The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

by George Ryga
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What does the statement "'we are a melting pot...you put copper and tin into a melting pot and out comes bronze. It’s the same with people!'" in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe mean?

The melting pot theory addressed by the teacher in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe refers to the high flux of immigration into Canada and the United States. This level of immigration has a powerful effect on reshaping culture, which combines influence from other nation's customs with their own.

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The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is a Canadian play, but the idea of the melting pot obviously applies to both Canada and the United States of America. While all countries have some immigration, Canada and the U.S.A. have been shaped by its immigrants more than most. This immigration has also occurred over only a few centuries, a very brief period in the span of human history, and the immigrants have come from many different countries. The effect of this is that American or Canadian culture is immigrant culture and that it does not come from one overwhelmingly powerful and numerous group recreating their national culture in a new land, but from a mixture of ideas, traditions and practices transformed into something new.

The metaphor of the melting pot captures this idea in a powerful image. Copper and tin are melted together to create bronze, an alloy which is neither copper nor tin, but is stronger than either. This is the point Miss Donohue makes in the play about assimilation creating a new cultural identity. Although the melting pot analogy was a popular idea in the 1960s, when the play was first performed, more recent cultural criticism often opposes to it the idea of the salad bowl, in which immigrants mix while retaining the characteristics of their original culture.

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