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Ecstasy of Rita Joe


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George Ryga (1932—1987)

 

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A: George Ryga Pf: 1967, Vancouver Pb: 1970 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts; prose and songs S: Western Canada, c.1950–67 C: 15m, 3fFramed by sentimental ballads sung by a white folk singer and by a court trial, for which Rita Joe is given eight hours to find character witnesses to defend her on a charge of prostitution, the action develops through a series of flashbacks, as Rita, a Native Canadian, tries to piece her life together. We see her childhood on a reservation: she picks berries and plays lacrosse, her father David Joe refuses to sell her to a white man whose own child has died, and she acts protectively like a substitute mother towards her younger sister. She moves to the city, where the pavements make her feet hurt, and gets a job in a tyre store, where she is sexually harassed. She experiences love in the uncongenial surroundings of a graveyard. She sees an Indian mother giving away her children in order to survive. Rita is repeatedly arrested for vagrancy, shoplifting, drunkenness, assault, and prostitution, and receives no help from her patronizing white Teacher, from an unsympathetic white Priest, or from social services, in the form of Mr Homer of the Indian Centre. There seems to be no way out offered either by the traditional values of her father or by the radicalism of her Native Canadian lover Jaimie Paul. Finally, a gang of rapists violate her and murder both her and Jaimie Paul.

A: George Ryga Pf: 1967, Vancouver Pb: 1970 G: Pol. drama in 3 acts; prose and songs S: Western Canada, c.1950–67 C: 15m, 3f

Based on newspaper accounts of the death of Native Canadian girls in Vancouver, this play was one of the most important in the nascent Canadian theatre. Performed in Vancouver, Ottawa, the USA, and Britain, it was also the first major dramatic work to draw attention to the situation of many Native Canadians in a supposedly liberal and tolerant society.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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