Ruined Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 33-page guide for “Ruined” by Lynn Nottage includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 2 acts, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Rape as a Weapon of War and The Healing Power of Hope and Resilience.
Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, defies easy categorization. To some, the play is an unconventional love story set in a war zone, while to others, it is a melodrama warning society of the irreparable damage war can inflict upon women and men. Either way,Ruined is a play that sends a global political message no one can ignore: rape as a weapon of war is profoundly damaging, and a practice that must stopped.
Ruined takes place in an unnamed mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Mama Nadi’s place, a bar and brothel run by the indomitable Mama Nadi herself. A cast of characters accompany Mama Nadi through several grim episodes, culminating in a tragic climax, as the war over natural resources in this part of the Congo gains momentum, taking more and more lifeblood from individuals doing everything they can to survive. Villains operate on both sides of the fight, and some of the villains are victims themselves, men who have sustained too much trauma to maintain their own decency.
With impeccably researched, true-to-life dialogue and a commitment to represent “the sacred with the profane, the transcendent with the lethal, the flaws with the beauty, and selfishness with generosity” (xii), Nottage brings to the stage an intensely emotional and dramatic series of conflicts. Sacred acts of love, like the ones Christian tries to offer Mama Nadi, are juxtaposed against horrific rape scenes and vicious sexual attacks on innocents like Salima and Sophie. Every character that shows a will to survive the violence displays a resilience that transcends the suffering and death that are inevitable during times of war. Though every character in Ruined is flawed, beauty can and does exist in their lives, especially when unexpected moments of selflessness mitigate blind ambition and power-mongering.
Mama Nadi, the dynamic protagonist of Ruined, models for her girls a cool, and sometimes cruel, focus on rational thought and reason. She refuses to give in to emotions that she has never experienced as reliable. Her focus on her business draws criticism, but she defends herself by reminding her critics that without her and without the bar, her girls—Sophie, Salima and Josephine—would not enjoy safety and shelter, as well as the agency to choose the way they live their sexual lives. Outside of the bar and brothel, women are vulnerable to sexual attacks by random men who may seek to violate them so violently they cannot bear children, or even have sexual intercourse, such as in Sophie’s case; at least at the bar, they have dignity, warmth and the support of each other, and these qualities are just as important to their survival as the basic structures that provide them with safety and shelter.
As the war comes closer to Mama Nadi’s place, Mama Nadi and her girls (and the men like Christian and Mr. Harari, who are friends of Mama’s and frequent her establishment) all experience firsthand the harshness of the conflict in the Congo. The villains are obvious, and though their ostensible grudges are with each other, Kisembe and Osembenga are evilly united in their aggressive treatment of women and other innocents who stand in their way. Though the circumstances seem insurmountable, by the end of the play, Mama Nadi just might find hope in a man who is worthy of her love, which means that resilience is a virtue that can and will be rewarded, sometimes in the most beautiful and unexpected of ways.