‘Educating Rita’ is an extraordinary novel written by Willy Russell. This humorous play also has strong serious messages including class, influence and change. Its themes include personal relationships and culture clash! It was written in 1980, it was this time period that that the UK became a more divided society. The difference between the rich and the poor was very obvious also it was the time when men and women were not yet equal. Women could work, but discrimination in the workplace made it tough; women were not paid as well as men and would have to work extremely hard to be recognised.
Women were given the option to study and work and it was on the increase that they did just that, but their expectations were still to raise a family more so than today. If you became married your devotion would be expected to be with your family not your studying or work. Rita a 26-year-old married, working class hairdresser. Rita is bright, bold and bubbly, but feels like life is passing her by. Her husband Denny wants to start a family, ‘come off the pill, let’s have a baby’, Denny would say. But she desires to live her own life first. ‘I wanna discover meself first’ Rita wants a different way of living, a higher class.
Everyone in her working class community expects her to have a baby. Rita knows that if she has a baby it will be too late to change her life, her future will be set; raise a family. Rita becomes determined to acquire middle class culture and sees becoming educated the route to achieving her goal. Therefore she courageously decides, going against her community and husbands will, to study. Frank is a cynical middle -upper class university lecturer in English literature in his early fifties. Frank is an alcoholic with one failed marriage. At present he is in a rather difficult relationship with Julia.
He has achieved some mild success as a poet but has been disinclined to write for quite some time. He has also admitted to being an appalling teacher. He is completely bored in life. Furthermore we know that Frank has almost given up on himself because each aspect of his life is failing; work, relationship, uninspired to write any poetry, therefore fills his time consuming large amounts of alcohol. In Rita’s first interview with Frank the audience can see her personality is fully shown. She bursts in, swears and instantly draws all attention to herself. She was nervous, which made her appear loud mannered.
You would expect she to act cautiously and perhaps shy and very formally but yet she acts cheekily and casual. She asks to smoke and before Frank has a chance to reply gets her cigarettes out, this shows how little she understands of formal interview situations. She converses of many topics immediately after her arrival, not only because they interest her, but also because she doesn’t want to work. She knows she has to, and that is why she has come, but avoids it as much as she can. Frank becomes Rita’s tutor after firm persuasion and some reticence of taking up the job, embarks on the quest of educating Rita.
Rita challenges the attitudes of the traditional university, teaching Frank to question his own understanding of his work and himself. On the bumpy road to ‘knowing everything’ Rita gradually becomes absorbed with culture and literature. In the mists of completely changing her life she loses her husband, job, her uniqueness and eventually loses even herself, once again becoming Susan. Rita character starts by being a cocky, earthy young woman that knows nothing of literature.
Frank starts to teach Rita and it is in those early scenes that he is in control, ‘Now the piece you wrote for me on – what was it called…? says Frank referring to an essay Rita wrote. He is the one with the object of her desire, knowledge. So she places him in high respects, even though Frank is a messy disheartened, alcoholic it does not bother her in the slightest since he is her educated tutor and holds the key to her knowing ‘everything’! This is how their bond starts, each inspired by the other, for Frank its Rita’s chirpy spirit and delightful character unlike what he is used to. For Rita it is Frank’s laid back attitude and that Frank owns something that she feel she needs to be complete, an education.
There are only two characters, which the audience witness, in this play plus the only setting is in frank’s book lined study. Although many important happenings take place offstage, we find out what went on by Frank and Rita’s growingly intimidate conversations. We also find out about the other significant characters in the same way (Denny, Julia, Trish. ) The two main characters that we have here may seem absolute opposites on the outward appearance, but take a second look and perhaps you would notice that they have similarities. They’re both exasperated with their lives.
