Educating Rita is a play about a 26 year old hairdresser who follows her ambition to be educated throughout the course of the play. Not only does she get herself an education she learns some vital lessons that lead her on her journey of self discovery. The play has various themes which it addresses, the main ones being choice, class and education. This essay will examine how Willy Russell reveals the changes in Rita’s character to the audience. The focus will be on language, structure, characterisation and dramatic devices to answer the question.
The main setting of the play is on the first floor of a Victorian-built university in the north of England is to elevate herself. The fact that Rita has to climb to the first floor suggests Rita’s journey is to elevate herself and it shows the progression of Rita’s character. It shows struggle in her character as does how she immediately struggles to get through the door. ‘I’m comin’ in, aren’t I? It’s that stupid bleedin’ handle on the door. You wanna get it fixed! ‘ The un-oiled door shows a barrier between them and a barrier between Rita and what her ambitions.
The audience is made aware of how difficult the journey to change will be for her and one way is through her language. ‘There’s no suppose about it. Look at those tits. ‘ Her inappropriate, colloquial language and his Standard English create a barrier between them. Russell sets up mismatch between the characters to show how different they are but at the same time it creates comedy. ‘You are? ‘ ‘What am I? ‘ ‘Now you are? ‘ ‘I’m a what? ‘ She changes her name to Rita after Rita Mae Brown, a pulp-fiction author showing how unhappy she is with the person she is.
It also shows she doesn’t know anything about literature as Rubyfruit Jungle is pulp-fiction and Rita Mae Brown isn’t really intellectual. By changing her name it shows how seriously she wants to change. ‘These women, you see, they come to the hairdresser’s cos they wanna be changed, but if you want to change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y? ‘ She feels that to get out of her class, she has to change on the inside. This just goes to show how much she has to learn about her class. Initially, she is insecure and wants to pack in the course but she quickly goes from insecure to indecisive, showing the determination she has.
By the end of the scene she has decided that she will keep coming, reinforcing her determination. ‘You are my teacher – an’ you’re gonna bleedin’ well teach me. ‘ Immediately in Act 1, 2 she is oiling the door showing that she is ready to make the transition easier and that the door is no longer a barrier between them. In this scene she talks of buying a dress which symbolises she’s achieved her goal. ‘An’ I’m not gonna get one either, not till I pass me first exam. ‘ Having read Howards End she tells Frank she thinks it is crap.
This portrays her innocence and shows how judgemental she is. It shows she is not ready to submit it and needs to change the way she thinks critically. It reinforces how badly she did in school and how her Russell constructed her character to go through the things which he went through. It’s a parallel to his education. Act 1, 3 and 4 start with her saying ‘God I’ve had enough’ and ‘I can’t do it’. It shows her defeatist attitude and even though she is well into the course and has begun to read more widely her essays still aren’t good enough.
She doesn’t really understand what’s wrong with pulp-fiction and Frank even has to point that out. ‘You seem to be under the impression that all books are literature. ‘ Even though she’s set on changing she doesn’t know how to go about it. ‘how d’ y’ work it out if y’ don’t know? See that’s what I’ve got to learn isn’t it? ‘ This shows us as the audience how she needs Frank to teach her what she needs to know. Although she is not supposed to have a lesson, she bursts in in Act 1,6 which shows the effort she made to get to him.
In this scene they talk about tragedy, Rita’s tragic flaw being that she thinks education will solve her all her problems and just like many other yuppies that were around in those days, she tries to shed her own identity. She has a burning desire to become middle class like the students she can see through the window. The window is a barrier between herself and the ‘real’ students who she envies and it will be there till she acquires the education she is seeking. The window is again used as a barrier in Act 1, 7 when she gets to Frank’s house and she sees them all laughing through the window.
She feels she can’t go in and be part of them and this shows she can’t become middle class yet as there’re still several lessons that need to be learnt. Instead of going inside she goes to the pub where her mum inspires her to carry on with the course. She suddenly starts crying and says ‘we could sing better songs than those. ‘ With this new inspiration, she is insistent on wanting to write and pass exams like the other students.
She is determined to change and she says to Frank ‘don’t you see I want to change? She seems to want total focus on working and passing exams even though she’s just split with Denny. Act 2. 1 shows a real transition in her character. It shows that having spent 6 weeks away from Frank she feels she can do without him now. Rita appears to be more confident in herself when she comes back from summer camp. Instead of her usual entrance she comes in and twirls on the spot to show her new, second hand clothes. They’re new showing that she has passed a certain stage but she’s wearing another persons clothes showing she could be living again for the second time.
Also when recalling what happened in her first lecture she says she stood up without even having anything to say. Her confidence broods overconfidence and this can be seen as her weakness. She feels she is ready and has overcome everything stopping her from getting an education but she still can’t open the window. She’s become less dependable on Frank as she realises she doesn’t need him anymore. An example of this is when she says that they should do Blake and she says she has already done them. In Act 2. 2 she seems to be all consumed about literature but she’s not able to see it.
