Sitting at his desk with a bottle of whiskey before him, Frank hears a knock on the door and tells Rita to enter. He asks her what she’s doing at his office, since she isn’t supposed to come until the following week, but Rita ignores his question and asks if he’s sober. When he confirms that he is “this side of reasonable comprehension,” she says, “Because I want you to hear this when you’re sober. These are brilliant, Frank, you’ve got to start writing again.” Holding up his poetry collections, she tells him that she and Trish stayed up all night talking about how wonderful his work is. After Rita gushes praise and admiration, Frank says that he might—like her—change his name, perhaps to Mary Shelley, since Shelley wrote Frankenstein. After all, he insinuates, he has created a monster.
In this scene, Frank uses his self-deprecating attitude to insult Rita and himself. Indeed, he disparages Rita’s ability to recognize good literature, consequently implying that he thinks very little of his own work. Instead of accepting Rita’s well-intentioned praise, Frank suggests that he has created a monster—the new, sophisticated version of Rita—by teaching her literary criticism.
When Rita asks what Frank means, he picks up his poetry and calls it a “clever, pyrotechnical pile of self-conscious allusion” that is “worthless, talentless, shit.” He insists that there’s more “wit” and “insight” in the telephone book than in his poems. Ripping up his books, he says he doesn’t expect Rita to understand. “Why don’t you just go away?” he asks. “I don’t think I can bear it any longer.” Firing back, Rita says that what Frank can’t bear is himself, calling him “Mr. Self-Pitying Piss-Artist.” “What you can’t bear is that I am educated now,” she says. “What’s up, Frank, don’t y’ like me now that the little girl’s grown up, now that y’ can no longer bounce me on Daddy’s knee an’ watch me stare back in wide-eyed wonder at everything he has to say?”
This is Frank and Rita’s most intense moment of conflict in the entire play. As such, they say a number of things they might not entirely mean. For example, although Frank says that he doesn’t expect Rita to understand why he dislikes his own poetry, the audience knows that Frank actually deeply respects Rita’s intellectual talents. Further, he tells her to go away even though it’s clear that this is the opposite of what he wants, since he’s previously worked so hard to keep her from growing apart from him. However, although Rita is equally upset and says even harsher things, her statements perhaps bear more truth, since it certainly is the case that Frank pities himself and that he has trouble seeing her (metaphorically) grow up and gain independence.
Continuing to insult Frank, Rita says, “I don’t need you.” Getting up, she moves toward the door, saying, “I know what clothes to wear, what wine to buy, what plays to see, what papers and books to read. I can do without you.” Taking this in, Frank says, “Is that all you wanted? Have you come all this way for so very, very little?” Rita then points out that this might be “very little” to Frank, a professor who squanders his opportunities and degrades himself while taking his privilege for granted. “Found a culture, have you, Rita?” Frank says. “Found a better song to sing, have you? No—you’ve found a different song, that’s all—and on your lips it’s shrill and hollow and tuneless.” As she leaves, Rita tells him she no longer goes by Rita, then slams the door.
Although Rita is right that it pains Frank to see her develop beyond the point of “need[ing]” him, Frank also touches upon a point worth considering—that Rita has simply traded one life for another. Indeed, she wanted a “culture” and a “better song to sing,” but it’s questionable whether she has genuinely gained these things or if she has simply learned how to mimic them. Frank tells Rita that on her lips, this “better song” is “shrill and hollow and tuneless,” suggesting that she is merely playing the part of the cultured academic and is blindly following academia’s narrow-mindedness.