by Lynn Nottage

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What is the main conflict of Ruined?

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Mama Nadi is a complicated woman. She runs a bar called The Sandbox and controls the lives of the three women who work for her there. Mama Nadi is a survivor of rape, but she can also be ruthless with her employees. When Christian comes to visit, he attempts to turn Mama Nadi into a symbol for people of war-torn countries everywhere.

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Ruined is a complex play concerning some very complex characters. Interpersonal conflicts between Mama Nadi's three girls and other characters are set against a backdrop of conflict between the warring groups of soldiers. The main conflict, however, is the internal conflict in the character of Mama Nadi, the protagonist and the character whom the audience knows best by the end of the play.

Mama Nadi presents a complicated character to her customers and to her girls. Sometimes, she is flirtatious and playful, and other times, she is fiercely protective of her bar and violent in her domination. Mama Nadi exhibits both shocking ruthlessness and unexpected compassion at different moments throughout the play, depending on how willing she is at any given moment to feel the emotions that bubble up inside of her. Her passion is her business, which means that she refuses to take sides even as the war between Osembenga's men and Kisembe's rebels creeps inside her bar and into her relationships.

At the end of the play, when Christian asks Mama Nadi to explain why she resists him and the possibility of love, she says that she herself is "ruined." This admission suggests that she herself has been brutally raped and injured, rendering her physically incapable of love. This revelation explains Mama Nadi's complicated persona; the trauma of her injury and other life experiences make her a survivor, but one who sometimes survives at the expense of other people.

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The major conflict of the play is between the women and men. The women are constantly trying to figure out ways to survive, to protect themselves, to take care of one another. The men are constantly getting drunk, assaulting the women, and causing trouble for both the women and other men. Osembenga and his men, including Fortune, clash with Mama and her girls, especially Salima, who is Fortune's wife. Fortune calls Mama "the devil" and "a witch" who has "enchanted" his wife. However, it is really Fortune's own behavior—putting off running an errand for Salima until the day a group of soldiers happened upon her in the garden, violating her and then kidnapping her to be their sex slave for five months—that drives her away from him. Christian brings his niece, Sophie, to Mama as a "ruined" woman; Sophie is also the victim of unimaginable sexual violence that has left her in pain and unable to have intercourse. Osembenga orders his men to violate Josephine when Mama won't reveal the whereabouts of Kisembe, the rebel leader. If I had to choose a protagonist, I'd select Mama Nadi, and the antagonist would be society (a society run by men, for men, where women have no rights or protection).

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I would say that the main conflict in Lynn Nottage's Ruined is the conflict and tension that exists between Mama's establishment and the soldiers.  The brothel is the main setting of the entire play.  It is where Christian brings Sophie and Salima in Act 1.  There is tension between Mama and Christian that runs throughout the play, but I do not feel that their relationship leads to a climactic scene of any kind.  I believe that the climax of the play occurs when Osembenga comes angrily back into Mama's place, and he and his men start beating the women.  Salima enters the scene, screams for the violence to stop, and dies shortly after.  Because I believe that part is the climax, it leads me to feel that the main conflict is between Mama and Osembenga and his men.  Throughout the play those men make life dangerous for Mama, Christian, Salima, and Sophie.  The four of them do an admirable job of keeping the soldiers at bay while still keeping them in the establishment for their money. 

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