Willy Russell was born in Whiston, which is located just outside Liverpool. He grew up in a working class family. In school, the things which he enjoyed most were reading books, playing football and twice-weekly gardening lessons. He was not very talented in academics. Willy Russell wanted to be a writer but he kept these thoughts deep in himself for years. After leaving school with poor grades in GCSE, he initially became a ladies hairdresser at the suggestion of his mother. He went on with it although he knew it was a bizarre suggestion. Unfortunately he turned out to be extremely bad at that job. During his job he had a lot of spare time which he used efficiently in writing songs and readings books instead of wasting it. Willy Russell undertook many jobs, including writing sketches, poetry and songs. He then decided to do an O-level English literature course. He took night classes and passed the exam. He then realised that he would still need at least five O-levels to go to a college. He started looking for a college which would let him take a full-time course. He found one but he had no money to pay the fees. Therefore, he joined the night-shift girder cleaners. It was a very dangerous job but he was desperate to take a chance. Due to this chance he transformed from an unacademic working class man to one of the UK's most renowned writer. He wanted to make a play which was relevant to those who considered themselves uneducated like himself and which showed the class difference in our society. He has been successful to show this in his play "Educating Rita". Â Â
The play "Educating Rita" gained great popularity in the 80's. There has also been a movie made from it starring Julie Walters as Rita and Michael Caine as Frank. Educating Rita is about the major changes that occur in Rita's life. Rita's life was similar to Russell's life. She was not academically talented at school. She first became a ladies hairdresser. Like Russell, She turns out to be extremely dreadful at that job. She undertakes many jobs. Rita thinks that she is trapped by her working class life so she then takes a crucial step of enrolling on a literature course.
Russell reveals the daring character of Rita in the very first scene as she bursts through the door and starts swearing. This shows us that she does not really know the difference between formal and informal conversations. If somebody comes for a formal interview one would expect him to talk in a proper way yet Rita acts in a very relaxed way. When Frank asks her to enter the room, she says angrily "I'm comin` in, aren't I? It's that stupid bleedin` handle on the door. You wanna get it fixed". This shows us that she is not very formal. This also shows us that she is very loud and confident. She says "bleedin`" which shows us her accent and language. Normally people say "bleeding" instead of "bleedin`". This also tells us about her background that she is not from a very fine background. Frank is a university lecturer in English literature. He was a poet once. He is a very formal person and knows a lot about literature. He has a drinking problem and he has failed one marriage because of this. He keeps his drink bottles in the bookshelf. "Frank (looking along the shelves) `E` (he thinks for a moment) `E` e` e`...suddenly he remembers) Dickens. (Jubilantly he moves to the Dickens section and pulls out a pile of books to reveal a bottle of whisky)". This shows us how desperate he is for drinking. He has failed one marriage because of his drinking problem but still he drinks it and hides his drink in the bookshelf. By the end of the play he has been sent away to Australia because of his drunken behaviour. Frank hates his job but he is doing it for money.
Rita's background has held her back and put her at a disadvantage. Rita was born in a working class family or so called "low class family". I presume her family could not afford to teach Rita in a good school. Middle class children had a schooling advantage. They used to learn from more experienced teachers and help each other. They used to do well at school and because of this they were more likely to go to good universities unlike children of working class families like Rita. This is one of the reasons why Rita did not pass GCSE. I assume some other reasons are that she was lazy. She was not interested in the subjects she was studying.
Rita wants to study because she wants to make a living and enjoy life. She wants more meaning to her life. Rita is very motivated. She wants to gain confidence and be independent. She wants to control her own life and make her own choices. Rita feels that education is the only way which will set her free from her working class life.
We can see the class difference through the language in the very first scene.
"Frank: You are?
Rita: What am I?
Frank: Now you are?
Rita: I am a what?"
