The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

by George Ryga

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What is the character and significance of Eileen Joe in The Ecstasy of Rita Joe?

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In The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, Eileen is Rita's younger sister. She reminds Rita of a simpler time with her family, away from the harshness of the city.

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In George Ryga's play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, Eileen Joe is Rita's younger sister. In act 1, Rita recalls picking berries with Eileen when a storm came and her sister was frightened. Feeling protective, she comforted Eileen, as though she were Rita's own child. Like Rita, Eileen comes to the city and attempts to make a life for herself there, but she cannot, and she is forced to return to the reservation. Her failure to survive in the hostile, racist environment foreshadows Rita's more tragic failure. Although Eileen is a minor character in the play, she speaks the last line, saying that when Rita first came to the city, "the cement made her feet hurt."

The hard cement of the city sidewalks symbolizes the hardness of life there, which neither Rita nor Eileen could endure. It also symbolizes the gross physical nature of city life, against which Rita is constantly rebelling when she loses herself in memories of Eileen and the rest of her family. The word "ecstasy" is often used in English to mean "great happiness," which is obviously incongruous in such a tragic play. However, the literal meaning of "ecstasy" is an out-of-body experience, transcending the physical. Rita Joe is constantly leaving the courtroom in her mind to return to a time of greater authenticity and simplicity, which Eileen represents.

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