Rita shows up late again, but Frank says he did not notice. She moves to leave, telling him she know she has wasted his time. He calls her back and tells her to sit down, which she does. He explains he called her hairdressers’ shop when she was late but they said she did not work there anymore. Rita says she has not worked there for a while; now she works at a bistro.
Frank is sad, and says once she told him everything. He goes to get a drink while Rita, sort of bemused, asks why it was important that she told him that. All of those boring and unimportant details are why she stopped being a hairdresser anyway; at the bistro she and the others talk about important things.
Frank cannot help but ask if Mr. Tyson is one of her customers, to which she warily replies that a lot of students come in. She admits she finds Tyson fascinating but finds a lot of people fascinating because they are passionate about things that matter.
His back to her, Frank muses that she might not want to come here anymore. She protests that of course she does but has to go now because she is meeting Trish to go see a production of Chekhov's Seagull.
Frank says bitterly that she cannot even spend one minute here, but she says that is not true and she just has to go. He reminds her that she did not even come last week and maybe ought to think about not coming at all.
Frustrated, she says she has to come here, and must take the exam. He scoffs that she does not even need to worry about that and ought not to burden him with her sentimentality.
She tells him if he'd stop pouring that alcohol down his throat he would be able to talk about things that matter too. In response he asks her if she knows what matters. Rita says she came here to talk about literary criticism.
To this, Frank grabs two slender books from his drawer and tosses them at her, telling her he wants an essay on them by the next week -her assignment is of a “lesser-known English poet. Me” (74).
Frank is sitting at his desk drinking whiskey. Rita knocks and enters. She asks if he is sober and tells him she wants him that way so she can talk about his poetry. She proclaims that the poems are brilliant, witty, stylish, and profound; she spent all night talking about them with Trish, who agreed. She particularly lauds their resonance in terms of “purely contemporary poetry is that you can see it in a direct line through to nineteenth-century traditions of -of wit an’ allusion” (75).
Frank rolls his eyes and tells her that is great, and he wishes she’d only been there to tell him earlier. Rita slowly admits that she knows she would not have understood them back then.
Frank comments that he seems to have done a fine job on her, and perhaps he ought to change his name too -- to Mary Shelley.
He picks up his poetry and spits out how awful it is, how anyone with common sense can see it is trash, how one can find more wit and insight in a telephone book, how it is “pretentious, characterless and without style” (76). Rita responds that it is not.
He laughs that he knew she would not believe him and that now she recognizes the great hallmarks of literature. Finally he says she should leave, as he cannot bear it any longer.
Rita asks what he means, and he says her. Rita becomes angry, saying what he cannot bear is that she is educated now. He used to like her when she was not all grown up, and he like all the others wishes he could keep “the natives” dumb so they still look charming. She can do all of this without him now -get the right clothes, the right books, the right wines, the right plays.
Frank asks if that is all she wants. Rita says of course he would say those things aren’t important, as he squanders his life away. Frank responds that she has not found a better song to sing, just a tuneless new one.
Rita says no one calls her Rita anymore. He asks what it is now, suggesting Virginia, Charlotte, Jane, Emily, and so on.
Frank is very drunk and on the phone. He calls numbers, looking for Rita, or ‘Susan’. He calls Trish, stammering and telling her to tell Rita he has entered her for her examination and she needs to know the details.
Rita comes in wearing a winter coat. She sets down a Christmas card for Frank. Opening the door, she sees him standing outside with two chests, which he brings in and begins to load with his books. Both are silent.
Finally Rita asks if he has been fired. He says it is for Australia. Rita asks if Julia is going and he says no.
Frank asks her why she came here, and she says to thank him for entering her for the examination. He comments that he knew how much it meant to her. Rita responds that she knows he did not want her to take it, or at least to write something like, “Frank knows everything” on it. Interestingly, it was the question on how to stage Peer Gynt that was on the paper. She sat there looking at it and realized how much he’d taught her, and how she hasn‘t just memorized things but really learned things.
