While Rita sits by the window and reads, Frank enters the office, exceedingly drunk. “Fuck them, eh, Rita,” he says, eventually explaining that his students reported him for being drunk. Pulling out a bottle of liquor from the shelf, he claims that he gave the best lecture he’s ever given, but that students still reported him because he fell off the podium twice. While he lies flat on the floor, Rita asks if the university has sacked him. “The sack?” he says. “God no, that would involve making a decision. Pissed is all right. To get the sack it’d have to be rape on a grand scale, and not just the students either.” Instead of firing him, he explains, the university suggested that he take a sabbatical to Europe or America. “I suggested that Australia might be more apt,” he says.
Frank’s apathy when it comes to teaching finally interferes in a way that is impossible to hide. Despite this, he has worked at the university for a long time and most likely has a permanent teaching position, meaning that he would have to do something truly atrocious in order to get fired. Unfortunately, this only fuels his indifference. Indeed, he has seemingly no remorse about having been caught drinking. In fact, he’s angry at his students for reporting him, thereby taking the blame off of himself, though it seems he knows it’s his own fault. In this way, Rita sees how little Frank values himself and his wellbeing (both professionally and in terms of his health).
Rita says that Frank’s drunkenness is perhaps unfair to his students, but he refutes this point, claiming that even in his inebriation, he delivered a valuable lesson. “‘Assonance’—I said to them—‘Assonance means getting the rhyme wrong…,” he says. “They looked at me as though I’d pissed on Wordsworth’s tomb.” In response, Rita tells Frank they can talk about her essay about Blake next week, but he insists that she stay. “You can’t go,” he says, holding up her essay. “I want to talk to you about this. Rita, what’s this?” He then takes issue with her interpretation of the poem she wrote about, suggesting that she’s reading too far into the text. Despite this, she holds her ground, asserting that the poem is “richer” if the reader taps into its hidden meanings.
In his drunken lecture, Frank borrows Rita’s definition of assonance. He has always found this definition witty and insightful, perhaps because it remains truthful even while underhandedly scoffing at the normal formality of academic definitions. Indeed, it is exactly because this definition of assonance doesn’t align with how the academy usually speaks about literature that Frank’s students look at him as though he “pissed on Wordsworth’s tomb.” Still, he holds his ground, suggesting that he gave a brilliant lecture. The fact that he borrowed from Rita reinforces the idea that he thinks her untrained intelligence is quite valuable. As a result, he dislikes her essay about the Blake poem, clearly believing that she has altered her views (likely because of her new friends’ influence) and, in doing so, has lost her innate ability to straightforwardly point out intelligent ideas.
Frank refuses to agree with Rita’s conception of Blake’s poem, arguing that the verses in question are “simple” and “uncomplicated.” “Yeh, that’s what you say, Frank,” Rita replies, “but Trish and me and some others were talkin’ the other night, about Blake, an’ what came out of our discussion was that apart from the simple surface value of Blake’s poetry there’s always a like […] a like vein. Of concealed meaning.” When Frank still doesn’t agree, Rita asks if her essay is wrong, and he says, “It’s not—not wrong. But I don’t like it.” In turn, she points out that he is being “subjective.” This makes Frank laugh, and he admits that she’s probably right.
In this argument, Frank struggles with the notion that Rita has gained her own intellectual independence. Of course, it’s obvious that his moodiness is a result of the jealousy he feels regarding Rita’s new life and new friends, but it also has to do with the fact that he has always valued the way she thought before she started conforming to academia’s stuffy conventions.
As Frank heaves himself into his desk chair, Rita asks what kind of score her essay would receive if it were in an exam. “A good one,” Frank says. “What I’m saying is that it’s up to the minute, quite acceptable, trendy stuff about Blake; but there’s nothing of you in there.” “Or maybe, Frank,” she says, “y’ mean there’s nothing of your views in there.” She points out that Frank has taught her how to develop arguments and wonders, in light of this, why he’s now taking issue with her attempt to form an opinion. “Your views I still value,” he replies. “But, Rita, these aren’t your views.”
Frank genuinely wants Rita to recognize the value of her own “views” rather than learning how to reproduce “trendy” ideas that are popular in academia. However, Frank’s sourness also has to do with the fact that he doesn’t want her to change because he feels romantically inclined toward the person she used to be. In this way, he tries to teach her an important lesson about the nature of intellectual growth while simultaneously impeding her process of educational discovery.
“Look, Frank,” Rita says, “I don’t have to go along with your views on Blake, y’ know. I can have a mind of my own, can’t I?” When he says that he “sincerely hope[s] so,” she asks what, exactly, that’s supposed to mean. “It means—it means be careful,” he says. This angers her, and she says that she can “look after” herself. “Just ’cos I’m learnin’, just ’cos I can do it now an’ read what I wanna read an’ understand without havin’ to come runnin’ to you every five minutes y’ start tellin’ me to be careful,” she says. In response, he says, “Because—because I care for you—I want you to care for yourself.” A bit more calmly now, Rita admits that she cares for him, too, but that he has to “leave [her] alone a bit.”
In this moment, Rita asserts her independence, recognizing that Frank’s advice is tarnished by his personal interest in her. When she says that she doesn’t have to come “runnin’” to him whenever she reads something new, she implicitly acknowledges that Frank wants to still be needed as her teacher. In line with this notion, Frank says that he “care[s]” for her, ultimately admitting that he’s letting his feelings for her affect the advice he provides as her teacher. Although Rita understands, she tells him that he needs to “leave” her “alone” for a little while, effectively reestablishing an appropriate amount of mentor-pupil separation.
Just before Rita leaves, Frank tells her that he finally read Rubyfruit Jungle. “It’s excellent,” he determines. “Oh, go away, Frank,” Rita replies, laughing. “Of its type it’s quite interesting. But it’s hardly excellence.”
The fact that Frank has read Rubyfruit Jungle is a testament to both his open-mindedness when it comes to what’s considered quality literature and his desire to grow closer to Rita. In contrast, Rita now takes pride in belittling the book and, in doing so, emphasizing how far she’s come in her intellectual journey—and how much she’s changed along the way.