The fact that it is a swivel chair that
determines power is significant because it turns around. Much like
Frank and Rita as the power turned from being in Frank in to Rita.

Willie Russell also used education to show the two different cultures
that Frank and Rita live in. Rita says that she wants to be educated
because she wants to know everything as she is not happy being classed
as working class. But Denny, Rita's husband, does not want her to
change and he does this by burning all of her books. Education also
symbolises power as Frank has the power to change is life because he
is educated, but Rita wants to become educated so she can change her
way of life and culture. Education affects the audiences'
interpretations of the play as the two extremes of culture that are

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Frank and Rita create a very obvious comparison of character. This
makes it easier for the audience to see the reversal of roles in the
play. This will make them think that the two characters are growing
closer together and they may think Frank and Rita will eventually fall
in love, until the two characters cross over and keep growing further
apart.

Another way that Willie Russell showed the two distinct cultures was
by the way that people are judged if they are lower class. When Frank
invited Rita to his dinner party, Rita got to the door with a bottle
of wine but she didn't go in because she saw all the people inside.
She didn't want to go in because she had the wrong sort of wine and
wrong dress and was afraid that people would judge her by that. I
think Willie Russell did this to get the audience emotionally involved
and feel sorry for Rita. This would also show even more of a contrast
between the two characters and cultures.

Rita swears a lot and she is seen to be ignorant to show the
difference between her and Rita in terms of language and frame of
mind. For example Rita shows some ignorance when in the first scene
she looks at Franks religious painting on the wall and says "Look at
those tits", as well as her swearing a lot. I think Willie Russell did
this to show that Rita is working class and uneducated as swearing is
acceptable in the working class and she doesn't know any better
because she is uneducated and it's acceptable in her society. Whereas
Frank doesn't swear because he is educated and knows better and it is
not acceptable in his society. This also shows the audience the two
different cultures of the two characters at the start of the play
without any further information. I think that this is the reason that
Frank tries to hide his drinking problem because he is secretly
ashamed of it and it is not acceptable in his society.

As the play moves on and develops further, Rita begins to slowly
change her culture as she becomes more and more educated, which gave
her more choice and freedom in which to change her culture. This
becomes more evident once Rita comes back from summer school. Now Rita
has a mind of her own that can think for its self and she can make her
own decisions in her life about how she wants to live. This is more
obvious when she says to Frank "I've got a room full of books, I know
what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to see, what papers
and books to read." Those are now her choices. Where before she was
given the choices by Denny that didn't mean anything in her life
"picking one of eight kinds of lager, or deciding between Everton and
Liverpool." At this point in the play, I think the audience were
surprised to see how the two characters that seemed to be drawing
closer together in a love story type manner, did not stop in the
middle and have now kept on going in the opposite direction. Frank
drinking more, and no longer hiding his problem by leaving his bottles
on his bookcases and desk also shows them to have crossed over and now
distancing.

Willie Russell also shows that there is a distinct and obvious
difference in power. Frank who is considered educated and middle class
has a lot of power over Rita who is considered uneducated and lower
class. The swivel chair shows the power between the two cultures
because Frank has power over Rita at the start of the play because he
is sitting in the swivel chair. But once Rita has returned from summer
school and is more educated, while Frank has become less acceptable as
upper class, so now Rita is sitting on the swivel chair. The power
between the two cultures is also shown when Rita refuses to go to
Franks dinner party because of all of his upper class friends who she
is afraid will judge her, while she wanted to be able to talk with
them and understand them. This is shown when she says "I didn't want
to come into your house and play the court jester." Denny also has
power over Rita because he believes that they should have a baby
because of the cultural expectations of them. Rita also says that
Denny thinks choices in life are "choice between Everton and
Liverpool, choosin' which washing powder, choosin' between one lousy
school and the next." I think that the audience will interpret from
this that the characters, especially Denny have a fear of changing
between cultures and ways of life because of the new ways of life they
feel they will have to adopt. For example Rita thinks she will have to
fit the stereotypical view of an upper class person, this is evident
when she starts to try and talk like an upper class person to Frank.
It also shows us the limitations of culture. If you are uneducated
then you can't change to get a better job, house or car because you
will not have the power or money. Also at Frank's dinner party Rita
didn't want to go in because she felt ashamed of her culture and
didn't want to be judged due to her culture.

Rita's self-esteem comes up a lot in the beginning of the play. At the
start she was very self-conscious and didn't want to mix with the
other students because she was very nervous and she says this is also
the reason why she swears and talks a lot. Rita's low self-esteem is
also evident when her and Frank are talking about her job as a
hairdresser and she agrees with Frank when he says that she is a
liability. I think that Rita has her low self-esteem because she is
always being judged because she is working class and she's beginning
to believe what all the other people in the upper classes are saying
about her and other people in the working classes. I think that the
audience will get emotionally involved with Rita and want her to
become better educated and lead a better life.

From this play the different cultures play a big part in society and
peoples social lives. The people in the lower classes will find it
hard to break the working class circle. This play was written about
cultural expectations between the upper classes against the lower
classes. It was written in 1985, so nowadays the cultural expectations
are no longer as important as they were and are much more relaxed.
When it was written the way you, look, dress, speak and live determine
what people think of you and how bigger role you play in the running
of the society. Rita sees herself as a non-educated person. I think
that Willie Russell was trying to get across the image that once you
are born into a working class culture; it is very hard to get out of
it because all the people are looking down at you and judging you
because of your culture. It also shows that just because people are in
an upper class with a good house, job and car, doesn't necessarily
mean that you are happy, as Frank had all of those things yet he still
wanted to change his way of life. Willie Russell has shown the
audience what he thinks is important - culture and what people think
of you. Although culture isn't seen as important now, it was seen as
important in the 1980's.
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