In Educating Rita, Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, represents the difference between open-mindedness and close-mindedness when it comes to literature and education. Known as the first lesbian coming-of-age novel, Rubyfruit Jungle has been both critiqued and praised for its sexually explicit content. In Educating Rita, Rita loves the book so much that she takes the author’s first name, insisting that everybody call her Rita instead of her real name, which is Susan. When she first comes to study with Frank, she can’t believe that he hasn’t read it, immediately pulling a copy out of her bag and lending it to him. Interestingly enough, she does this shortly after Frank has just lent her a book—one of the first indicators in the play that both Frank and Rita have things they can teach one another. Indeed, whereas Frank originally assumes Rubyfruit Jungle is a low-brow novel that isn’t worth reading, he eventually comes to appreciate it, calling it “excellent.” By this point, however, Rita has become something of an elite intellectual and, thus, is embarrassed to have liked Rubyfruit Jungle. “Of its type it’s quite interesting. But it’s hardly excellence,” she says disparagingly. She utters these words during a time in which she desperately wants to fit in with her new, cultured group of friends. The novel appeals to people outside the university and includes certain qualities that might be associated with smut or pornographic literature. As such, Rita can’t afford to praise Rubyfruit Jungle, since by doing so she might run the risk of seeming unsophisticated. Whereas Rita’s desire to become sophisticated and cultured leads her to belittle what used to be her favorite novel, Frank’s willingness to venture outside the narrow confines of what academia deems valuable enables him to appreciate Rubyfruit Jungle.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Rubyfruit Jungle appears in Educating Rita. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene One
...Rita Mae Brown.” When Frank’s confusion is obvious, Rita says, “Y’ know, Rita Mae Brown— Rubyfruit Jungle . Rita Mae Brown, she wrote Rubyfruit Jungle.” Frank confesses that he’s never read this... (full context)
Act One, Scene Two
...a educated woman.” Changing the topic, Frank and Rita discuss an essay Rita wrote about Rubyfruit Jungle . Frank tells her that her work was really more of “an appreciation” of the... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Three