They are desperate for change, for improvement. There are some obvious differences between Rita and Frank, some which partly prevent Rita from being accepted in Frank’s world. The most apparent is her use of language ‘Look at those tits. ‘ Language such as this is a trademark for working class citizens. Her language is uncouth and vulgar even in the opening scene of the play along with making her evidently out of place it is obvious that the vocabulary she possesses is one of basic level. However her exploit of language improves as the play moves forward.
Rita has a stereotype for middle class society; ‘the sort of dress you’d only see an educated women, on the sort of women who knows the difference between Jane Austen and Tracy Austen’ this is the stereotype, which Rita is clearly trying to achieve. Her stereotype consisted of a different way of dressing and talking, along with being educated. (Being a pebbledash bread eating and flora man or woman. ) Rita is not an unintelligent woman she may not have an outstanding variable vocabulary or a high literary impression or know much about literature at all, but what she does have is a good grasp of understanding.
She also absorbs information rapidly. Furthermore she commences the task of gaining an education; this suggests that she believes she is capable as well as clever enough to achieve her goal. Rita has a burning desire to escape working class culture. She is longing to change her life around. She has identified that it is not a physical change that she has to make, but a mental change ‘y have to do it from the inside, don’t y? Know like I’m doin’. Gaining knowledge, altering behaviour and transforming her way of thinking are all things that Rita hopes to accomplish, – all internal issues.
It takes a lot to change, to admit that you are not happy with your life. ‘Is this the absolute maximum I can expect from this livin’ lark? ‘ she exclaims. Rita expresses that it is so easy just ignore that nagging thought at the back of her mind ‘I mean, there was always somethin’ in me head, tappin’ away, telling’ me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just play another record or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’. Reality starts to kick in and Rita apprehends that she is displeased with life! It is then the big decision arose ‘weather it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself. It is that decision which led Rita to Frank. Rita swirls into Frank’s life like a breath of fresh air. But even though he is almost immediately partial to her, he did not want to take up the task.
This is a sigh of his insecurity; he does not want to take up the task because he does not believe he is capable of completing it. When Rita tries to enter Frank’s study after knocking a few times, she has difficulty opening the door. ‘I’m comin’ in, aren’t I? It’s that stupid bleedin’ handle on the door. You wanna get that fixed! The handle to Frank’s study is fairly stiff. This shows Frank’s isolation and is also a symbol of Rita breaking into Frank’s world. On Rita’s next visit she takes the liberty of oiling the handle for him. Making changes to his study such as oiling the door handle represents the effect Rita is having on Frank. WindowWe are able to tell a lot about Frank’s emotions towards Rita in the scene set up, before Rita has arrived. At the beginning of the first scene Frank was on the phone having yet another argument with Julia.
In this particular convocation he happened s to reveal his feelings about taking up this job ‘I shall need to wash away the memory of some silly women’s attempts to get into the mind of Henry James or whoever we’re supposed to study on this course’. He exposes how much he is not looking forward to Rita coming and doubts her ability and without meeting her calls her ‘silly’. However this is far different to the beginning of the next scene, the stage directions reveal that Frank is waiting with anticipation on Rita’s arrival ‘He glances at his watch, moves to the window, looks out, glances at his watch again… His opinion of Rita has somewhat changed from his first judgment.
From that point onwards Frank and Rita began to build a relationship starting from student- teacher to one of a more personnel level. We know their friendship blooms through their conversations, which in the early lessons seem to be on everything but literature. They begin to share their concerns about their partners. As they talk regularly in their meetings it is not long before their relationship develops enough for it to be appropriate for Rita to invite Frank to the theatre.
Which he reluctantly agreed to accompany her to even though he knew if Julia had been informed it would be ‘deaf and dumb breakfasts for a week. ‘ He also attended knowing that he hates the theatre and amateur theatre even more. Their relationship has come along way since Frank sacrifices a night in the pub to attend the theatre with Rita. Rita is evidently more confident. At first she seemed insecure and constantly put herself down. Now she is confident, comfortable with Frank and has shown literary improvements. Frank gives Rita a small task of attempting to resolve the staging difficulties in a production of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.
