The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

by George Ryga

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

Rita Joe

Rita Joe is a young Native American woman and a hopeless romantic. She leaves her reservation to begin a new life in the city. However, after Rita Joe loses her job, she is arrested several times for vagrancy and solicitation. As an indigenous woman, she is at a disadvantage in the legal system, and she is sent to prison. After she is released, Rita's father begs her to return to the reservation. She refuses and stays in the city, though she is living on the street. After a life of hunger and exhaustion, Rita is raped and murdered.

Jaimie Paul

Jaimie Paul is Rita's childhood friend from the reservation. He urges the chief to adopt the ways of the white men because life on the reservation is challenging and stagnant. Jaimie, too, moves to the city, where he finds a well-paying job and lives a successful life. However, he loses his job and begins to drink. He finds himself homeless, but he refuses to accept charity. After Jaimie goes to prison for assault, he is released, and he and Rita reconnect. When he and Rita are attacked, Jaimie is thrown in front of a train.

David Joe

David Joe is Rita's father and the chief of their tribe. He is very worried about the future of his people and fears for the young people who leave the reservation for life in the city.


Throughout the play, a singer performs onstage, singing about the complex issues raised raised in the story.


The magistrate who presides over Rita Joe's trial wishes to be lenient with her, but he is obligated to send her to prison.

Mr. Homer

Mr. Homer is a white man who runs a charitable organization for Native Americans; however, his efforts are used to hide his true feelings. He is the man whom Jaimie attacks.

Father Andrew

Father Andrew is a priest who visits Rita in prison. In his attempts to comfort her, Rita becomes angry and disillusioned about God.

Eileen Joe

Eileen Joe is Rita's sister and appears to Rita in her dreams. She reminds Rita of the simple life on the reservation.

Old Woman

Alongside Eileen in Rita's dreams is an old Native American woman who tells Rita that her father is ill.

Miss Donohue

Miss Donohue is Rita's former teacher who testifies against her during her trial.

The Three Witnesses / Murderers

The Three Witnesses lurk in the background throughout the play and come forward to serve as witnesses against Rita during her trial. Eventually, they turn into the Three Murderers who kill Rita and Jaimie.

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