In this essay I will try to conclude whether Rita can be seen as the voice of Willy Russell. I will look at the views they share as well as the ones they may not. Throughout this essay I will refer to Rita’s speech in Act 1 Scene 4 of the play as well as making reference to other parts of the play. Rita makes it clear in her speech that she does not want to follow the life that people do from her working class background. She says the she wants to “break away” from the people that are getting in the way of her progression and that she becomes “stronger comin’ here” (the university).
This follows on from Willy Russell experience of going on a trip to the factory when he was younger. He tells us how “most of the kids with whom I visited that place accepted that it was their lot to end up in that place”, however, like he portrays Rita as not wanting to stick to her premade path of life, he also shows that he didn’t feel comfortable with accepting the route his background had made for his life, proving that Rita has expressed his views.
Rita’s socialist views come through in this speech as she believes that the powerful people in society use their influence to make the working class background believe that they can’t be more than they want to. She believes that the national newspapers do this “so the disease” of not aspiring to be more than your label “is always covered up”. The fact that she believes everyone should have the chance to be educated shows her communist way of thinking, as it shows that she thinks that everyone should be equal.
In the speech, Rita compares to the working class people as “drug addicts”, saying they are similar because “they hate it when one of them tries to break away”. The way that the working class people need to stick together makes it seem like they are very dependent on each other and anyone that tries to branch out of the community is classed as being deviant. Rita’s views of the working class link to the perception of what a drug addict is like, for example, they are seen as hopeless, which Rita also tells us that working class people feel as if they are.
At the start of her speech, she tells Frank of how when she spoke to someone of her community about literature, their “eyes lit up” this shows that working class people can be passionate about something and that some people do want to break out of the stereotypical type of person they should be. When she says “But they’re not. Cos there’s no meanin” it tells us that no one from her background is happy with the way their lives have panned out, they don’t want a monotonous lifetime of wishing that they could have achieved something more.
However, they don’t want to do anything about it because of the fact, like drug addicts, they find it very hard to break away from their stereotype because they feel as if they’d be alone in doing so; and that they would be judged if they did so. Willy Russell broke away from the working class life when he became a hairdresser; going against what he thought was the norm of becoming a factory worker. This shows how he believed he had an equal chance to pursue any career he wanted, especially when he went on to be a successful playwright.
I believe that not only was this speech written to entertain the audience, but Russell also wrote it to make the audience think about the society they live in and to make a judgment on whether they think the opportunities that working class have are fair or not. When Frank asks Rita why she didn’t “take a course in politics” she replies with “go away, I hate politics”. This shows how Russell believes to make a judgment on how society works; you don’t need to have a degree in that subject.
The hidden meaning on the speech that Russell is trying to convey to the audience is that people don’t need to have an education to have an opinion and they don’t need to have a degree to have a valid point. The argument that Russell is trying to express through Rita is that working class people are being overlooked by society due to the fact they don’t have degrees, and their opinions aren’t being listened to. Instead, they are being told by people in power e. g. newspapers telling the working class to “go out an’ get more money” to basically keep the country functioning well through paying taxes etc.
Russell is trying to make the audience realise that working class people are not having their voices heard and instead have been given a purpose of living rather than making a purpose for themselves. The fact that Russell has portrayed his views through a character is because he is able to make it come from the voice of a woman. From the audience’s perspective, they would be relate more to a woman than a man because a woman is seen as the vulnerable gender, so the audience would feel more sympathetic towards her views, therefore more likely to take them in.
Also, the fact that she is working class would make them realise that Russell’s views of how you don’t need an education to have a valid point would make his views more believable. Also, the fact that women were seen to be the inferior person at the time compared to men at the time would have created more of an impact on the audience as it would raise a controversial subject at the time of women wanting to aspire for more. Men could do what they wanted at the time, so if a man was the one who raised these issues it would have had the same effect on the audience.
However, on the flip side, this would create easier viewing for the audience as women at the time would have been seen as clever than men and therefore more silly and daft – this comical side to women would make the play less intense for the audience and therefore more enjoyable. Russell has therefore thought of not only the content of the play but also the audience’s reaction to it, and you need to keep the audience interested when trying to express a view to them. Compared to the beginning of the play, people’s opinions of Rita have changed vastly.
At the beginning of the play, Rita is portrayed as completely inappropriate e. g. when she describes the painting in Frank’s room as “erotic”, out of her depth e. g. when she offers Frank a pulp fiction book and doesn’t see the difference between that and a classic novel. The audience at first thought of Rita has a funny character, but didn’t see her in depth. However, as we progress through the play, we see a different side to Rita, of which we see her views and beliefs about society and the people who she has grown up with.
This change in reaction has made the audience see that their stereotypical views of people aren’t necessarily always true, and that you shouldn’t judge someone based on their class. Now, the audience have more sympathy for Rita and what has happened to her during the play e. g. the breakdown of her marriage. Other things which have an impact on the way that Russell has used Rita to express his views in the play are through stage directions and setting.
During Rita’s speech, when Frank “swivels round in his chair to face Rita”, Frank has a moment of realisation. He represents the whole of society, where Rita represents the working class people. When he swivels round in his chair, this shows that society is no longer turning its back on the working class people and leaving them out, it’s finally accepting them as human being and realises that they do deserve an opinion. Russell does this in the play as this is what he wishes will actually happen in reality.
He wishes that working class people would no longer have a stigma attached to them which assumes they can’t amount to much. The room in which Frank teaches Rita has closed windows and closed doors. The room could represent people’s minds in which they are closed off to everything around them. What Willy Russell is asking people to do is to open their minds and observe what is going on around them, instead following a social norm and questioning what is going on, not letting someone else do the thinking for them e. g. the newspapers.
Apart from Rita being used as the voice of Willy Russell, Russell has also made them both similar autobiographically. For example, both he and Rita left school with little or no qualifications. In the play, Russell tells us about himself and how he felt inadequate at school as he didn’t fit in with everyone else, because when talking about school work he says “I never completed mine” just like when Rita doesn’t finish her essay to its full extent in Act 1 Scene 3. This shows how he is has written Rita to be like him before he found out what he wanted to be.
He also says how he “didn’t want to be an apprentice printer” which shows he isn’t confused about his life considering it was one of the main jobs for people at the time; however, Rita wasn’t so sure. She didn’t know what she wanted to do; first she needed to find the answer to the question of “Me? What’s me? “. The main similarity between Russell and Rita is the fact that they both go back to education to gain a qualification in something that they want to not only better their lives, but also to be whoever they wanted to be – English Literature.
Russell didn’t want to be a hairdresser all his life, so he took up a course at a college after six years of working in a salon, and Rita also did the same. After working in a hair salon for her adult life, she enrolled in an Open University course, as she knew that she didn’t want to follow the life planned for her by her class, she didn’t want to have a baby as soon as she got married. She wanted to live her life before making someone else’s.
This was the type of life which Russell strongly opposed where someone has set it out for you already, and you have no decision in the matter. To conclude, I think Russell has used Rita to voice his opinions with hidden meanings in this speech. I believe that he has tried to make the character a bit different from him to suit the audience and the make the play more enjoyable to watch whilst at the same time projecting his views through her. He has tried to make his opinions subtle so that the audience think about them and start to develop their own ideas.