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Educating Rita

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How does the opening scene of ‘Educating Rita’ prepare the audience for the rest of the play?

Willy Russell; the author of educating Rita was born in Whinston which is just outside Liverpool. When he was at five years old he moved to Knowsley. He went to a school just down the road from his Grandmas grocer. He took gardening up as a hobby and played football regularly. At eleven years old he went to a secondary school in Huyton. Then a year later he moved to Rainford School, when he was there he started reading and a few weeks later he decided he wanted to become a writer. He realised he had left it to late to catch up with all his school work. So he enrolled in an o-level English course and got a job as a hairdresser to pay for his college fees. Russell is similar to the character Rita in many ways, Rita is a ladies hairdresser, who longs for a more fulfilling life and wishes to become Educated in literature (as did Russell) they both also come from a middle class background, and are both faced with the same dilemmas in life.

The main theme in the play is personal relationships; it focuses on how Frank and Rita influence each other. At the start of the play Rita is cocky, unnerved and knows nothing about literature, but as the play develops; she turns into a confident young women, who can make her own wise choices. Frank doesn’t develop much, so he is disillusioned at the start and from there on he just goes down hill.

There is one main scene setting in Educating Rita which is Frank’s office in the Open University. This is the main setting for the play. The play is set in 1985, the year it was written.

The play Educating Rita, written by Willy Russell, explores how Rita, the main character, is educated; she is a very outspoken, quite confident, confused, naïve young woman, who is trapped by her working class job as a hairdresser (a very stereotypical job for a working class woman in the 80’s). She sees education as a way of getting a better life and bettering herself as a person, instead of her mother who never “sang a different song”, and she looks at her possibilities and tries to get an education. Rita goes to an Open University to study English; the Open University was created for people to get a degree by doing most of your work at home or online.

Frank is a lecturer at the Open University that Rita goes to, he appears to be middle classed because of his life style, he doesn’t respect his partner Julia, because in act 1 scene 1, he is on the phone to her and she has cooked him a meal and he says “yes that’s it, you just pop off and put you’re head in the oven”, so he can go to the pub after he finishes work instead of going home. As the play develops, he is sent to Australia by the college because of his drunken behaviour at the Open University. The phone is again used at the end by frank to ring Rita, “I’ve entered her for her examination… yes you see she doesn’t know the details… time and where the exam is being held… could you tell her to call in?...please…yes…thank you.” this shows that Frank cares about Rita, because he entered her into an exam, he wants her to have what she wants, an education. The phone is an effective stage device.

They are both quite upfront, at the start of the play, Act 1, scene 1, she notices the religious naked picture on the wall in Franks room. She says “there’s no suppose about it. Look at those tits. Is it meant to be erotic? I mean when he painted it, do y’ think he wanted to turn people on?” This shows Rita is very upfront, she is quite rude too, but this shows she is testing Frank to see if he will accept her real personality. Rita also asks Frank lots of questions, She is extremely keen to learn, and wants to know everything. Questions such as “y’ don’t paint pictures like that just so that people can admire the brush strokes, do y’?” or “but in those days they had to pretend it wasn’t erotic so they made it religious didn’t they?” and “that’s no good always meanin’ to, is it?” This shows she is trying to be like Frank in some way, that she wants him to tell her stuff, to make her educated. Her humour attracts the audience.

Marriage too, is a barrier to young women progressing. Rita’s husband wants her to have babies and stay in her job as a hairdresser. At 26, at that time, she would be considered too old to be starting a family. The fact that she secretly takes the pill reflects a freedom that the women the 80’s had.
“I’m sure me husband thinks I’m sterile. He was moanin’ all the time, y’ know, ‘come off the pill, let’s have a baby’. I told him I’d come off it, just to shut him up. But I’m still on it.” Rita lies to her husband because she doesn’t want to have a baby. In a way it shows that she won’t stand up to him and maybe he has more control of the relationship than she has. When her husband burnt her books, we know that Rita’s attempt to become more cultured and not be stuck at home as a mother is a serious challenge for her. Education as a freedom is explored in this funny play, and through Rita’s relationship with Frank.

The opening scene in Educating Rita shows Rita going to her first class to meet her professor, seeking education. Rita struggles to get through the door, this is a metaphor to show that it’s going to be a struggle to enter franks world, the world of university, it’s also a physical barrier showing that there’s going to be a lot of obstacles she’s going to have to overcome at university.

In act one, scene one, “well that’s no good just meanin’ to is it, you should just get on with it, one of these days you’ll be shouting come in, and it will go on forever, because the poor sod on the other side wont be able to get in, and you wont be able to get out!” This is an extended metaphor, and shows how Rita struggles to get through the door of Franks office, and this also means that she will struggle to get into Franks world, world of education.
Soon after the entrance of Rita into the play the conversation with Rita and Frank moved on to her swearing "Ill say something like, oh, I’m really fucked, y' know, dead loud. It doesn't half cause a fuss." She moves on to talk more about the upper classes swearing "its all pass me the fakin' grouse' with them isn't it". This again shows she has little knowledge of the upper class because the upper-class rarely ever swears out of context.

Throughout the play, Rita’s social class has been blatantly obvious, just through even the way she speaks. The accent and the swearing is a dramatic device to emphasise her character, class and difference from Frank. The swearing is also used for irony and comedy, the audience finds swearing rather funny. This is why the play is a comedy, as mentioned under the title.

In Frank’s office, there is a large bay window, which plays a big part in the play. The window over looks a green in the centre of the university, and this is where students gather for lunch or for talks with each other, Rita sees these students do this every time she looks from the window. She is jealous because she wants to be them, she wants to be a student and sit with them. The view from the window is perfect to her; this is what she wants to be.

In the play there is a poem by Blake called “The Sick Rose” that is put in the play because it is about Rita, it reads
“O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night in the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love Does thy life destroy.”
The sick rose, is Rita, this is why it is mentioned in the play. She is sick because she cannot bloom and grow because of her educational background and her restrictive husband.

Howard’s end is also put into the play, one reason because it is has rude possibilities, and the second because on the front of the book Howard’s End it says “only connect”. It is about Rita, because she wants to connect to the world of education and literature, to change and leave her old life behind her, because she thinks it will make her a better person. She learns at the end that she does have choice “I dunno. I might go to France. I might go to me mother’s, I might even have a baby. I dunno. I’ll make a decision, I’ll choose. I dunno.” Rita realises that she’s a point where she isn’t educated so she will become a lecturer or to be better than anybody else, but she is educated to have choices, and maybe lead a better life for herself with these choices.

At the end of the play, Frank receives a haircut from Rita, This symbolises that Frank has endured a drastic change from the alcoholic lonely man, he was at the beginning, and Rita has changed Frank. The haircut means he is a new man and is making a better fresh start for himself all thanks to Rita. Although the play is called educating Rita, it should really be called educating frank, because he had learnt more from meeting Rita, as before he was quite stuck up, uncomfortable, quite negative and depressed, and Rita changes him for the good, she brings the good side out of him.

[1]- http://www.bookrags.com/essay-2005/2/5/11514/80145

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