In Ruined by Lynn Nottage, is Mama a villain for employing girls as prostitutes?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I am not sure that there is a simple answer to such a question.  Nottage might have done this deliberately, to stress the idea that deep understanding and compassion must guide an assessment of any person who lives in the conditions that Mama and the characters in Ruined exist.  I don't think that Mama represents the traditional madam who exploits girls for her own benefit.  Christian's opening in the play of "giving" Mama Sophie and Salima is not as much for the exploitation of flesh, as much as for shelter.  As Salima's own predicament indicates, women in the Congo are constant threats for rape, violation, and brutality.  At the very least, being under Mama's protection can help to provide some level of protection and control in a setting where there is little of such elements.  Certainly, it would make things easier, and perhaps alleviate our own pain, if Mama would take these girls, help them become literate, and enlist them as a force to rival the civil war in the Congo, or raise them to have jobs and to be self- sufficient.  Yet, Mama understands that the world that lies outside of her brothel is one of intense savagery and even more cruelty.  The protection that she offers the girls who work for her is a form of safety and sanctuary for girls who really lack it. She is a business woman and, perhaps, some level of criticism can be levied at her for that.  Yet, she is not shown to be a type of figure that is exploiting the girls for her own benefit.  She does provide care and protection for girls who are "ruined" by the forces of the outside world that cannot be controlled.  At the very least, Mama might earn some level of credit because of what she provides to the girls.  If she is able to turn a small profit as a result of it, this might be more of a reflection of how she is able to continue this, helping more girls who are increasingly "ruined" by the ongoing civil war in the Congo.


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