Gains and Losses in Educating Rita

Gains and Losses in Educating Rita

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Gains and Losses in Educating Rita



The question of what Rita gains in Educating Rita is quite easy to answer. What she loses is less obvious. Her intention is to gain a college education and she largely succeeds in this. On the way you could say she loses her job and her husband, but it is worth asking whether these are really losses to the person Rita, or rather Susan, becomes.

 

The play follows just over a year in Rita's life and shows her gradual progress in an English Literature course. At first Rita knows she wants to do the course but not how to do well in it. It seems that she would rather do anything but talk about literature in the early lessons but she gradually gains confidence and skill in her speech and writing. A good example of her progress is her response to Macbeth. Initially she does not understand how to write about it and produces a 'crap' essay. Frank explains that the essay is not bad in terms of a personal response to the play but it does not fulfil the criteria of the course she is doing. Rita accepts this and resolves to write the essay again.

 

Rita's education goes far beyond just reading and responding to books however. When she first comes to the university she is impressed and even a little intimidated by the intelligent people she sees around her. By the end of the play she is able to tell them when they are speaking nonsense and join in their conversations as an equal. Success in her literature course has thus given her greater confidence in the wider world.

 

Willy Russell shows that for Rita, education involves a move out of her original social class and away from the values of her family and friends. This could be seen as a loss for her, but in moving beyond her working class background she gains in self-respect and self-confidence so that she is better able to handle the challenges of life. The most obvious thing she loses is her husband. From what Rita says, they seem to get on well enough, but Denny doesn't understand her wish to be educated.

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He has a traditional view of the role of women and expects Rita to settle down and have children. When he discovers that Rita has secretly been taking the pill to stop herself becoming pregnant, he blames her behaviour on her desire to 'better' herself and burns her books. This spells the end of their relationship. Later in the play Rita meets Denny with his new partner who is pregnant. Although Rita loses Denny it seems that she had outgrown him anyway, whilst he quickly forms a relationship he is happier with. In losing her job Rita goes from the skilled work of hairdressing to the unskilled work of being a waitress. However she seems to make the best of this change and finds the people she meets, such as Trisha, interesting and exciting.

When Frank first meets Rita he sees her as a breath of fresh air in his life and he responds very well to her cheeky and irreverent approach to almost anything. He is so impressed that he tells her to get another tutor because he isn't good enough for her. Later on Rita becomes more conventional in her views, and Frank thinks of himself as a sort of Frankenstein who has created a monster he can no longer control. Again it is difficult to decide if this is a loss or not. She is definitely less original in her views - she no longer thinks Rubyfruit Jungle is the best book she has ever read for instance - but she is as strong-minded as ever and the very last thing she does in the play is use her skills as a hairdresser in a very unconventional setting.

 

In the first act Rita confesses that she does not feel confident around middle-class people and she is unable to attend the dinner party that Frank invited her to for this reason. This changes, particularly after Rita attends summer school, but Frank worries that, in providing her a more middle-class view of life, he has taken away her working-class sense of community. To reassure him on this point Rita tells him about her visit to the pub after she had failed to go to his dinner party. She went there feeling a freak, neither working class nor middle class, but when she joined in singing the song from the jukebox she saw her mother crying. Her mother was crying because they could have been singing a better song, and for Rita, singing a better song means getting a better education.

 

The staging of the play, with just two actors, gives the audience a chance to see the change in Rita from close up, without the distraction of other characters or plot elements. It is easy to compare the Rita of the first scene, promising Frank a haircut, with that of the last scene when she finally gets round to cutting his hair. Because almost all of the action play takes place offstage, the audience's view of Rita's world is largely made up of her words and opinions. This use of Rita's point of view means that the audience tends to be on her side in her struggles with Denny, for example. If Denny had been on stage, his point of view might have come across more strongly.

 

It seems that Rita gains more than she loses as a result of her education. She has some of the rough, and possibly more original, edges of her personality knocked off, but the things she loses are no longer of great value to her.
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