"To understand life in a given society, one must understand the laws of that society. All relationships... are determined and enriched by laws that have grown out of social realities. The quality of the law under which you live and function determines the real quality of the freedom that was yours today."
An interesting perspective on how a society works, the Magistrate's opening lines welcome an immediate critique of the system he works within. A law that has "grown out of social realities" is—in the case of 1960s Canada—one that has adopted the unequal structures of society, and it is, therefore, a racist, classist, and exclusionary system. For the Magistrate to tell the audience that the quality of the law determines the quality of a person's freedom, and then for the play to demonstrate the many failings of the system, defines a system in which certain people enjoy more freedom than others.
"Sure, we do a lot of things for our Indians here in the city at the Centre... Bring 'em in from the cold an' give them food... The rest... Well, the rest kinda take care of itself... And then sometimes a man drinks it up an' leaves his wife an' kids and the poor dears come here for help. We give them food an' a place to sleep... Right, Rita?"
Mr. Homer here gets a lot of satisfaction in getting Rita to admit that he has done good things for Indigenous people. But his racism and infantilization of the groups he claims to help shine through these claims of goodness. He makes Rita agree to his claims even as he makes damaging claims about Indigenous men. Immediately it is made clear that Mr. Homer has not abandoned his racism even as he has attempted to paint himself as a helpful person.
"I'd be concerned about her choices... Her choices of living, school... friends... These things don't come as lightly for a girl. For boys it is different... But I would worry if I had a daughter... Don't hide your child! Someone else can be found to raise her if you can't!"
The Magistrate is hyper-focused on the memory he has of the little girl walking alone in the country. He has convinced himself that this is Rita's daughter and that she is somehow hiding this child from the state and people who might take the child away from her. This section also indicates a certain amount of sexism on behalf of the Magistrate, who believes that women should be trusted less to manage their own lives.
"He... asked where I'd seen God, an' I told him in the sky. He says you better call this number... It's the Air Force. They'll take care of it! I called the number the guy gave me, but it was nighttime and there was no answer! If God was to come at night, after office hours, then..."
Rita remembers looking up at the starts and seeing a flash of light in the image of her grandfather on two horses. This experience made her think she was seeing God, and she was so worked up about it that she called the chief who told her to call the Air Force. This funny story takes a sad turn when she wonders what would happen if God would come after hours, which is a question about what happens when it is the end of the day, and many of those who run our social institutions are home. What happens to people like Rita, who might need help? Who is left to listen to them?
"You put copper and tin into a melting pot and out comes bronze... it's the same with people!"
Rita's teacher pressures Rita to assimilate often throughout the play. Her metaphor of the melting pot is used to punish Rita when she is standing out or not submitting to the pressures of her school. Miss Donohue would prefer for Rita not to be extraordinary, wanting her instead to submit to her schooling as quietly and easily as possible. This is a bleak image of what schooling was like for aboriginal peoples at this time.
"We're gonna walk an' live like people... Not be afraid all the time... Stop listening to an old priest an' Indian department guys who're working for a pension!... I say stop listening David Joe!... in the city they never learned my name. it was "Hey, fella"... or "You, boy"... That kind of stuff."
Jaimie and David Joe clash about what the best course of action for their community might be. Jaimie believes that the community must be empowered through economic independence and that they must stop listening to the kind of people who don't even bother to learn his name. He believes that no redemption will come from the structures that are vestiges of colonialism, such as Christianity.
"One letter... one letter for a lifetime?"
Rita learns that she was sent one letter from the school system that recommended that she continue her education, but that she never received the letter because of a boss who used the letters to light fires in his store. The fact that Rita never acted upon this letter is used against her, even though it is not her fault the letter was destroyed and that no one tried harder to give her this information. She is condemned because of forces outside of her control.
"Last time I was in trouble, the judge was asking me what I wanted from him! I could've told him, but I didn't!"
Rita's attitude during a lot of her trial is one of "why bother?" She seems to have accepted that even if people who are part of this process pretend they wish to help her, she cannot stop them from condemning her to time in jail, or poverty, or anything else. It is this knowledge that keeps her from accepting a lawyer.
"If we only fish an' hunt an' cut pulpwood... pick strawberries in the bush... for a hundred years more, we are dead. I know this, here..."
The actions that Indigenous peoples have taken in order to attempt to improve their position have not succeeded, and yet David Joe is told by the priest that his people need him to continue the status quo. The priest tells David Joe that the people need his "wisdom and stability," but David Joe knows that Jaimie is right when he says that a larger systemic change must be fought for.
"Not jus' a box of cornflakes! When I go in I want the whole store! That's right... The whole goddamned store!"
In this passage, Jaimie, Rita, and the Young Indian Men have just had their altercation with Mr. Homer and they are being arrested. This quote demonstrates Jaimie's hunger for equity, and his exhaustion at having to accept the meager offerings of those like Mr. Homer who offer no real solution to his situation. Jaimie is sick of handouts; he wants an opportunity to make his own way.
The Ecstasy of Rita Joe Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.