The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

by George Ryga

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 334

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is the story of a young Native American woman who is falsely accused of prostitution. Rita Joe leaves her reservation and goes to the city to find a job. She struggles to find work and is offered money from undercover policemen. When she accepts the money, she is arrested for prostitution.

The play is set during Rita Joe's trial and opens with the magistrate declaring himself to be stern but fair. Rita attempts to defend herself against the accusations, and the magistrate has a flashback to a young girl he once saw on the side of the road in Cariboo country. He begins to feel partial to Rita—however, his sense of patriotism kicks in, and he stands strong against her. Rita begins having flashbacks to characters from her past. She thinks of Jaimie Paul, a Native American man from her reservation who also moved to the city and at first had success. However, he eventually lost his job and began to drink. Rita has further flashbacks to her father, the priest, her former teacher, and the school board clerk. The school board clerk and her former teacher, Miss Donohue, end up testifying against Rita in the trial, and she is sentenced to thirty days in prison.

After serving her time, Rita reconnects with her friend Jaimie. The two go to Mr. Homer’s Center for Native Americans, where they are too proud to accept the food and clothing offered. Mr. Homer lashes out at Rita, and Jaimie attacks him. Jaimie and Rita are put before the magistrate again, and Jaimie is sentenced to thirty days in prison. Rita’s father comes to the city to bring his daughter home, but Rita refuses because she does not want to leave without Jaimie. When Jaimie is released from prison, the two plan to go out to celebrate. The flashbacks continue and become frenetic. Ultimately, the two friends are circled by a group of racist white men who murder them both.


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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 184

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe by George Ryga is about a young Native girl, Rita, who leaves the reserve, Caribou Country, and goes to the city to look for a job. Rita experiences racism and poverty in the city. For instance, upon her arrival in the city, Rita encounters a terrible ordeal where she is arrested and arraigned in court.

While in the city, Rita is offered money by police officers, which she accepts. Once she takes the money, the police officers arrest her for prostitution. Many people testify against Rita Joe, which makes it difficult for her to convince the magistrate of her innocence. The magistrate orders Rita to look for people who will vouch for her in eight hours failure to which she will be taken to jail. During the trial, Rita continually remembers her past and has several visions of her future.

Rita’s life in the city proves to be challenging as she constantly appears before the same magistrate. Besides prostitution, she is also charged with theft. She ends up being brutally murdered by white men who dislike her race.

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