She adds that she caught her flatmate Trish, whom she thought was so cool and collected, trying to kill herself. This made her sit and think about the question on the exam and answer it. It might be worthless but it was her choice -she chose herself.
Frank asks her to come to Australia and she first evades answering then admits Tiger has asked her to go down to France with his friends. She admits he’s a bit of a “wanker” (81) but might go. She might go to her mother’s, or might have a baby, or might just make whatever decision she wants to.
Frank hands her something: a dress, which he’d bought for another “educated woman friend -of mine” (81) but can no longer give to her. Rita takes the dress and says she only seems to take from him and not give. He protests that that is not true.
She gestures for him to sit down and says there is something to give him. She finds a pair of scissors and says she will give him a haircut.
Rita’s education is complete, as is her relationship with Frank. The disintegration of their relationship, which began in the past few scenes, has now wholly come to pass. Frank realizes she has moved beyond him (her new job, her new friends and Tyson, her return to “Susan”) and that they are no longer close. That closeness may have been exaggerated on his part to begin with, but it is undeniable that Rita no longer needs him. She barely comes to their sessions anymore, as Frank bitterly notes, and declines his offer to go to Australia with him. Frank has lost Julia, his job, and his pride, and, as Malcolm Page noted in his review of the play, “learns less in their year together than she does.”
This brings to the question of what Rita has learned, and if she is truly better off than she was before. On the one hand, Rita has finally achieved her desire to make her own choices. She brags, “I might go to France. I might go to me mother’s. I might even have a baby. I dunno. I’ll make a decision, I’ll choose” (81) and “I chose, me” (80). As Page writes, “hers is a progression to liberation, a feminist statement”. Education has given her the ability to make her own life, not Denny’s life or her mother’s life. It has given her a sense of purpose and autonomy.
On the other hand, Page notes, “the author asks us to ponder whether all the changes are for the better”. Rita’s heated assertion that “I know what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to see, what papers and books to read” (77) rings a little hollow. Critic David M. Holly sums it up quite nicely: “One version of Frank’s criticism is that Rita’s initial goal to discover herself has not been achieved. She has merely substituted the values absorbed from a new crowd for the values she had absorbed from an earlier one. She fits in with the new group, but the superficial marks of fitting in are remarkably similar to those that enabled her to fit in with her previous friends. There is little sign that the new kind of life she had sought has brought her the kind of fulfillment she hoped for. She has still not come to terms with the question of who she is.”
Considering this critical view, it begs the question of whether or not Rita will end up like Frank in the future. She may become just as disillusioned, and feel just as empty, especially if what she considers change and growth isn’t exactly that; the character of Trish offers a warning of sorts. On the other hand, she may retain her enthusiasm and zest for learning and life because she can appreciate them more; after all, she was not born into privilege and had to work much harder than someone like Frank did. Russell purposefully leaves the characters’ fates unknown, necessitating our speculation as to whether or not Frank makes any life changes while in Australia, or if Rita continues her upward ascent and finds satisfaction in her choices.
As for the relationship between the two characters, the last three scenes feature more tempestuousness but there is a measure of closure attained by the end. Rita continues to accuse Frank of being jealous of her moving past her need of him, and of wallowing in his own misery. Frank tries to get Rita to see what is, in his opinion, the superficial quality of the things she is investing so much in, and to find her self-worth elsewhere. Both characters speak very much from their own insecurities, which makes their words suspicious but not fully lacking in resonance. After these small altercations, though, Rita comes to thank Frank for his tutoring and to admit what he has done for her. Her determination to do something for him -a haircut -is rooted in both her new self-determination and her deep-seated affection for him.
Although some audiences/readers may have hoped for an actual romance between the two characters, this end is more fitting because a romance would have been too weighted in favor of Frank, whose influence over the impressionable Rita was already very pronounced. The lack of a romance also reinforces the sense of class difference: was it ever possible for them to be together? Tellingly, even in the last couple scenes after Rita has decided she will speak properly, she still lapses into her accent when she is heated and talking to Frank. Thus, there is one final question to ask, but perhaps not to answer: how much has Rita really changed?