Rita comes up with a correct and astute answer and is now clever enough to understand her answer is accurate and beams at Frank as a means of showing this. Rita asks Frank out to the art gallery one day after rushing into his study on her dinner hour to inform him that she has to tell someone that she had been to a theatre ‘a proper one, a professional one’ she said with a glimmer. It shows their relationship is progressing since she picked Frank to share her excitement with. Frank accepts her invitation to the art gallery and in return invites her to dine with him, Julia and a few friends.
When Rita finally got to Franks house on the night of the dinner party she could not face going in. Even though Rita has come along way into her journey of becoming educated she still has a long way to go. She does not yet feel that she can fit in with middle class society. ‘I’d brought the wrong sort of wine’ she replied when Frank asked why she could not come in. Frank suggested that she just be herself ‘they would have seen someone who’s funny, delightful, charming… ‘ explained Frank. Rita just got angry ‘Funny: what’s funny? I don’t wanna be funny. I wanna talk seriously with the rest of you…
I didn’t want to come to your house just to play the court jester. ‘ Protested Rita. This shows Rita’s attitude towards herself. She is still insecure and does not believe she has what it takes to be taken seriously because she ‘can’t learn the language’. She describes. Rita has changed she describes herself to be a ‘freak’ and a ‘half-cast’ because she cannot talk to people she used to talk to anymore because she has had a taste of bigger things, it no longer satisfies her. Yet she has not changed enough to socialise with Frank’s friends for fear that she will not be taken seriously.
After the incident with Frank’s dinner party Rita went to the pub where Denny, her mother and a few friends were singing along to the jute box. Rita made a decision never to return to Frank’s study. She questioned why she was doing this and why she does not just give up and be like them and sing along with them. Seeing all the people in Frank’s house has discouraged her. That way of living seems so distant and Denny and no one else wants her to do this, to change anymore, she is wondering is it worth it? That is why she makes that decision.
Rita’s mother starts to cry and on the way home Rita asks her why and her reply makes Rita think about her abrupt decision to never return to Frank’s tutorials. ‘We could be singing better songs than those’ her mother sobbed. This is symbolic, meaning; we can do better than this. That is why Rita comes back; she realizes why she started this in the first place, to change her life for the better, to break away from working class culture and sing better songs.
This brings me back to something Rita had said at the beginning of the play to Frank about her life before she started studying. Is this the absolute maximum I can expect from this livin’ lark? ‘ No. That is why she comes back because she knows now that she can have better. Earlier in the book when Denny burns all Rita’s books Frank wants to take her to the pub and talk about it and cheer her up, but Rita refuses ‘I don’t want to’ she eventually says after his persistence. When Denny kicks Rita out she begins to cry about it whilst at Frank’s office. When Frank try’s to touch her in the means of comfort she breaks away from him. When Frank wants to ‘sod Macbeth’ and just talk she says ‘I need to go on’.
This shows that the change, though gradual having effects on both relationships with Denny and Frank. Denny’s reaction was immediate to be against her studying and his dislike for it strengthened as she gradually changed until he finally left her. Whilst Frank’s growing sense of unease starts from this point, when he begins to recognize that Rita is losing the very thing that drew Frank to her in the first place, that she is different and exclusive from all the others around him. She was becoming just like everyone else he knew and was bored of.
Rita’s next essay that she hands in to Frank was a very moving, a ‘wonderful’ piece, which shows she is progressing, but in the eyes of the examiner it would be ‘worthless’. Frank tells Rita if she desires to write essays like the ones in the pile on his desk she will have to ‘suppress, perhaps even abandon your uniqueness. I’m going to have to change you. ‘ Even though Rita has made drastic changes she is going to need to change even more to be able to carry out her desire and write like the other students. Rita strolls in late to Frank’s office and says ‘Hello Frank… I know, Frank I’m terribly sorry.
