Willy Russell

Educating Rita

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Educating Rita Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Educating Rita by Willy Russell.

Educating Rita is a play written by Willy Russell. It features only two actors and takes place entirely in the office of a university lecturer. It explores the relationship between education and one’s life, and the ways that problems follow us when we try to escape them.

The play opens with Rita, a hairdresser and working class woman from Liverpool. She goes to the office of Frank, a washed-up academic with a drinking problem. She announces that she’s there for tutoring because she’ll be entering school once again.

Frank is talking to Julia, his younger girlfriend. He tells her he’ll be headed to the pub, and then begins to speak with Rita. She is loud and brash. She points out a nude painting and jokes with Frank, who seems fascinated by her. He offers her a drink and reveals his bottles hidden around his office.

Rita tells Frank how hungry she is to learn and that the people around her have no culture. She is tired of listening to everyone’s inane conversations as a hairdresser and she’s looking for something more. She tells him that he needs a haircut, but he denies it.

In their conversation, she asks him questions about literary terms, and she admits that her name is actually Susan. She calls herself Rita after the author of her favorite book, Rubyfruit Jungle. She admits that her husband isn’t happy about her desire to improve herself and that she feels like she doesn’t want to be part of the ignorant masses anymore.

Frank agrees to teach her, but he is so jaded by academia that he ends up trying to get rid of her. She is relentless and persuades him to remain her tutor. He asks questions about her youth and her school. She describes an environment in which everyone is trying to fit in, and she went along with the crowd. Somewhere, she started to wonder if there was more to life.

She writes an essay on her favorite book, but Frank criticizes it saying that it was too subjective. He wants her to produce real criticism, but this is difficult for her to do. She read a Forster book that Frank mentioned but couldn’t get into it because Forster mentioned that he hated poor people. Frank is amused by her feelings.

Rita asks Frank if he is married, and he says that he was once. As they continue their lessons, Franks world-weariness begins to show, and he is more down than up. He says that he wouldn’t hide so much from his girlfriend if she were more like Rita. Rita doesn’t take these comments seriously. Instead, she laughs them off.

In Act III, we see Rita rushing in late because of a talkative customer. Frank doesn’t care, but he mentions that her latest essay is rather short and that he has questions. She tells him that Denny, her husband, doesn’t like for her to do the essays at home. They talk about culture, and Rita insists that the working class has no culture. Frank reluctantly agrees after a few probing questions.

The next lesson, Rita does not have her essay, which annoys Frank. Rita reveals Denny burned all her things though out of anger because she is changing and trying to improve herself. Denny feels scared and betrayed by her changes, and believes that they already have choices. Rita feels trapped by what he thinks are choices, however, saying that they aren’t real choices.

Frank invites her to a dinner party Julia is hosting, but Rita doesn’t attend. She tells him later that she felt all wrong to show up. She didn’t feel like she was wearing the right things or bringing the right wine. Frank tells her that none of that matters, that she only had to be herself, but she gets offended and feels like he wants to show her off as an attraction.

Rita starts to become more like the world of academia that Frank hates. She gets a new flatmate, starts speaking differently, and continues her lessons. When Frank gives her negative comments on an essay, she accuses him of only wanting a copy of himself. They fight, but when he tells her that he read Rubyfruit Jungle and liked it, which makes her laugh.

Rita gets busier and busier and eventually, their meetings are few. Frank is upset by the school forcing him to take a sabbatical and he prepares to go to Australia without Julia. One day, Rita comes by and mention that he has been a great teacher. She tells him that she has something to give him, and the play closes with her giving him a haircut.

The play deals with the ideas of social class and what it means to be educated. For Rita, education offers an escape from what she considers to be a lackluster life, but for Frank, it is a rigid system that squelches everyone’s personality. It is up to the reader to decide if Rita was changed for the better by her lessons or if she became exactly what Frank hated about academia. It is also up to the reader to decide if what Frank thinks is truly important.

The play is an insightful look into the ways that social class and education can shape who we are. It is also a careful study in the uncertainty of transformation as we go through life wishing for something we don’t have.