Trish and her new middle class friends have replaced Frank and she even comes in talking in a changed voice because Trish has convinced her that she has to look the educated part and her ‘stupid voice’ is a hindrance to that. In Act 2. 3 we see a role reversal between the two characters. As the lights come up, Rita is sitting in the armchair and Frank comes in, very drunk. This shows he doesn’t have the power anymore. The fact that he is drunk shows that he needs to depend on the drink. When he had Rita in his life he went off the drink but now that she has changed and moved forward and he hasn’t, he seems to have lost her and gets drunk.
Also, the fact he says ‘completely off my cake’ on page 86 reinforces this role reversal as she used to say that. The way he talks the same way as she used to, shows he’s trying to keep hold of the part of her he knew before. Also, earlier in the play, Rita says ‘Assonance means getting the rhyme wrong’ and this shows how badly Rita has affected him. Now she’s teaching him and again it’s almost like a role reversal.
Another role reversal is when Frank he got round to reading Rubyfruit Jungle and he thinks it’s excellent. Rita contradicts herself from the start as she says it’s ‘interesting but hardly excellent. It shows she can now recognise good literature from bad. Her changing her name is a significant change as it proves she’s breaking away from her past life and that she’s more intellectual. Her not telling Frank that she isn’t called Rita anymore shows how much more independent she’s become. This is also illustrated when he tells her he phoned the shop she worked in.
She off-handily replies that she remembered telling someone she didn’t work there anymore. Rita says she gave the hairdresser job up because she thought it was boring and that it was ‘full of irrelevance. She didn’t want to talk rubbish and this shows she took another step to be around more middle class people and play the part. It is obvious from the start that Willy Russell wants to show the changes in character as he uses only two characters throughout. Using two characters helps us focus on the changes in character and development. Act 2. 6 is significant as it is the only scene in which there is one character by himself. This scene reinforces how Rita has changed and moved on but Frank has one backwards to where he was before, he hasn’t changed.
It shows how he needed more out of the relationship than just education and also shows how he doesn’t really know her anymore. He doesn’t even know her name, yet he is still looking out for her as he entered her into the exam. In the stage directions it says he is drunk. This shows he is down as Rita who was a substitute for the drink is no longer there. It shows how, yet again he is dependant on alcohol and that he drinks for confidence to talk to Rita – something he’s never had to do before. His loneliness reflects the isolation of his character.
It also reflects how far apart their characters have drifted. 4 The phone appears to be a barrier for Frank as he is not able to get to her, relate to her anymore even though they are both educated. We have to sympathise for Frank but also for Rita as she doesn’t realise what valuable friendship she is losing and she didn’t realise how dependant on her he would be. In Act 2. 7, Rita enters the room and shuts the door. This shows that she has overcome the barrier that was hindering her from getting an education and has been given choices now she’s educated. ‘I dunno. I might go to France.
I might even have a baby. I dunno. I’ll make a decision. I’ll choose. ‘ Now that she is educated she doesn’t even think that highly of the students anymore as she says Tiger is ‘a wanker really. ‘ Frank buys Rita a dress as recognition of her being educated. In this scene we learn that Trish attempts suicide. This was put in possibly to show Rita that middle class life doesn’t have the answers. Frank has been sentenced to two years in Australia which also emphasizes how middle class life isn’t what she deemed it to be. Frank wants Rita to go with him.
‘The thing is, why don’t you – come as well? She feels going with him wouldn’t be the best thing for her as she would be rid of her choices and dependant on the man again. At the end of the play, Rita begins to cut Frank’s hair. This shows that the part of Rita that Frank likes still exists. At the same time it shows she is finally accepting that part of her culture and it shows her appreciation towards Frank. Willy Russell gives the play an anti climax ending, it’s not made final at the end. Willy Russell also uses humour to reflect the beginning of the play and this helps bring the play full circle.
Willy Russell reveals to the audience the change in Rita’s character by changing something in most scenes. In the first few scenes we, as the audience are just getting to know her character and so at first there are only little changes like the way she enters in each scene. In the first two scenes you see her as a character already trying to develop as she oils the door that once was a barrier to her. The most significant change in her character is when she goes to summer camp in Act 2. 1 and spends six weeks away from Frank. One way that Russell shows the change is through her buying new, second hand clothes.
This shows although she feels she has passed a credible stage, she is living and being educated for the second time. This is an autobiographical link between Russell’s and Rita’s lives as they both start again at college. This is one reason why Educating Rita was successful as a dialogue play; it mirrors the reality of life. In the last scene of the play, Rita realises that middle class life isn’t as good as she thought it was. Also, we learn she accepts her culture buy cutting Frank’s hair and this shows that not only has she become educated, she has discovered who she is and how important class is.