The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe Summary and Analysis of Act 2 (p. 79-101)


A Policeman brings Rita into her jail cell, where she curls up and sleeps. David enters and crosses down to the audience. The division between the two actors is accentuated by the lights. David looks at her and remembers how the last time Rita came home to visit, he watched her leave, “an’ my heart got so heavy I wanted to cry” (80). David exits as she wakes.

The Priest and the Policeman enter, and the Priest pauses at the edge of Rita’s cell. He passes her a pack of cigarettes and apologizes for her situation. The Priest is sad about Rita’s situation, and “struggles with himself” (82). The Priest empathizes with Rita but still sure of her sins, telling her “Our Lord Jesus once met a woman such as you beside the well… He forgave her!” (82). Rita tells him she feels as though no one hears her, to which he responds: “I’m here” (83). Conflict emerges between them about the church, and Rita tells the Priest that her uncle told her that the church was a conduit of colonization for white people.

The Priest asks Rita to confess, but all Rita wants is to be free. The Priest tells her there is freedom in Christianity, “we learn through suffering, Rita Joe… we will only be free if we become humble again” (84). Rita curses him, saying: “Go tell your God… when you see him… Tell him about Rita Joe an’ what they done to her!” (85). The Priest exits.

Jaimie enters and tells her that he will take her dancing on Friday. They dance. The four Young Indian Men enter and join them in their dancing. The Murderers follow and are fought away. All but Rita and Jaimie exit. They continue to dance. The Young Indian Men return, wheeling in a brass bed. They exit. Jaimie takes Rita’s hand and leads her away. They walk across the stage as if they were traveling to Jaimie’s room and approach the brass bed. Rita sits on it, and Jaimie offers her some chocolate. Jaimie tells her of his plans of going to a beer parlor and resisting getting thrown out by its racist proprietors: “This is one Indian guy they’re not pushing around no more!” (89).

Rita tells him that their friend in the city had both her children taken away. Jaimie tells her that her father is the “kind of Indian a white man likes,” and that he would wait forever “for the kids they take away to come back” (90). Rita tells Jaimie that her father is scared and so is she. Jaimie tells Rita sometimes he wants to kill himself; he tells her he gets scared sometimes too. They laugh at the absurdity of white people, how they can never know what white people want from them, how they could never ask what they want from white people. They get up, and the lights dim on them.

David and the Priest enter. The Priest tells David that she got out of jail, but that she won’t let him see her. David tells the Priest he should enter the city to visit his daughter. The lights go down on them.

The Young Indian men and Mr. Homer enter. Mr. Homer empties a clothing hamper onto a table. Rita Joe rummages through the clothes on the table. Jaimie has a conversation with the Young Indian Men. Jaimie is in a provocative mood, and play-fights with one of the Young Indian Men. He talks about being his own boss and makes jokes about the sweater Rita picks out for herself.

Jaimie becomes grim. He tells them that Mr. Homer has no children except for them and that he intends on keeping them as children. He tells them they should become men, that he is a “big boy now” (97). Mr. Homer offers them all some food, and Jaimie and Rita decline.


When the Priest and Rita speak, the scene is “played out in the manner of two country people meeting in a time of crisis,” and both characters exhibit “fear and helplessness” (80). For the first time in the play, Rita is comforted by another character. This comfort comes with limitations when the Priest becomes angered by Rita’s refusal to confess to her sins. Rita is concerned with getting out of jail, not with repenting for her sins. The Priest warns Rita that her “pride” will bar her from heaven, and tells her that she is not the woman he expected her to be.

When the Priest asks her to confess, Rita curses him to hell so that he might tell his God not only what they have done to her, but how the Priest was not good enough to save her. This interaction brings into question the role of Christian priests in Indigenous communities. Although the Priest purports to be there to help Rita and better her situation, he can offer her very little more than a pack of cigarettes and a warning about her sins. Rita is not looking for this kind of salvation; it means very little to her.

On the way to Jaimie’s room, Jaimie tells Rita that he has seen two of their childhood friends and that the three of them were planning on going to a beer parlor Monday night. He tells her that it is the “same beer parlor they threw Steve out of!” (88). Although it is not made explicit, Jaimie and his friends seem to be protesting against segregationist policies that are keeping them out of the beer parlor. He tells Rita that nobody would throw them out of the beer parlor, lest they get his fist: “He holds up a fist in a gesture that is both poignant and futile. She laughs and he glowers at her” (89). In this play, we are clued into both the intentions of the characters and the reality of their situation, and these two forces are often in stark conflict. One way to cope with this conflict is through laughter, and this is a device that Rita utilizes often as she navigates an unfair world.

Jaimie’s critique of Mr. Homer is an interesting interlude in a period of frivolous and provocative behavior from the character. He insinuates that by providing them clothing and food, Mr. Homer is infantilizing them. He argues that there should be some effort to “grow up” or become men, and that this means in part rejecting Mr. Homer and his offering. But this is a difficult task when you are stuck in poverty and can’t find a job. Indigenous peoples had been kept in a dependent position on purpose by the white population for many years. Mr. Homer is seen as a perpetrator of this, and although on the surface he is offering them useful items and a meal, Jaimie does not trust him.