Educating Rita

Dresses Symbol Icon

In Educating Rita, Rita’s habit of buying dresses symbolizes her desire to bring about meaningful change in her life. In a discussion about her educational background and her experience growing up in the working class, Rita tells Frank that she always wanted to apply herself in school but felt like she couldn’t because everybody around her considered academic pursuits as worthless. “Not that I didn’t go along with it because I did,” she admits. “But at the same time, there was always somethin’ tappin’ away in my head, tryin’ to tell me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just put the music back on or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’.” Whenever she started to consider the fact that she wasn’t living up to her full potential, Rita went out to “buy another dress.” One day, though, she finally asked herself, “Is this it? Is this the absolute maximum that I can expect from this livin’ lark?” As she details her change of heart to Frank, she says, “Because that is when you’ve got to decide whether it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself.” As such, she likens her obsession with dresses to a superficial kind of “change” that doesn’t give a person a true sense of fulfillment, but rather a temporary feeling of contentment. Rather than embracing external transformations, Rita seeks true personal growth by telling herself that she can’t buy another dress until she passes her first exam, thereby turning the idea of a new dress into an incentive for self-improvement rather than a fleeting thrill.

Dresses Quotes in Educating Rita

The Educating Rita quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dresses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Social Class and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Methuen edition of Educating Rita published in 2007.
Act One, Scene Two Quotes

Rita: See, if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.

Frank: Not allowed by whom?

Rita: By y’ mates, y’ family, by everyone. So y’ never admit that school could be anythin’ other than useless an’ irrelevant. An’ what you’ve really got to be into are things like music an’ clothes and getting’ pissed an’ coppin’ off an’ all that kind of stuff. Not that I didn’t go along with it because I did. But at the same time, there was always somethin’ tappin’ away in my head, tryin’ to tell me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just put the music back on or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’. ’Cos there’s always something that can make y’ forget. An’ so y’ keep on goin’, tellin’ y’self that life is great—there’s always another club to go to, a new feller to be chasin’, a laugh an’ a joke with the girls. Till one day, you just stop an’ own up to yourself. Y’ say, ‘Is this it? Is this the absolute maximum that I can expect from this livin’ lark?’ An’ that’s the really big moment that is. Because that is when you’ve got to decide whether it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself.

Related Characters: Rita (speaker), Frank (speaker)
Related Symbols: Dresses
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act One,  Scene Three Quotes

There is no contentment. Because there’s no meanin’ left. (Beat.) Sometimes, when y’ hear the old ones tellin’ stories about the past, y’ know, about the war or when they were all strugglin’, fightin’ for food and clothes and houses, their eyes light up while they’re tellin y’ because there was some meanin’ then. But what’s…what’s stupid is that now…now that most of them have got some kind of a house an’ there is food an’ money around, they’re better off but, honest, they know they’ve got nothin’ as well—because the meanin’s all gone; so there’s nothin’ to believe in. It’s like there’s this sort of disease but no one mentions it; everyone behaves as though it’s normal, y’ know, inevitable, that there’s vandalism an’ violence an’ houses burnt out and wrecked by the people they were built for. But this disease, it just keeps on bein’ hidden; because everyone’s caught up in the ‘Got-to-Have’ game, all runnin’ round like headless chickens chasin’ the latest got-to-have tellies an’ got-to-have cars, got-to-have garbage that leaves y’ wonderin’ why you’ve still got nothin’—even when you’ve got it. (Beat.) I suppose it’s just like me, isn’t it, y’ know when I was buyin’ dresses, keepin’ the disease covered up all the time.

Related Characters: Rita (speaker), Frank
Related Symbols: Dresses
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dresses Symbol Timeline in Educating Rita

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dresses appears in Educating Rita. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene Two
Social Class and Identity Theme Icon
Self-Worth Theme Icon
...she asked herself this question, she knew she had to decide between “another change of dress or a change in [herself].”  (full context)
Mentorship Theme Icon
Institutionalized Education vs. Experiential Education Theme Icon
Rita explains that she’s not going to get a new dress until she passes her first exam, at which point she’ll get “a proper dress, the... (full context)
Act One,  Scene Three
Social Class and Identity Theme Icon
Self-Worth Theme Icon
...living a “disease,” saying that she herself suffered from this mentality when she was buying dresses instead of seeking meaningful change. (full context)
Act Two, Scene One
Social Class and Identity Theme Icon
Mentorship Theme Icon
...pausing to sip from a mug. Before long, Rita enters, aglow in a new (“second-hand”) dress. “Frank, it was fantastic,” she says. “What are you talking about, London or summer school?”... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Seven
Social Class and Identity Theme Icon
Mentorship Theme Icon
...you do,” Frank says, “you might as well take this. It’s erm—well, it’s er—it’ a dress really. I bought it some time ago—for erm—for an educated friend—of mine…” Unwrapping the gift,... (full context)