“Er, well, I...you know, I don’t think I’ve actually really looked at it for the past ten years or so."
Frank’s comments about not having looked at the painting on the wall for ten years reinforce the sense that he has become world-weary, apathetic, and incapable of being moved by beauty or eroticism. If this were just one throwaway line it might be understandable, as we all grow inured to the things and people around us, but Frank follows this up with other comments that reveals how he takes his environment for granted and no longer is stirred or inspired by it. In contrast, Rita’s amusement and interest in the painting reveal her as excited, ready to learn and experience new things, and possessive of open eyes and an open mind.
“But if you wanna change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y’? Know like I’m doin’...tryin’ to do. Do you think I will? Think I’ll be able to do it.”
In this quote, Rita demonstrates how she is both full of zeal and ambition but also, at this stage, still unsure of herself. She states emphatically that she wants to change, and recognizes that she has taken the steps to do so. However, she is still hesitant, and asks Frank his opinion on whether or not she can do it. This changes as the text goes on, especially in Act II. By then Rita has become sure of herself, which creates a rift with Frank. Rita’s growth of confidence is directly linked to her education, as well as a result of her innate and indefatigable desire to evolve and improve.
“See if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.”
Although Rita knew early on that there may be more to life than fighting or getting dressed up or joking around with one’s friends, the strength of “herd mentality” meant that her interest in behaving or even thinking differently from her peers was suppressed. She acted like everyone else and not until her mid-twenties could she conceive of anything different. Youth is a time of conformity mixed with a desire to please and to be popular, but there is also something else going on. Members of the lower classes made their lives more palatable through community and shared experience, and those who tried to deviate from that by escaping were considered traitors; this is why Denny was so hostile to Rita’s new ambitions.
“Look, there’s a way of answering examination questions that is...expected. It’s a sort of accepted ritual.”
Frank’s explanation of why Rita’s early answers to essay prompts are insufficient is familiar to anyone who has had a decent education, but in this new context it bears reflection and discussion. Frank’s faltering tone and his words themselves do end up sounding a little ridiculous. The rigidity of the curriculum, of the behavior of professors and students, of the norms and mores, is strongly pronounced. For Rita to move up a social class and to experience the change she wants, she will have to do more than read certain books -she will have to learn the code, the “accepted ritual” of higher education. She does eventually do this, but, as Frank points out, she may have lost some of herself in the process.
“But it’s not takin’ the place of life, it’s providing’ me with life. He wants to take life away from me; he wants me to stop rockin’ the coffin, that’s all.”
Frank is so disillusioned with his life that it is difficult for him to believe Rita when she makes such pronouncements. For her, though, reading the great works of literature and poetry removes her from her working class background and elevates her; it sustains and nourishes her soul. The “he” in this quote is Denny, who objects firmly to the changes he sees in his wife. He does not want her to become educated because it means she will not be like him anymore. He believes that her changes are implicit critiques of his life. We never get to hear Rita and Denny talk to each other, but it is likely that Rita was not intentionally indicating she believed this, but that Denny’s own insecurities manifested these concerns.
“You see, he goes blindly on and on and with every step he’s spinning one more piece of thread which will eventually make up the network of his own tragedy.”
Frank’s explanation of what tragedy is, and how Macbeth is a tragic character, is not just a miniature lesson in a bit of literary theory, but is also a telling commentary on Frank and his inability to grow as a person. He is deeply flawed, and such flaws impede him from turning his life into something more productive and meaningful. He allows alcohol and apathy to take control, wallowing in his depression and disillusionment. As he explains how Macbeth is doomed, he is unknowingly talking about himself, and giving the audience/readers insight into why he is the way he is.
“...I don’t wanna spend the night takin’ the piss, comin’ on with the funnies because that’s the only way I can get into the conversation. I didn’t want to come to your house just to play the court jester.”
This passage expresses Rita's frustration that she does not seem able to fit in anywhere -not in her old world, and certainly not in this new one that Frank is inviting her into. She knows she is an outsider, and that small things -- such as her dress, the wine she chose, and the conversation she made -- would give her away. She also suspects that people there would have snickered at her attempt to be one of them, and she did not want to be their source of amusement. This scene is the precursor to the one in which Rita tells Frank she left Denny and she wants to fully transform herself.
“Life is such a rich and frantic whirl that I need the drink to help me step delicately through it.”
Frank's words here remind us that he was once a poet, but their charming nature cannot cover the sad truth they convey: that Frank is an alcoholic who needs help. He can no longer get through the day and manage his various affairs without the assistance of drink. He prefers to slightly cloud real life, preferring to glimpse it from far-off rather than immediately. Rita is the contrast to him, as she does not want anything to get in the way of her experiencing life. She never got to probe deeply into her inner being when ensconced in her old world, and now it is of utmost importance to her that she pushes herself to do so without any impediments. Finally, what is sadly ironic about Frank's words here is that there is nothing delicate about his behavior when drinking; in fact, it is his clumsy behavior and stumbling in class that leads to his suspension from teaching.
“I have merely decided to talk properly. As Trish says there is not a lot of point in discussing beautiful literature in an ugly voice.”
In Act II Rita makes a number of changes to herself; these are more than just reading the right works of literature and responding to essays properly. She decides to go back to her actual name of Susan, quits her job as a hairdresser and begins to waitress in a bistro near the university, moves out of her mother's place and into a flat with a "classy" girl named Trish, and, as this quote expresses, decides she is going to talk properly. Her Liverpudlian accent was one of the most salient parts of her working class identity, and by shedding it she announces to the world (and to Frank) that she is cultured, civilized, and educated. What is fascinating, though, is that in the last couple scenes in which she and Frank argue, her accent creeps out again. The question thus remains of how much Rita has actually changed.
“I never thought there was anything’ I could give you. But there is. Come here, Frank…”
By the end of the text, Rita and Frank have achieved an uneasy peace, as exemplified by this scene in which Rita volunteers to cut Frank's hair, something that she mentioned wanting to do the very first time she met him. This small gesture pays tribute to Rita's past as a working-class hairdresser, as well as how far she's come, in that she now is offering Frank something as opposed to him giving her something. It is also a sweet scene and one that reminds the audience/readers of how close the two characters got, and how intimate educating another person can be. Finally, as a concluding scene it is far from being able to offer real closure: we don't know what will happen to Rita or to Frank, or what they will be to each other in the future. It is fitting, as Russell's whole play leaves more unanswered questions than answered ones.
Educating Rita Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Educating Rita is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.