What is the major theme of the play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga?
The main theme of the play is the effect of racism on members of the First Nations. The protagonist of the play is a young woman of the Shuswap tribe in British Columbia who has left the reservation to seek employment in a city that is not named but is roughly based on Vancouver. She is marginalized in three ways, being poor, female, and a member of an oppressed racial minority. In the play, the way that white society has oppressed the Shuswap is intimately connected with how it mistreats its poor and women as well.
The schools and the Christian church are both seen as instruments of cultural oppression, connected together through the church's involvement with Residential Schools that used education as a pretext to disrupt First Nations culture and family.
The police force is complicit in gender and class oppression in the way it punishes Rita when a man tries to treat her as a prostitute. Even Mr. Homer and the Magistrate, who represent white efforts to help the Aboriginals and grant forms of justice, do not see the racism implicit in their attitudes and actions.
The main theme that comes from the work is the theme of white society's inabilty to understand or appreciate Native Americans and their culture. Some critics have suggested that play is
"about the white culture’s denial of the American Indian’s humanity. In particular, George Ryga points to the inadequacy of those organizations that deal with Indians; according to him, the Church, social services, the schools, and the legal system all dole out humiliation in the guise of charity and fail American Indians because they expect them simply to shed their cultural differences and assume white society’s ways." -- Magill's Literary Annual