On a snowy night, Rita comes to Frank’s office without an essay to hand in. She explains that Denny found her birth control pills, so he burned her essay and a number of Chekhov books Frank lent her. She says that Denny absolutely hates the idea of her coming to tutoring sessions, as if she’s having some sort of an affair. When Frank suggests that perhaps Denny thinks Rita is having an affair with him, she says that she assured her husband that Frank is just her teacher, somebody who “feed[s]” her “without expectin’ anythin’ in return.” By way of contrast, Denny buys Rita gifts in an attempt to bring back the person she was before she sought out an education. “I see him lookin’ at me sometimes, an’ I know what he’s thinkin’; he’s wonderin’ where the girl he married has gone to.”
Denny—and seemingly everybody else in Rita’s life except for Frank—thinks that Rita should get pregnant. Because she doesn’t feel ready to do this, though, Rita has been secretly taking birth control pill, thus allowing herself time to “find” herself before becoming a mother. When Rita says that Frank “feeds” her but doesn’t “expect anythin’ in return,” she inadvertently reminds Frank that their relationship is strictly devoted to her education, regardless of his romantic feelings for her. Because their relationship is platonic, Rita can benefit from her rapport with Frank. Her relationship with Denny, on the other hand, inhibits her sense of personal growth because he actively tries to keep her from changing.
Frank asks Rita if she wants to “abandon this course” in light of her personal troubles, but Rita rejects this idea, saying that the art and literature Frank shows her doesn’t “take the place of” her life. Rather, she says that such things provide her with life. Still, Frank insists that they skip class and go to the pub, but Rita refuses. As such, Frank decides that they should treat his office like a pub, and so he takes a bottle of liquor from the shelves. When Rita asks why he keeps his alcohol hidden, he says, “A little arrangement I have with my immediate employers. It’s called ‘discretion.’ They didn’t tell me to stop drinking, they told me to stop displaying the signs.”
Once again, Rita articulates the importance of her time with Frank. She emphasizes the vitality that education gives her by saying that the books Frank tells her to read ultimately form the basis of a new life—a life in which she can become an intellectual and break out of the narrow-minded conception of contentment championed by people like Denny. Interestingly enough, though, Frank himself is completely disinterested in the very same life that Rita wants to attain. Whereas Rita yearns to become part of the elite academic sphere, all Frank wants to do is go to the pub. Indeed, his alcoholism is so overwhelmingly pervasive in his life that his “immediate employers” have asked him to do a better job of hiding it.
Hearing Frank talk about drinking, Rita asks him if he drank back when he was a poet. He says that he did, though not quite as much, and this leads them into a conversation about the difference between creating poetry and creating literature. In turn, Rita wonders if she’ll ever fully understand the difference between various types of writing. For example, she read Chekhov’s play The Seagull and found it incredibly sad, but then she read blurbs about Chekhov that called him a “comedic genius.” Hearing this, Frank explains that these blurbs aren’t using the word “comedy” in the way Rita thinks. “Have you ever seen Chekhov in the theatre?” he asks, and when she says no, he encourages her to go. “Hey! Why don’t we go tonight!” she says, but he declines, saying that he hates theater.
Once more, the audience sees how easily Frank and Rita’s conversations turn toward academic matters, as they seamlessly transition into a discussion about Chekhov. What’s more, Frank tries again to use a model of experiential education by urging Rita to go to the theater. Although he himself hates seeing plays, he clearly thinks it’s important that Rita have the experience for herself.
Despite his protests, Rita urges Frank to go to a play with her. In response, he asks what he’d tell Julia, who’d surely be jealous. “If she knew I was at the theatre with an irresistible thing like you?” he says. “Rita, it would be deaf-and-dumb breakfasts for a week.” Nonetheless, she keeps pressuring him, picking up the phone and telling him to call Julia to inform her of their plans. At this point, he admits Julia is out for the night. Eventually, Rita convinces him to accompany her to an amateur production of The Important of Being Earnest, though Frank not only complains that Julia will be jealous, but also that he’s going to miss an evening in the pub to see a bad performance. Nonetheless, Rita manages to get him out the door, telling him on the way not to spoil the plot of the play for her.
Frank’s assumption that Julia will be jealous says something about the way he views his relationship with Rita. Despite the fact that Rita just wants to go to the theater with Frank because she wants to see a play and because (presumably) she enjoys Frank’s company, he views the proposed outing as a date. As such, he thinks Julia would be jealous. Of course, Rita knows there’s nothing to be jealous about, since she’s confident nothing romantic or sexual will happen. In turn, Russell highlights the fact that Frank and Rita seem to harbor different conceptions regarding their mentor-pupil relationship.