Although Rita knows that intellectual enlightenment is important, to Rita, education provides much more to her in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita. Rita’s education is not restricted to scholastic learning alone, her transformation from the uneducated Rita to the educated Susan is all encompassing. Rita sees and understands the importance of being well educated, but for Rita, education helps her to overcome her background and break away from the traditional role expected of a woman in the 1970s. Rita has set herself on a course of self-discovery, she has a determination to control her own life and make her own choices. Rita believes it is education that will give her these choices. Rita knows that the value of education goes far beyond simple intellectual enlightenment. Education entirely changes Rita which, though she is prepared for a change, effects her life enormously.
Rita’s background has held her back and put her at a disadvantage. There was a great deal of research done in the 1970s to show that middle class children were far more likely to do well at school and to go on to university than working-class children like Rita. Rita’s schooling disadvantage is shown in her recollection of school life:
“…borin’, ripped-up books, broken glass everywhere, knives an’ fights. An’ that was just in the staffroom. Nah, they tried their best I suppose, always tellin’ us we stood more of a chance if we studied. But studyin’ was just for the whimps, wasn’t it? See, if I’d started takin’ school seriously I would have had to become different from me mates, an’ that’s not allowed.” (Act 1, Scene 2, p17)
Everyone has a different upbringing and with that comes a different education. I had a major change in my education two years ago. Only two years I moved from Germany, where I had done all my schoolwork in German to New Zealand, where I had to do my schoolwork in English and hardly knew anyone. I had to cope with doing my sixth form certificate in English, as well as jump one and a half years to ...
Rita felt the need to conform to the way everyone around her lived their lives until she realised that there was a way out. The class antagonism that pressures Rita can be seen through language misunderstandings between Frank and Rita:
Frank: You are?
Rita: What am I?
Frank: Now you are?
Rita: I’m a what? (Act 1, Scene 2, pp2-3)
Education is the only way Rita can fulfil her desire to overcome the working class background she has been born into.
Rita feels that through education she can break away from the traditional expectations placed on a working class woman in the 70s. Pressures and influences on Rita are mostly from her family, in particular her husband.
“I told him I’d only have a baby when I had choice. But he doesn’t understand.” (Act 1, Scene 5, p34)
Another influence on Rita to become educated and resist conforming to the stereotypical working class woman is Rita’s mother:
“…when I looked round me mother had stopped singin’, an’ she was cryin’…I said , ‘Why are y’ cryin’, Mother?’ She said, ‘Because- because we could sing better songs than those.’…And that’s why I came back. And that’s why I’m staying.” (Act 1, Scene 7, p46)
Rita came to believe that she wasn’t just doing this for herself, she was doing it for all the women like her mother who never had the chance to make something of themselves, who were forced to fill the traditional ‘house-wife role’.
Education is Rita’s ‘journey of self discovery’ to fill the void in her life. This path of self-discovery is central to the play, through education Rita searches for the answers to life:
“I’ve begun to find me-an’ it’s great y’ know…” (Act 1, Scene 7, p33)
Rita has a strong determination to control her own life by making her own choices and this is what she believes education will provide her with. Rita feels the need for confidence and the ability to gain independence to make her own choices. By the end of the play Rita knows that education has given her the freedom of choice:
Whenever change takes place, good and bad things happen in an organization. The management has the dice to roll on how to deal with such changes. People’s motivation will be affected especially those individuals who assumes that the management will get rid off them (Lawler, p. 157). When a company faces reduction in force, proper selection and guidance must be set. Result of reduction in force ...
“…I had a choice. I chose, me. Because of what you’d given me I had a choice.” (Act 2, Scene 7, p72)
The power of choice is very important to Rita, as it is the basis to all her motives for becoming educated. Rita feels that education is valuable as it extends her range of choices and would lead to her ability to make informed decisions.
Rita sought to change herself entirely and she felt she could use education to do this:
“…these women, you see, they come to the hairdresser’s cos they wanna be changed. But if you want to change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y? Know like I’m doin’.” (Act 1, Scene 1, p11)
Rita’s transformation can be seen in the original story of Pygmalion. For example the statue in Pygmalion transforms from ivory to flesh and in a metaphorical sense Rita transforms from flesh to ivory. ‘Flesh’ referring to her uniqueness and down to earth nature and ‘ivory’ referring to her character being sculptured to society’s mould. Although Rita feels that the change within herself brought about by education is for the best, Frank feels responsible for Rita’s loss of individuality. Frank sees Rita’s change as the creation of a monster:
“You know, Rita, I think- I think that like you I shall change my name; from now on I shall insist upon being known as Mary, Mary Shelley- do you understand that allusion, Rita?” (Act 2, Scene 5, pp67-68)
Through education Rita acquired an entire change.
To Rita, education is more than intellectual enlightenment. Rita sought to change herself, to provide herself with options and she used education to do this. Rita felt that she understood the true value of a formal education and what it can gain for it’s recipient. Though Frank was disappointed with the results, Rita obtained what she desired. Education filled a void in Rita’s life, which set her on her way to discover herself. Rita seeked to improve herself from the working class, and the question we are asked at the end of the play is both whether Rita succeeded, and whether it is even possible.