Educating Rita

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Educating Rita: Society, Education and Self-Reflection
Usa Padgate *
Abstract
Educating Rita is a play written by Willy Russell, an English playwright from Liverpool. It was voted ‘Best Comedy of the Year’ when performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980. By 1983 it had risen to be the fourth most popular play on the British stage. In the same year it was transformed into a film and won the BAFTA Best Film Award as well as Academy Award nominations, proving its appeal and popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. This paper aims at introducing Willy Russell’s work to fresh audience, especially students who are looking for reasons to acquaint themselves with English literature and teachers whose interests lie in finding materials that will help answer their students why we need such liberal education as literature. The study gives an overview analysis of the interplay between society and literature exposed in the story of Rita’s education. It also explores the possibilities of adapting the literary allusions in the play into real-life education, with the all-presumptive assertion that ‘If Rita can do it, so can we.’ The exploration looks first into Rita’s working-class background and its effects on her education and then into means by which Rita’s ways of education, liberal education, can benefit students of all social backgrounds. * Dr.Usa Padgate is currently an English instructor in Department of English, Faculty of Humanities, Naresuan University.

Forewords
Educating Rita is a two-character play written by Willy Russell, an English playwright from Liverpool. It was voted ‘Best Comedy of the Year’ when performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1980. By 1983 it had risen to be the fourth most popular play on the British stage. In the same year it was transformed into a film and won the BAFTA Best Film Award as well as Academy Award nominations, proving its appeal and popularity on both sides of the Atlantic.

Willy Russell records that when making Educating Rita, he ‘tried very hard to write a love story’1. The play, however, exhibits more than just a romantic agenda. In its multilayers, it takes into account the heavy social issues of gender convention, class system, and education from which array aspects of sophistication, personal growth and relationships.

In all the multitude made possible for in-depth discussions by the richness of Russell’s text, this essay chooses to explore the idea of liberal education projected from different, and opposing, views and how liberal education may consequently effect mass education. The exploration is carried out under the all-presumptive assertion that ‘If Rita can do it, so can we,’ assuming that Rita’s social conditions and constraints are also faced by million others around the world disregarding the obvious cultural and geographical differences.

Educating Rita: The Story
Rita, or Mrs. Susan White, is a free-spirited 26-year-old hairdresser from Liverpool. She is married with no child and deeply dissatisfied with the kind of life she leads. Being born and bred working-class, she is sickened by the limited choice in life available to 1 McDonald, Alister, ‘Seeking Fulfillment in Liverpool: The Plays of Willy Russell’. Critic, 65, 2(1 March 1989), p.14-15.

her class. The only way out, she realises, is to seek education and try to better her social status through it. She then decides, after a lifetime of taking school for granted, to enroll in an Open University literature programme with the hope to ‘find meself’ before indulging her husband by forcing babies into the world.

Her husband, Denny, disapproves of her resolution to acquire options in life. His ‘choices’ are limited to the different beers he can freely choose in a local pub. He burns her books when he finds out that she is taking the pill. Rita’s determination to pursue with the study costs her the marriage when Denny eventually leaves her. Frank, Rita’s tutor at the university is a cynical,...
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