Educating Rita

Educating Rita Summary and Analysis of Act I, Scenes 6&7

Scene 6  

Frank tells Rita that Julia does not like when she has a party planned for eight and only six people come; it does not bother him, but it did bother Julia. Rita protests that she did apologize, and says Denny did not want to go and they had a huge fight. Even when she tried to explain he did not care, so she decided to go on her own. She spent all day picking out clothes because none of hers seemed to work, then took the wrong bus and was late to his house, and then realized she’d bought the wrong wine.   Frank smiles and says she did not buy the wrong wine and did not need to dress up or bring wine at all. She counters by asking if he dresses up and brings nice wine to dinner parties and he admits he does.  

Frank tells her everyone there would have been happy with who she is -- ”someone who’s funny, delightful, charming…” (49). Annoyed, Rita says she does not want to be funny but to talk seriously with everyone and not play the court jester. Frank says he wanted her to be herself, and Rita replies that she does not want to be herself, as she is stupid and thinks one day she can be like the rest of them. He only wanted her there to amuse them, she claims.  

Frank becomes angry and says if she really feels that way she should leave. Sadly, Rita says she is okay in this room with him but out in the world she is a freak. She does not even fit in with her own people anymore. After leaving his house she went to the pub where Denny and her mother and some others were, even after deciding she’d never go there again. Everyone was singing songs and she thought they were all pretending they were happy and surviving. At one point her mother began to cry and said they should be singing better songs, but everyone pretended she was drunk. They all started singing again, even her mother, and this made her come back to her lessons with Frank.  

Scene 7    

Rita comes into the office with a bag. Surprised, Frank asks her what it is. She glumly says she is going to stay with her mother, since Denny kicked her out -- if she wouldn't go off the pill, then she had to leave. Frank is shocked, but Rita explains that Denny justifiably feels betrayed by her. He does not understand this.  

Rita asks how her Macbeth essay was, but Frank tries to get her talk more about her life. She becomes frustrated and says she needs to know how it was. Frank pauses, and says it was very honest and passionate and emotional. She knows where he is going with this, and pushes him to tell the truth. He has to admit it would not pass an exam, though it is very moving. She is frustrated and tells him he must teach her how she can pass the exams. He says he is reluctant to do that because “What you have is already valuable” (52). This is not what Rita wants to hear, and she demands him to change her, even if it is difficult. She tells him to be firm and not to pity her or spare her feelings. She throws out the essay and says she will start again.  


For Rita, these two chapters reveal her caught between two worlds, but also act as a turning point, which becomes apparent when the reader begins Act II. Here, though, Rita is no longer fully part of her old world or fully part of her new world. In scene six she is close to being estranged from Denny, and certainly does not feel like she fits in with him, her mother, or her old friends. She tells Frank about going to the old pub where she promised she’d never go again, and singing along to the stupid songs. By scene seven, she and Denny are finally separated when she will not go off the pill and have a child; she says he believes her education “[has] warped me. He said I’d betrayed him. I suppose I have” (51). She believes that “I’m a freak” who “can’t talk to the people I live with any more...I’m an alien” (49).  

Unfortunately, though, Rita is not fully part of her new world either, as evinced by her difficulties in attending -or, rather, not attending -the dinner party, and the insufficiency of her Macbeth essay. She tells Frank that she was so overcome with anxiety over her outfit and what wine to bring that she could barely get up enough nerve to show up, and when she actually did arrive, she could not bring herself to go inside. She was literally on the outside of the party and outside of those of a higher class, as well as symbolically on the outside; she does not have the ability to “pass” as cultured and civilized. Her speech, her mannerisms, her observations are not yet of the sort that would allow her to fit in, which is what she desperately wants. She is fully aware that her desire to “talk seriously with the rest of you” (49) was not realistic, and she did not want to end up “[coming] to your house to play the court jester” (49).  

Rita’s acute awareness that she does not possess the learning or the understanding of the norms and mores of the educated class is reinforced by Frank’s (grudgingly delivered) referendum on her essay: ”it’s worthless” (52) in terms of the standards expected by the university and necessary to pass exams. This is immensely frustrating to Rita, especially as it comes on the heels of her split from Denny. It is impossible to remain the liminal space between two worlds, so Rita urges Frank to do whatever he can to help her. She proclaims, “But don’t you realise, I want to change!” (53) She tells him to be “dead firm” and that he won’t hurt her feelings. This initiates the more fundamental changes that will happen in Act II.  

As for Frank, he still seems to be beguiled by Rita’s “otherness” rather than paying serious attention to what she wants from him. The dinner party situation is a particularly complex situation, as there are multiple points to consider. First, Frank does not truly seem to have wanted Eliza there to entertain his guests with her “funny, delightful, charming” (49) but still lower-class personality. His indignation in regards to her accusation of this is unfeigned, and it has been clear for some time now that he is attracted to her. On the other hand, it was a bit inappropriate for him to have invited her anyway. The other guests would have no doubt snickered privately about her uncouth comments, mannerisms, outfit, and cheap wine even if Frank were inclined to ignore them. He should have been aware of the situation in which he was trying to put her, knowing that she was not truly one of them and would have been exceedingly uncomfortable.  

And that, indeed, is the crux of the issue with Frank and Rita that Russell is trying to make. They are from different worlds, and Frank’s desire to pretend it does not matter is disingenuous, rooted in his own misery and his desire to fetishize Rita’s otherness, and paternalistic. At the end of scene seven when she begs him to teach her and not spare any harshness, he appears rather mournful, and comments, “I don’t know if I want to teach you. What you already have is valuable” (53). That is a nice sentiment and kind of Frank to express, but it is also fraught with problems.