It was unavoidable. ‘ Frank almost immediately recognises the change in her voice. Rita explains herself. ‘Trish says there not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice… I am talking properly. I have to practise constantly, in everyday situations’ Frank urges her to talk normally and gets angry when Rita brings up Trish for the second time ‘Trish says that no matter how hard I may find it I must preserve’ Frank snaps’ well will you kindly tell Trish that I’m not giving a tutorial to a Dalek? ‘ Frank is jealous of Trish because he is not the only educational influence on Rita anymore.
He is also not as much in control as he was at the beginning. Rita has now the confidence to start a conversation with the students ‘down on the lawn’ whereas before she was quite wary of them. She started a debate between two, which ended as a heated discussion involving many ‘everyone else agreed with me’ added Rita. She made some new friends that after only talking to her for five minute invite her abroad with them to the south of France. Frank says ‘you can’t go. ‘ It appears that Frank does not want to share Rita with anyone, not with Trish or the other students, which shows his insecurity of losing her.
Rita starts to talk of Tyson and Frank gets irritated and jumps to conclusions ‘Is there much point in working towards an examination if your going to fall in love and set off for the south of… ‘ Frank saying this really emphasizes his jealousy and unease. At the end of Act 2 scene 2 Rita hands in another essay and when asking his opinion he declares that it is high quality ‘wouldn’t look out of place with these’ and places it on the pile of essays. Rita can now write like the other university students. Rita has almost achieved her goal of becoming more educated. With each step she takes Frank seems more anxious.
Notice how he does not praise her for improving so much in writing as to be at the same standard as the real university students. Praise is usually given to someone whom has done something very well since he did not want Rita to change, he does not praise it. Rita’s uniqueness disappears. Her last piece of work was beyond Frank’s grasp. Before Rita had other influential persons in her life Franks views would be voiced to Rita influencing her to have views likewise therefore Franks views would appear in her work. Since Rita now has Trish and the other students influencing her views the views are dissimilar to Franks.
Frank proclaims that ‘there’s nothing of you in there’ Rita replies ‘maybe Frank, y’ mean there’s nothing of your views in there’. Rita explains how she came up with the views ‘I’ve talked to other people, read other books an’ after consultin’ a wide variety of opinions I came up with those conclusions’ Rita is proving that she does not need Frank as much as she used to. Rita loses it with Frank, he is being too controlling and Rita explains to him that she does not need him in the same way she used to ‘I’m not an idiot now, Frank- I don’t need you to hold me hand as much…
I can- I can do things on me own more now. ‘ Frank is only worried about her because he cares and Rita declares that she cares for him too and apologizes for losing her temper. Their friendship has changed a lot, but even though Rita became irritated with Frank’s possessive behaviour it would not be enough to end their friendship altogether. The apology is significant it’s a symbol of fixing the relationship, Rita could have just left it at that and forgotten about Frank but it proves that their friendship means something to her.
There has been a complete shift in Frank and Rita’s relationship. ‘I got round to reading it you know, Rubyfruit Jungle, it’s excellent’ Rita replies with a laugh ‘Oh go way Frank. Of its type it’s quite interesting. But it is hardly excellent. ‘ This shows a complete role reversal. Frank used to be the one in control and correcting Rita but now it is the other way round. For a while their relationship is not the same. Rita does not tell Frank that she leaves he5r hairdressing job to work in a Bistro. This struck Frank since there was a time when she told him everything.
Rita does not need Frank and does not see any point in coming to his tutorials ‘If you could stop pouring that junk down your throat in the hope that it will make you feel like a poet you might be able to talk about things that matter instead of where I do or don’t work; an’ then it might be worth comin’ here. ‘ Rita says that they should be dealing with literary criticism and so Frank hands her his poetry works and requests and criticism essay on it. Frank was hurt by Rita’s rearms and wanted to prove that he is not as wasteful as she implies. He does this by showing her his works in the hopes to prove her wrong.