By the end of the play, the characters of Frank and Rita have undergone tremendous transformations from the characters we met at the beginning of Willy Russell’s play.
They have both gained and lost not only material items, but also more valuable emotions and fresh outlooks on life. These changes have occurred as a result of experiences, character development and as a reaction to each other’s transformations. When Rita expresses a desire to learn at the beginning of the play, Frank states, ‘I’m going to have to change you’. He succeeded in changing her, but what did the characters really gain and loose by the end of the play?From the very start of the play, Rita is patently out of place in the ‘middle class’ world of the academics. Her language is coarse and vulgar, and she does not possess the ability to express literary concepts on anything other than a basic level. Her unease and apprehension is demonstrated when she declines Franks invitation to his dinner party, as she will feel incongruent and inadequate in these surroundings. She not only lacks but also admires the self confidence possessed by Frank’s regular students, and feels a strong sense of social inferiority, provoked by her failure at school where we are told studying was ‘just for wimps.’However, by the end of the play, these feelings have almost been dismissed, and, she realises the truth about those whom she previously aspired to be.
Trish, having survived a suicide attempt, is seen as neurotic and fragile, and she describes Tiger, the ‘real student’, as ‘a bit of a wanker really’. This fresh outlook, demonstrates Rita has gained a less naï¿½ve and more genuine perspective, a better social and cultural awareness, and self-confidence. She has lost the feeling of social inferiority incited by the ‘real students’, and perhaps, also lost the pretentiousness which she had previously assumed.Her husband Denny fails to support her attempts of education, viewing it as a threat. He protests against Rita’s yearning for a more fulfilling existence, and strongly desires for her to settle down and have children, resenting the fact that she does not share his wish.For Rita, education is a way out of an unfulfilling and mundane lifestyle, and in the final scene, after she has passed her examination she recognises that her newfound education has introduced an element of choice into her life, choice that will affect the direction of her existence and open up new opportunities. This is confirmed in the final scene, where, when asked what she is planning to do, she responds with a variety of options.
She replies ‘ I might even have a baby.’ Previously in the play, she adamantly stated, that she would not have a child, until she had ‘found herself’. Perhaps the dismissal of her husband Denny, motivated her to reach her goals. Therefore, not only has she gained a superb and rewarding set of exam results, but also the element of choice in her life, replacing the incompleteness she formerly felt.Throughout the play, her respect and admiration for Frank fluctuates, but by the end she returns to Frank’s office, purely to tell him ‘ because of what you’d given me, I had a choice. I wanted to come back an’ tell y’ that. That y’ a good teacher.
‘ She regains the respect she initially possessed for Frank.On a more material level, Rita has gained a dress from Frank by the end of the play, which serves to underline the tenderness and affection with which Frank regards Rita.Rita emerges a more rounded and fulfilled character. Gone is the assumed pretentious language. Along with the return of her natural speech, comes the re-establishing of her vibrant sense of humour. Her deep determination to change her life brings her to a world of self-respect and new ideas.Frank began his role in the play, with a jaded outlook, lacking in creativity, unfulfilled and incomplete.
He was dissatisfied with his role in life and he seeked comfort in the form of a whisky bottle. Unlike Rita, Frank fails to attain a complete sense of fulfilment in the play, however the prospect of a new life in Australia where things are ‘just beginning’ offers a glimpse of hope for the future. From this, we can infer that by the end of the play Frank has been released from the rut he was previously trapped in, and has gained the opportunity for a fresh, new start.However, the more Rita develops, the less she needs Frank, and so his self-esteem deteriorates. He eventually descends into shameful drunkenness in the presence of his students, when his relationship with Rita is at its worst. His emotions begin to dictate his actions more than ever before.
The ‘old’ Frank, as seen at the beginning of the play, was cutting, acerbic and cynical. His bitterness stemmed from his discontent, and the intense dislike he felt for the students and therefore his profession. However in the final scene of the play, after the difficulties in their relationship have been overcome, Frank suddenly suggests ‘I hear very good things about Australia. Things are just beginning there.
The thing is, why don’t you – come as well?’ This proposal from Frank appears to be extremely unexpected and hasty. His strong feelings for Rita provoke him to make rash and sudden decisions, something that the ‘old’ Frank would rarely have done. Therefore, by the end of the play, Frank is more in touch with his emotions and has lost the harsher edge of cynicism.By the end of the play his relationship with Rita remains, to me, slightly ambiguous. In some ways, he has regained Rita’s companionship, as they have overcome their difficulties.
However, he has also lost Rita, as they are moving on, in separate directions. For me they are both true, as Rita seems to have regained her uniqueness and vitality (Frank’s ultimate wish), yet I find it hard to comprehend how their relationship could simply continue after all that has transpired.As Willy Russell’s play develops, it is clear to the reader, that Frank wholeheartedly welcomes Rita’s refreshing personality, which seems to shake him out of his mundane lethargy. Her colourful language and un-tainted opinions appear to transform Frank’s outlook on life and releases him from his mundane and dissatisfied existence. By the end of the play Frank has gained a fresh, new perspective on life, and perhaps his imminent banishment to Australia could be just the thing to spark off his poetic creativity.