Act 1, Scenes 1–2

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Last Reviewed on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1319

Act 1, Scene 1

Ruined takes place in a mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As the first scene opens, the audience hears sounds of the rainforest in the background.

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Mama Nadi and Christian sit at a table in the bar and brothel that Mama owns; both are in their early forties and act flirtatiously with each other. Mama, the madam of the establishment, is attractive, with “an arrogant stride and majestic air.” Christian, a traveling salesman, is dressed in a worn, once-stylish suit. He is “perpetually cheerful” yet “worn down by hard living on the road.”

Mama scolds Christian for being three weeks late with her order of soap, cigarettes, and condoms. Christian explains that it is nearly impossible to travel the roads, but Mama only responds by requesting her lipstick. Christian, annoyed at her insistence after the difficult conditions he has endured, nevertheless takes the lipstick out of his pocket, playfully threatening to give it to Josephine, one of Mama’s girls. Mama tries on the color, admiring herself in a broken mirror. Christian teases that she wants a husband, to which she replies, “Like a hole in my head.” He recites a love poem, and Mama makes peace by giving him some peanuts. She tempts him with a beer, which he refuses, reminding her that he has not had alcohol in four years.

Hearing a parrot’s squawk, Christian spots a covered birdcage. Mama tells him the bird belonged to Old Papa and only speaks Pygmy, so no one can communicate with it. As she explains that she plans to sell the parrot because she has no use for it, Christian puts his finger in the cage only to have the parrot bite him. Mama laughs, chiding him for bothering the bird. She then asks what else Christian has brought her, to which he responds, “Three.”

The two begin to bargain about a price; neither mentions what the merchandise is, as both seem to understand. Mama only wants to purchase one, but Christian reminds her how difficult it was for him to get here. Finally agreeing on a price of twenty, Christian requests another cold soda while he goes out to the truck to retrieve Mama’s purchase. He returns with two cartons of cigarettes and two women. Sophie is a beautiful young woman with a defiant look and walks as if in pain, and Salima is a peasant woman whose face has a worn-out appearance.

Mama surveys the women and points to Sophie, reminding Christian that she only wants to purchase one. Christian is willing to give them both for the price of one. Mama is annoyed because she cannot take on the responsibility of feeding both women.

Mama sends the girls to wash up, and Christian explains that Salima was a captive concubine of rebel soldiers for five months. Her village would not allow her to return after her ordeal. Mama then inquires about Sophie, and Christian responds that she is “ruined.” Mama becomes angry at this revelation. Christian quickly tries to calm her, saying Sophie will be a hard worker. Mama is upset that Sophie is “damaged,” and Christian explains her story. Soldiers “did ungodly things to the child,” and she has nowhere else to go. Mama continues to protest, and Christian continues to plead for Sophie. He tells her many miners will be coming to town and they will like Sophie, so she’ll be good for business.

Christian reminds Mama that he has done a lot for her; she angrily retorts that she feeds eight women even though other people are starving. She questions why Sophie is so important, and finally Christian reveals that Sophie is his niece. To convince her, he offers chocolate, which is not easy to procure.

When Sophie enters the room, Mama reconsiders as she talks to her. She asks if the soldiers hurt her badly and questions if she can sing any popular songs. Sophie replies yes to both questions. Mama instructs Christian...

(The entire section contains 1319 words.)

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Act 1, Scenes 3–4

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