relationship between frank and rita in educating rita

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How Does Willy Russell Present the Development of Frank and of Rita in ‘Educating Rita’?

Educating Rita, written by Willy Russell is a witty, humorous play with only two characters, Frank and Rita.  Rita is twenty-six years old and a hairdresser from Liverpool.  She longs to break away from her daily routine and not follow the mould of a lower class Liverpudlian woman.  She does this by taking a degree in English Literature from the Open University (O.U.).  Rita teaches her tutor, Frank, more about life than she learns from him, about books.  The development of Frank and Rita’s characters is a central part to why the play works and is so successful, in the theatre and on the ‘big screen’.

On the one hand Frank starts out very much as a long-suffering cynic, who turns to alcohol for comfort.  However by the end of the play Frank has a new perception on life and the lower class.  He also acquires a greater respect for his pupils and for literature in general.

Rita is very much unlike Frank she is very abrupt and energetic, but still very friendly.  She has a very positive attitude towards the course and wanting to learn, however she lacks much confidence in her own abilities and intellect.  However by the end of the play she is almost the opposite she is far more laid back and confident.  She is far less abrupt, but still with a thirst for knowledge.

At the very beginning of the play Frank is very much bored of his life and his daily routine, and thinks a lot about where his next drink is.  We can learn this from the very first scene, where Frank is searching for some whisky hidden behind a bookcase.  This shows there is something missing in his life, to which he turns to drink in search of.  Also hiding it behind a bookcase shows he is not proud of it and does not want people to find out about him drinking at work, probably because it could jeopardise his career.

I know that he finds his partner Julia tedious and almost a hindrance, as he does not show any respect for her and is very negative towards her in general.  As in Act 1 Scene 1, he states, in a conversation over the phone with her: ‘Oh, for God’s sake, what is it?’ ‘You could incinerate ratatouille and it still wouldn’t burn.’ ‘Yes that’s it just pop off and put your head in the oven.’  These quotations show Frank is perhaps tired and under a lot off stress as he is hurling insults at Julia left, right and centre in this conversation.  This is the reason that the audience’s first impression of Frank is that he is a bitter, perhaps nasty character with sexist views and a sharp tongue.  However stress is a major factor for Frank at the beginning of the play, as we know he is not doing this job out of choice but to earn more money to pay for his drink habits.  I know this as Frank says, in the same conversation with Julia:  ‘I suppose I did take this on to pay for the drink.’  This shows Frank does not really want to be at the university and thus is another reason why he is unhappy and turns to alcohol to drown his sorrows.

I also noticed another possible reason for why Frank is so snappy towards Julia in this conversation; the reason is that Frank’s mind is elsewhere and he is not thinking before he speaks as he is thinking more about going to the pub and having as many drinks as he wants.  Therefore he wants to get the conversation and the day over with as quickly as possible. ‘Just a couple of pints… four’, ‘I shall need to go to the pub afterwards’.  These quotations show he has a serious issue with alcohol, also he says, he needs to go to the pub rather than, he would like to go to the pub.  This shows he is most likely addicted to alcohol and therefore it is probable that Frank has an addictive personality.  This could be a reason for saying that later on in the play he becomes addicted to Rita.

Frank also belittles Julia a lot, this not only shows he does not respect Julia but also that he is the dominant male in the relationship and has never known it any other way.  Willy Russell portrays this by using sarcastic, rhetorical questions ‘I’ve got this Open University woman coming, haven’t I?...Tch.’, ‘But darling, you shouldn’t have prepared dinner, should you?’  I believe that Frank does not actually like always being the boss in the relationship, which could be one of the reasons why he has an instant liking towards Rita later in the play.

Another thing that I noticed about Frank at the beginning of the play is that he dislikes his students as he thinks they are all the same by only doing the degree because they want the qualification and not to expand their knowledge.  In the same conversation Frank states ‘I shall need to wash away the memory of some silly woman’s attempts to get into the mind of Henry James.’ This is another reason why Frank is bored of his life and why he likes Rita so much because she isn’t like the other students in Frank’s mind.

Rita on the other hand, enters in emphatic style.  She bursts through the door and immediately challenges Frank by asking him a rhetorical question ‘I’m comin’ in aren’t I?’ And by using reasonably bad language ‘Stupid’, ‘Bleedin,’ And by shouting back at him ‘You wanna get it fixed!’  Frank is rather taken back by this abrupt and rather brash entrance and is almost speechless.  The entrance, and Frank’s reaction to it, is very comical which makes the audience and Frank take an instant liking towards Rita.  By the end of Act 1 Scene 1 you find out Rita’s abruptness and her swearing are caused by a deep feeling of unease.  As Rita does not feel she fits in to her community ‘But sometimes I hate them.  God, what’s it like to be free?’  In this quotation Rita is referring towards the people near to where she lives and she states she asks Frank what it is like to be free from these people and therefore she is assuming Frank has no problems because he is educated and she wants to be like him.

Rita has great energy and immediately starts to dominate the conversation with Frank, just like Frank did in his conversation with Julia.  This is a complete role reversal, it should be the other way round; Rita should be the nervous, polite person as she is just bravely taking her first steps towards a new world of culture.  On the other hand Frank should be the self-assured, confident tutor, as he has been a tutor for a decent amount of time.  However Frank is the polite, perhaps nervous and slightly lost character.  This could be because he is not confident in his own abilities as a tutor, as he was formerly a poet.  In the first scene he even admits he is not good at what he does ‘I’m actually an appalling teacher.’ He goes on to say ‘Most of the time, you see, it doesn’t actually matter, appalling teaching is quite in order for most of my appalling students… but you’re different.’  This shows he is most probably quite modest and he recognizes and appreciates Rita is not like the rest and that she has a thirst for knowledge, thus his opinion of his students is transformed.  And because of this the two characters build an instant rapport.

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Not only is Rita different in an intellectual sense compared to the other students, but she is also from a lower class and a poorer background to other students and to Frank.  Frank is very much middle class and therefore despite living in Liverpool he does not have a Liverpudlian accent.  In addition as a lower class citizen Rita speaks with a common Liverpudlian accent which at first Frank finds hard to understand.  Rita states ‘D’ y’ get a lot like me?’ And Frank replies ‘Pardon?’ Then Rita repeats what she says but slower and without the slang ‘Do ...

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