Themes of Character, Womanhood, and Community

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2052

Terence, the popular playwright of ancient Rome, once wrote that "Fortune favors the bold." While this may be true in some cases, none of the bold women in Highway's The Rez Sisters seem particularly "favored'' by Fortune or anything else for that matter. Pelajia, for example, opens the play by voicing her desire to leave: "I want to go to Toronto." Veronique complains of her drunken husband. Emily was beaten by her husband for ten years, then left only to experience death in a new relationship. Annie lost her sweetheart to her own sister, Marie-Adele, who is now stricken with cancer. And Philomena, who seems the most jovial of the group, secretly wonders about the child she was forced to give up twenty-eight years before. All of the women hope that, by winning the bingo jackpot, they will be able to realize their dreams and improve their lives. What Highway suggests, however, is that real change cannot be found by the luck of a bingo machine (or more succinctly, money); rather, it must come from within the women themselves. As the women journey from Wasy to Toronto, they embark on a spiritual and emotional journey as well, returning with a fresh attitude, ready to affect real change.

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The play begins with a depiction of the women's lives at "plain, dusty, boring ... old Wasy," the "rez" where most of the action takes place. Pelajia is hammering shingles on her roof and complaining that Wasy needs paved roads "so that people will stop fighting and screwing around and Nanabush [the Trickster] will come back to us because he'll have paved roads to dance on." She continues to describe Wasy as a place where everyone is "crazy" because there are "no jobs" and "nothing to do but drink and screw each other's wives and husbands and forget about our Nanabush." Gossip is a favorite pastime on the rez, as seen when Annie enters and begins asking if anyone heard that "Gazelle Nataways plans to spend her bingo money to go to Toronto with Big Joey." Their love of gossip seems to benefit them, however, when they learn that, in Toronto, “THE BIGGEST BINGO IN THE WORLD" will be played for a $500,000 jackpot. Their reactions to this news displays their feelings of claustrophobia living in Wasy: Marie-Adele, for example, hopes to use her future winnings to buy an island "with pine trees and maple trees and big stones and little stonelets" where she can live "real nice and comfy" with her husband and her fourteen children. Similarly, Annie plans on discovering life off of the rez, in Toronto, where she can feel sophisticated and "drink beer quietly—not noisy and crazy like here.'' As pointed out by David Richards of the New York Times, the women's desperation to escape is evidenced by the repetitive phrase they each use, "When I win," rather than, "If I win," The Delaware playwright Daniel David Moses has written that these women (and many real women like them) were never "encouraged to regard their own lives as important," and the opening scene of the play reveals this fact.

Highway's emphasis on the characters of Native women suggests that he is exploring the ways in which their drive for success differs from that of their male counterparts. In the Globe and Mail , Highway said that he is "sensitive to women because of the matrilineal principle in [Cree] culture, which has gone on for thousands of years." When examined from a distance, one can see that these women fit the roles of various "types": Annie is the local busybody; Emily is the masculine biker; Philomena is the rez's comic relief; Marie-Adele is the mother figure; Veronique is the bitter gossip; and Zhaboonigan, Veromque's mentally disabled adopted daughter, is an outsider that is loved but cared for out of a sense of pity and duty. In offering these various character types, Highway creates a...

(The entire section contains 3570 words.)

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