Educating Rita Belonging Essay


Educating Rita by Willy Russell is a drama text  within the “Texts and Society ” Module C(Elective 2:Exploring Transition )  in the 2015 HSC English Standard course.

Educating Rita by Willy Russell


Hairdresser Rita feels that life is passing her by. She wants an education. But does Frank have anything to teach her? Willy Russell’s play gives a hilarious – and often moving – account of a young woman’s determination to change her life.



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Please note the Syllabus Descriptions and Syllabus Annotations components of this page have been replicated from the Board of Studies, Testing and Educational Standards website. The PDF document of the HSC Annotations can be found here. The main reason any information has been replicated has been to make it easier for NSW HSC students to access information on this text.

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Belonging implies change, and change rarely comes without consequence. The progression to belong into a now culture or place may be physical, emotional or mental. Rita, driven by feeling inadequate is the main character in Willy Russell’s play, Educating Rita. She achieves a successful move into her new world. However, she must overcome change which will come at a personal cost. Throughout the play Willy Russell depicts many themes; these include relationships, choice and consequence, social class and change.

These themes are constantly seen in “good will hunting”, directed by Gus Van Sant. Staring Matt Damon who plays “will hunting”, an abused foster child, he subconsciously blames himself for his unhappy upbringing and turns this self-loathing into a form of self-sabotage in both his professional and emotional life. The story is about his challenge to break from his working-class culture and move on. However, he will face many changes through-out his quest to belong. Relationships can mould or trigger change, and change is seen throughout Educating Rita.

Rita embarks on an Open University course as she wants more out of her life. Rita see’s education as an exit route from her current life, she is “out of step” with her husband, family and friends – Rita wants to “discover [herself] first”, before wanting to compensate with having a child with Denny. Denny’s obsession of one day settling down with a family leads to the later divorce and failure of their marriage. Rita’s initial depiction of Denny towards Frank was that Denny “was blind”, Rita differentiates herself by stating that “[she ] wants to see”.

Denny does not understand nor is willing to negotiate or communicate with Rita throughout act one, Denny’s aggressive behaviour leads to the savage action of burning her books, in scene five, and later Rita’s moving out of the house. This change was a consequence of Rita’s action to educate herself, despite Rita’s suffering she is still sympathetic and forgiving towards Denny, this is reinforced by Rita describing where “the girl he married has gone too” and she later states “he said I’d betrayed him. I suppose I had”.

Throughout act one the audience is accounted for the growing bond between Rita and Frank. In act one scene one the stuck door is a metaphor for the effort required to change. Rita is confronted by a physical barrier which she would later overcome. Rita’s relationship with Frank develops throughout the play, she is uncomfortable in the first scene of act one, as she is unfamiliar with her surroundings. Rita’s discomfort is depicted through her agile talking, swearing and her constant moving about, this is evident through scene one as Rita feels “nervous” as she was “testing” frank.

Rita is initially physically separated from Frank; there is an intangible barrier between Rita and Frank. However, this is quickly diminished as their relationship develops, this is evident as throughout the play, Rita starts to become less nervous and starts to sit down next to Frank, Rita stops “talking at” Frank and starts “talking [with]” him. Despite Rita’s lost relationship with Denny and a growing bond with Frank, Rita is still definitely torn between two worlds, this is evident through act one scene seven where Rita states that she is a “half-cast”.

Rita’s experience in London at summer school is significant as this is the beginning of a new Rita , however , it is also the beginning of a drift in Rita’s and Franks relationship. She is able to gain confidence to talk “sophisticatedly”, this boost in confidence gave her the courage to talk and meet new friends, creating a new circle of friends for Rita. This means Rita is less dependent of Frank; this is evident through her late appearances to their tutorials or not attending at all. Frank confronts Rita complaining “… that there was a time when you told me everything”.

Franks view of Rita changes as the play progresses, Frank is disenchanted with Rita’s transformation under the influence of Trish and Tyler. Rita, for her part, has lost her initial respect towards Frank, this is evident as Frank is constantly drinking and smoking, whereby Rita is trying to keep clean and “change for the better”. Relationships encounter difficulties which make it harder to belong; however, the nature of relationships alters due to the individual’s choices and the consequences which follow as a result. Rita’s motivations in moving into the world are to achieve some sort of choice about the direction her life will follow.

Rita does not want to follow her working-class path of blindness; instead she wants to achieve an education so that she is prone to more informed choices. Rita’s choice to enrol in an Open University course is the first stage of choices; this choice was subsequently looked down upon by Denny. However, even though Rita enrolled to the course she is faced with the consequences of both Denny and actually completing the course, even after she was accepted to the course she was compensating to “pack the course in”, coming very close to doing that in act one scene seven.

