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Education and Class in Willy Russell's Educating Rita

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2009, 22(1), pp.35-63
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Janghyun Nam 1

1인하공업전문대학

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This article provides an academic analysis of the relationships between education and class in Willy Russell’s Educating Rita. His work, highly acclaimed in England, was later introduced to Korea where it was given a great deal of attention, and yet virtually no academic reading has been thus far attempted. In this respect, reading Educating Rita from an academic perspective may be something of a ‘risk’ and yet it is a challenge worth undertaking. One way to counter any risk is to highlight what is regarded as being most important in the comedy and to focus on what the playwright intended to deliver to his audience. As a comedy, Educating Rita has a great number of comedic elements which come from Russell’s inborn nature—an optimist with a great sense of humor. In the bounds of this witty atmosphere, Russell illustrates how a comedy can also raise serious social issues. One of the representative social issues depicted in Educating Rita is definitely the relationships between education and class in modern English society. In England during the 1960s where a person’s language reflected his or her social and educational backgrounds, the study of literature at University-level implied more than just a simple continuation of one’s education in the pursuit of deeper knowledge. Therefore, Rita’s efforts to obtain a University literary degree have many socio-economical implications. In the first part of this study, a modern educational theory will be briefly introduced to establish the relevance between education and class. The modern educational sociology substantiated by Bourdieu and Gomme claims that modern education reproduces and consolidates class inequality. From this perspective, Russell’s biography sheds light on the understanding of Educating Rita. Following a short survey of both Russell’s own and Rita’s experience with regard to education, this essay delves into the socio-cultural rifts and barriers existing between the working class represented by Rita and the highly educated class represented by Frank. The Open University education Rita receives is ultimately a ritual that she has to pass in order to become an educated woman possessing both freedom and confidence. Until she develops the ability to make free choices in her life, she is unable to identify with the ‘proper’ members of the educated world. Through this course, it becomes clear that Russell intended to highlight the hardships Rita undergoes and to make audiences realize that social issues, such as inequality in education, still exists even today in modern British education.

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