They do not understand each other because of the class difference and different backgrounds. Frank's normal vocabulary is very formal whereas Rita's frequently swearing like "fuckin` rubbish" and "bleedin` door" shows as if it is a part of her normal vocabulary which is very informal. Frank talks in a low frequency language. "You mean that over the years it's acquired a certain patina". Only few people know the meaning of word "patina". Rita's accent is different from Frank. She says "what y` lookin` at?" this shows us that she is proud of her background because she is confident but nervous at the same time. She talks like this "Y` don't mind me swearin`, do y`?" whereas if Frank had said this sentence he would have talked like this "You don't mind me swearing, do you?" this shows us that there is a huge class difference of Frank and Rita. When Frank talks about assonance Rita asks:
"Rita: What does assonance mean?"
This is showing us about the character of Rita that she doesn't really know a lot about literature.
Russell has created humour with the help of her main character Rita who is very blunt and isn't afraid to speak her mind. We can see this when she enters the office, she notices a nude picture and says "it's very erotic" and when Frank says "yes, I suppose it is" Russell creates humor when Rita says "there is no suppose about it. Look at those tits." The audience finds this humorous because no one can expect anyone to use words like "erotic" and "tits" in their first interview. This shows us that Rita does not know how to talk in a formal interview.
The restrictions and pressure are mostly from her husband. Rita does not want to have a baby before she is educated and "finds herself" but his husband keeps on pressurizing her to have a baby. She also takes pills to not have a baby and when his husband finds out, he burns all the books that Frank lent her.
She tells Frank "I told him I'd only have a baby when I had choice. But he doesn't understand."
This clearly shows that her husband doesn't want Rita to be educated and find herself. I suppose this is because his husband thinks that women should sit at home and take care of the children. He is afraid that Rita does not get cleverer than him because he is not very educated.
We see a huge change in the both characters "Frank" and "Rita" in the scenes of Act 2. There are further developments in Rita's character. Frank starts writing poetry and Rita comes back from the summer school and she knows a lot about English literature now. She has gained a lot of confidence. Rita is now able to discuss literature confidently with the students she meets on the lawn, she joins their conversations and she is able to tell them that they are talking gibberish whereas when she first came in the university she was impressed by all the students and she had no confidence to discuss literature with the students.
Rita changes her accent and starts to talk in Standard English. When Rita talks in a changed accent Frank says "you haven't got an ugly voice; at least you didn't have. Talk properly." This shows that Frank does not like her changed accent and he thinks that Rita is not being herself. She becomes very confident. She has also become very independent, showing Frank she doesn't need him anymore. We can see the major change when she comes back from summer school. She amazes Frank with her knowledge about Blake. When Frank asks her to read the poem from Blake's book "Rita looks at the poem on the page indicated and then looks at Frank reciting from memory
`O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible wormâ€¦"
Frank is disappointed because of this change in Rita because he could not teach her about Blake but Rita was achieving what she desired for.
Rita wanted to gain education and she largely succeeds in this. She learned how to write a good essay. She gains self-respect and self-confidence. She loses her husband. His husband doesn't want Rita to be educated. He burns her books so that she doesn't get better. She loses her job of hairdressing and becomes a waitress. She gains independence. She gains more than she loses because she becomes an educated woman. Rita has a much better understanding of people, and this can be seen in her speech and also behavior. At the end, Frank asks her to go to Australia with him but she says "isn't that called Jumpin` a sinkin` ship" this shows us that does not want to go with him. She wants to be independent. She declines him saying that he needs time by himself.
I personally liked this play and this is because of the way Russell presented the both characters Frank and Rita. The ending in the Educating Rita is left open. No one knows what happens to either Rita or Frank. We can make a guess what happens to Rita and Frank and what paths do they take. I think this is a very good ending because the viewers have a choice to decide what happens next. I guess Frank is still in Australia and has reformed from his drinking problem. He is now a poet in Australia and publishes his poetries every week in the newspaper whereas Rita has become an English literature teacher. She has also started writing poetry.