However, the sight of her mother’s disappointment of not “singing a different song” is evidence of her unhappiness towards the culture. This scene is the ultimatum Rita is faced with, she is forced to make a decision between her working class and the middle class, as she is nether belonging to the working nor the middle class. This is evident as she states that she is a “freak” and a “half-cast”, however, her mother’s unhappiness is a key influence to her decision to stay at the Open University.

To Rita the availability of choice is something of a luxury, she has no plan to what she is going to after she finishes the course… However, Rita pampers to the availability of choices. This is evident in the last scene, where Rita is going to do her exams, she does not know what she is going to do for Christmas, however, she says, “i dunno. I’ll make a decision, I’ll choose. ” This reinforces Rita’s luxury of “choice”. Rita’s choice to study has huge consequences in her personal life.

This caused friction with her husband, which later is the key factor to the breakdown of the marriage. The alienation of Rita from her family and friends is yet another consequence of her choice to study. Rita’s alienation is seen in act one scene seven, as Rita cannot find a place to belong, she feels “out of step”, from both her family and Frank/upper class, describing herself as a “half-cast”. Rita’s and Frank’s bond slowly diminishes and they both drift away from each other, to a point where frank starts calling her different names.

Frank is open too Rita, subsequently Rita is not, Frank feels his “creation” had turned out to be a “monster”. Frank decides to call himself “Mary Shelly”, this is significant as Frank has related Rita and himself to a gothic number called “Frankenstien”. Franks allusion shows the audience that Rita has “changed for the worst”. Throughout Educating Rita, there is heavy emphasis of moving into a different social class. Rita is dissatisfied with the limitations she faces within her current working class life.

She doesn’t fit in with her peers in her working class neighbourhood; this is evident in act one scene two where she acknowledges that most of her peers would have had a baby, Rita on the other hand wants to “discover [herself]” and wants “a better way of livin’”. She attempts to explain her restlessness to Denny, but Denny’s interpretation of Rita’s materialistic terms as just simply saving up and “moving to a better neighbourhood”. Rita feels congested on the moral values of the working class culture she is a part of.

This is evident in act one scene four, she depicts her class as everyone wanting to have a baby, she says that “everyone expects it”, everyone expects Rita to settle down to a life of marriage. Rita strives for a better social class, one which she can connect with, feeling a large sense of belonging, her desire for a better way of living leads her into the world, letting her husband, Denny behind she can only go forward. As she progresses through her Open University course, she starts to feel more of a “half cast”, belonging in nether class.

She cannot relate to her working class friends, however, she also cannot speak the language of the middle class. Rita’s view of the working class if very critical, she completely denies their culture claiming that she see’s “everyone pissed… because their lives have no meanin’”. Her view on education is a view of “setting her free”. In Rita’s first tutorial, she looks outside Franks window peering at the students on the grass, stating; “god, what’s it like to be free? ” an ironic view because Frank is not free, and only restricted as he is unsatisfied with his job, drinking his way though each day.

Whilst educating Rita provides the audience with a good account of an individual’s progression to belong to a new culture, “good will hunting” portrays a complementary account. Like Rita, “Will hunting” is from the working class culture. Good Will Hunting is a poetic story of a young man’s struggle to find his place in the world by first finding out who he is. This is the case for Rita, she is trying to “discover herself” . The movie is a journey through the mind of Will Hunting as he is forced to endure therapy instead of jail.

With the help of the psychologist, played by Robin Williams, Will discovers himself and realizes his value in the world by understanding what matters to him most. An abused foster child, he subconsciously blames himself for his unhappy upbringing and turns this self-loathing into a form of self-sabotage in both his professional and emotional life. The story is about his challenge to break from his working-class culture, Will Hunting emphasises the elements within “Educating Rita”, although Will is a troubled genius, they both hold the same characteristics.

Will, like Rita experiences the hardships of belonging to a new culture, Will Hunting is also faced with an Ultimatum; Will doesn’t see the opportunities which lie ahead of him, blinded by his path. However, he is put straight by his best mate; Chuckie who states “Look – you’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you’re still livin’ here, comin’ over to my house, still workin’ construction, I’ll kill you. That’s not a threat I’ll kill you”. This harsh statement is the turning point for Will. Will is completely different to Rita; they are both worlds away from each other.

However, in both cases, moving onto a new world involves painful change before moving forward. In both these accounts, moving into a new world involves difficulties and challenges, both characters strive for an education to achieve their desired outcome. Rita achieves her ultimate goal of having “choice” through education. Will Hunting in “good will hunting” is forced to take upon education to strive for a better class, to open his opportunities. In both these cases, we see that to go into a new world is overwhelmed by difficulties, but it could also bring their desired reward.

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