The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

by George Ryga

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Ecstasy of Rita Joe is a 1967 play by the Canadian playwright George Ryga (1932–1987). It tells the tale of a young indigenous woman—the eponymous Rita Joe—living in the city.

The play opens with Rita in a courtroom, in front of the magistrate. The magistrate questions whether Rita can speak English and then commands, "let her speak for herself!"

After explaining her life story, including her time working in a tire store, Rita recounts a tale once told her by her uncle Dan about the price paid by European colonists for the acquisition of aboriginal land in Canada:

. . . then we had all the Bibles, an' the white man had our land . . .

In pronouncing judgment on Rita, the Magistrate reveals his opinion of all native peoples, using Rita as an exemplar:

The cities are open to you to come and go as you wish, yet you gravitate to the slums and skid rows and the shanty-town fringes.

The last line in the play is uttered by Rite Joe's younger sister, Eileen, who recalls:

When Rita Joe first come to the city, she told me . . . the cement made her feet hurt.

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