The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe Summary and Analysis of Act 2 (p. 102-126)


Jaimie and Rita share a cigarette. David and the Priest enter. They have been fighting. The conversations between Rita and Jaimie and David and the Priest weave together. Rita and Jaimie discuss how laughter changes white people’s perception of him. The Priest and Rita’s father discuss Rita and Jaimie. Rita’s father wants to give up being the chief to someone more educated than he is: “If we only fish an’ hunt an’ cut pulpwood… for a hundred years more, we are dead” (105).

Jaimie tells Mr. Homer, who is still feeding the Young Indian Men sandwiches, that he once went five days without food. Still, he rejects Mr. Homer’s sandwich. Rita tells Jaimie that Mr. Homer doesn’t know what happened, to which Jaimie responds: “Sure he knows! He’s feedin’ sandwiches to Indian bums… He knows! He’s the worst kind!” (106). Mr. Homer threatens to throw him out of the facility. Rita returns the red sweater she had tried on and sides with Jaimie when questioned by Mr. Homer.

Mr. Homer moves to get everyone to leave, but Jaimie resists. Mr. Homer chases him with the knife he was using to prepare sandwiches, but is shocked when it is pointed out to him that the knife is still in his hand. Jaimie throws over the table and he and the Young Indian Men begin to throw clothing over the ramp. Rita attempts to stop all of this to no avail.

Mr. Homer reaches a boiling point. He insults both Jaimie and Rita Joe and pushes Rita hard. Rita snaps and attacks him, and he runs away. Soon, the police arrive and take all six people out of the building. As he is carried away, Jaimie yells defiantly at the audience: “Not jus’ a box of cornflakes! When I go in I want the whole store!” (110).

Jaimie is taken before the Magistrate, who sentences him to thirty days in jail. He demands that his truth be acknowledged: “Teach me who I really am! You’ve taken that away! Give me back the real me so I can live like a man!” (111). The Magistrate responds that there “is room for dialogue,” but only “within the framework of institutions and traditions in existence for that purpose” (111). Jaimie does not accept this response. The Magistrate exits and Jaimie is led away by a Policeman.

Rita enters, followed by her father and Jaimie. David tells her he has come to bring her home. Jaimie does not want her to go. They argue about her as she worriedly looks between the two of them. Then all three argue about politics. David tells of a dragonfly with a broken shell. Jaimie dialogues with David as a representative of an older generation, and he asserts that change can only happen through fighting. They all say goodbye, and Rita’s father leaves. Jaimie also leaves, and Rita chooses not to follow.

The Magistrate enters. He sentences Rita to thirty days in prison. He tells her that she will be back. The Magistrate delivers a monologue about the inevitability of their position, all the while justifying the actions of the colonizers: “We came up as a civilization having to… yes, claw upwards at times… There’s nothing wrong with that” (117). He claims that those services offered to Aboriginal peoples in Canada aren’t taken advantage of, such as schools and health services. He claims that they don’t keep jobs (“Your reliability record is ruined and an employer has to regard you as lazy, undependable”) and that they purposefully migrate to working-class neighborhoods in the cities. His message is clear: “You Indians seem to be incapable of taking action to help yourselves” (118). Before he exits, he warns Rita that her days are numbered.

The Murderers appear on stage. As Rita runs away from them, she runs into Jaimie. He tells her they will go eat and watch a movie. The Murderers attack Jaimie. Jaimie dies. The Murderers attack Rita. She dies. They rape her. Rita’s father enters carrying Jaimie’s body. He is surrounded by Mourners. They place his body next to Rita’s. They all kneel around the two bodies.


Laughter emerges again as Jaimie tells Rita, “When I’m laughing, I got friends” (103). Jaimie points out that when he is laughing, others don’t perceive him as dangerous. This leads them to underestimate him. Laughter is portrayed as not only a coping mechanism but a mask, under which one might be a completely different kind of person. It is a political and social tool just as much as it is an emotional one.

Jaimie’s mistrust of Mr. Homer comes to a head here when he rejects Mr. Homer’s offer of food. He tells Mr. Homer that he doesn’t believe him: “I don’t believe nobody… No priest nor government… They don’t know what it’s like to… to want an’ not have” (107). Mr. Homer thinks this is simpler than it is. He tells Jaimie, “If you want food, eat!” (107). Mr. Homer does not understand that he is part of the problem. But in the stage directions, Jaimie’s defiance is described as childlike. There is a sense that he is right, but he is also powerless within a larger antagonistic structure. Still, Jaimie knows what side he is on, and he chooses the lesser of two evils: “If we got to take it from behind a store window, then we break the window an’ wait for the cops” (107).

In Jaimie’s altercation with Mr. Homer, he mockingly takes a bra from the clothing pile and holds it up to himself. Although he and the Young Indian Men are laughing, Rita is afraid. She tells Jaimie it isn’t funny, but Jaimie responds that it is. Even though Rita Joe attempts to help Mr. Homer and pick up after Jaimie, she gets the brunt of his anger. In a sense, it is humor that brought them to this violent point. But it is also clear to see that Mr. Homer was too easily provoked into violence, and he chose to attack the most vulnerable person in the room with him, even though it was the person trying to help him. Ryga seems to be pointing out a larger trend in these kinds of welfare organizations that are more harmful than helpful, and asking where the limits to this altruism lie.

The altercation between Rita, Jaimie, and David is a deeply charged moment. David tells the story of a dragonfly, which is a metaphor for metamorphosis and resilience. At the same time, Jaimie is telling David that resilience is not enough: “We’re gonna have to fight to win…there’s no other way!” (114). At the end of David's story of the dragonfly, the dragonfly gains strength and flies away. This is also a metaphor for Rita’s departure from her childhood home.

When the Magistrate enters to give Rita her sentencing, his “voice and purposes are leaden… he has given up on Rita Joe” (116). According to the stage direction, this is a “formality”; “He is merely performing the formality of condemning her and dismissing her from his conscience” (116). His justification for her arrest, as well as for the disadvantaged position of Indigenous peoples in Canada overall, is deeply racist. He commends the weak and ineffective welfare efforts of the Canadian state while blaming Indigenous people for their continued status. As he makes his claims, Rita becomes afraid of the Magistrate. He is the voice of white society as he condemns her to death.