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Rita is seeking a better way of living her life and Frank represents
the life style she wishes to live. She understands she is of a working
class background, and wants to be more cultured. Rita wants more
meaning to her life. She wants to know the right things to say and
what wine to buy, the type of attributes she admires in Frank, and
people similar to him. She does not want to be just a housewife and
mother, the two exact things Denny her husband wants her to be in
order that she fits in with the rest of their society. He tries to
control her and prevent her from learning, he burns her books and
constantly nags at her to come off the pill so that she can have a
child and settle down, just like everyone else they know. Denny's
ideas are evident when he says;
'There's a time for education. An' it's not when y' twenty-six an'
married.' Basically she has to make a choice between her education or
her family, because as she changes to become a more sophisticated and
educated woman, she widens the gap between her and the people in her
old life, them being ignorant and uncultured.
First of all, it is noticeable that because of Rita's working class
background, one particular quality of hers is her lack of
self-consciousness, which prevents her from being prudish.
This is revealed in Act 1 Scene 1 when Rita comments on Frank's
picture on the wall;
"Look at those tits," she says bluntly, within minutes of meeting her
new tutor. Frank, having had a middle class upbringing is embarrassed
by her frank observation. He has the good judgment to realise that on
first being acquainted with someone this kind of comment is not really
appropriate, whereas Rita is almost like a child, not having the
expected amount of subtlety and the sense to be discreet. These
qualities are what hinders Rita from becoming more like Frank.
However, it is this type of behaviour which draws Frank to Rita, he
finds her new, unique, and original because she does not follow the
unspoken rule of how to behave on meeting a stranger. In Act 1 Scene 1
he describes her as;
"The first breath of air that's been in this room for years."
He views his life as dull and stale, Rita stepping in begins to make
his life seem more interesting, she livens it up.
On becoming more educated, Rita also has to leave behind a positive
aspect of her old life, a close-knit community with close links.
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lives with her family and her husband and they are all in the same
little world, the same circle. However Rita chooses to step back from
this circle, and on doing this she realises that there is nothing in
their life, it is meaningless but they choose not to acknowledge it.
Rita says in Act 1 Scene 4;
"I just see everyone pissed or on Valium, tryin' to get from one day
to the next."
This life is what Rita wants to leave behind, but it is something she
has that Frank does not, family, making it a rather important decision
whether to stay within that circle or depart from it.
In her society, the people have no depth to their lives, Rita
describes her childhood as being forced to choose between her
education, or her friends. She had to only bother herself with
"clothes, music and fellers," otherwise she would basically be
socially outcast. This seems to be no change in this as adults, their
lives are assumed to be spent being mothers and wives, and going down
the pub. This is especially highlighted with Denny's reaction to Rita
wanting to learn, he cannot understand how she could want anything
more than the life they already live. In Act 1 Scene 5 she says;
"Why can't he just let me get on with my learning?"
She knows she cannot share any of her experiences with him, such as
the time she first goes to the theatre, which is why she runs to the
only person who will understand, Frank. She feels empty and alone
having nobody to share these special moments with and so she naturally
wants to be around people who will understand, another reason why she
wants to leave her old life. Denny represents her old life and
everything she chooses to leave behind. She wants to leave her way of
life behind because she admires Frank's way of life so much, and
considers it 'better' than her own.
Frank represents the new life she wants. Her admiration for this way
of life is clearly shown, for example in Act1 Scene 2 when she says;
"you've got taste." This shows that she obviously does not believe
herself to have taste or class but she desperately longs for it,
because it is something she considers the middle and upper class to
have. This is hinted at again in Act2 Scene 1 when she refers to Trish
"she's dead classy." To Rita, the changes she wants to make in
herself are about how she appears, she wants to seem impressive, like
she is somebody worth knowing.
But however much Rita admires Franks way of life, it is obvious that
he is still unhappy himself. In Act 2 Scene 4 Rita says;
"If you could stop pouring that junk down your throat in the hope that
it'll make you feel like a poet." Frank drowns his sorrows with drink,
she is unhappy, which suggests that the divide between the working
class and middle class is not so great, and Rita turning to Frank's
way of life will not suddenly make hers perfect.
There is also tension between the two classes, Rita feels that Frank
does not want her to become too educated, in fear of feeling
threatened, the middle class want to keep the working class below
"you like to keep your natives thick." This refers to the English
wanting to help the Africans by teaching them, but they do not want
them to learn too much in fear that they might become even more
superior to them and they will not be needed any more, they will no
longer be portrayed as the heroes. Rita feels this is the case with
her and Frank, he feels unneeded now that Rita is educated and she
will not look up to him in the same way that she once did.
Because of Frank and Rita's cultural differences, their ideas of what
is and is not acceptable are some what different. Rita does not have
the type of manners that are expected of her by Frank. He says to her;
" 'Sorry couldn't come' scribbled on the back of your essay and thrust
through the letterbox? Rita, that's hardly an apology." To her
however, this seems a perfectly acceptable apology, which shows the
difference again between their two classes.
The reason Rita does not turn up for dinner at Frank's house is that
she feels inferior to him and his other friends, and because of her
working class background will not be able to say or do the 'right'
things, exactly the reason why she wants to change, so she will do and
say the right things. She feels they will not accept her for who she
really is and must put on an act for them to accept her.
"I couldn't (come). I'd bought the wrong sort of wine." The 'wrong
wine' being wine that will not be accepted by anyone above working
As Rita becomes more learned, her unique sense of humour also
diminishes. For example when a teacher asks her "Are you fond of
Ferlinghetti?" Rita tells Frank;
"It was right on the tip if me tongue to say, 'only when served with
parmesan cheese,' but Frank, I didn't." Rita has become more refined
and serious and does not act in the same immature way she would have
before she became more educated. She has the confidence to use more
sophisticated language and to expect to be taken seriously.
The way of life Frank represents is neither better nor worse than the
one Rita chooses to leave behind, as both contain positive and
negative aspects. Rita loses and gains qualities after enrolling on
her course, but how these qualities can be described are only a matter
of opinion. To Rita, her original naivety, sentimentality and
frankness are qualities she would prefer she did not possess, as they
prevent her from being viewed as intelligent, and on the inside she
does not feel adequate. On the other hand, Frank sees them as unique
and charming, which is what attracts him to Rita. Near the end of the
play Frank says;
'Why don't you just go away? I don't think I can bear it any longer.'
Here he is referring to the change in her character and personality,
she is not the same person she was when he first met her, that person
he felt was so different and refreshing.