by Lynn Nottage

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Ruined Characters

The main characters in Ruined are Mama Nadi, Christian, Sophie, and Salima.

  • Mama Nadi: The owner of a bar and brothel, Mama is a shrewd woman in her early forties who entertains soldiers from both sides of the war.
  • Christian: Christian is a traveling salesman and a regular at Mama's bar; at the end of the play, he asks Mama to pursue a relationship with him.
  • Sophie: An educated young woman of eighteen, Sophie has been "ruined" and brought to work at Mama's.
  • Salima: Salima is a Hema woman who was kidnapped and raped by soldiers and brought to work at Mama's with Sophie. She dies when government soldiers raid the bar.


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Last Updated on February 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1593

Mama Nadi

Mama Nadi is a resilient woman in her early forties who owns the bar and brothel in which the play takes place. Her charm allows her to play to both sides of the civil war, as she welcomes both government soldiers and rebels. Mama understands that to take sides would be the destruction of her business. She is smart, shrewd, and observant, and she knows when to keep silent and wait. When she first notices Sophie slipping money under her shirt, she says nothing—clients need to be entertained, and Mama will not jeopardize her business by confronting one of her girls in front of customers. Instead, she waits until she can speak to Sophie alone. She demands that Sophie return the money, but she also admires Sophie’s boldness and understands all too well her reason for stealing—Sophie hopes to save money for an operation to reverse the damage of sexual mutilation—as Mama herself has been similarly “ruined.”

Mama is generous and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of her business and her “girls.” Near the end of the play, she gives up the raw diamond she has been keeping as an insurance policy so that Sophie can undergo an operation to reverse the damage done to her. Mama’s stubborn nature will not allow her to leave the business that she built from nothing, but she does try to give Sophie the chance to escape. Because Mama is able to empathize with Sophie’s pain, she places Sophie’s well-being above her own in hopes of giving the younger woman a better life. Underneath her hard exterior, Mama is a kind and loving woman; she uses her facade of confidence and cynicism to protect herself from emotional harm.

Mama is interested in Christian but will not allow herself to admit it, as to do so would be to expose her vulnerability. It is only when Christian gives her an ultimatum that Mama finally allows her true feelings to surface. Only then can she confide in Christian (and therefore in the audience) that she is “ruined.” Mama’s confession speaks to a history of violent sexual assault, one whose legacy she has endured alone. Despite her traumatic past and the skepticism she espouses toward love, Mama is able to make herself vulnerable to Christian in the final scene.


When she arrives at Mama’s, Salima is described as a worn-looking peasant woman. She has endured repeated rapes, kidnapping, and the murder of her child at the hands of rebel soldiers; when she finally returned to her Hema village after five months of sexual slavery, she was shunned, and her husband, Fortune, drove her away with a switch. At times she detests her life at Mama’s, where she must sleep with aggressive soldiers to earn her keep. Although her family treated her harshly and disowned her, Salima still loves and defends them against Josephine’s criticism. Salima is pregnant by one of the soldiers who raped her, and she fears Fortune’s reaction to her pregnancy, wondering if he would ever be able to forgive her child for its origins.

Salima is haunted by memories of the soldiers who assaulted her and killed her infant daughter, Beatrice. Sophie is the only friend in whom she can confide and trust, and both her pain and her courage are revealed when she relates her story to Sophie in detail. Salima does not believe she can ever forgive Fortune for the way he treated her, and ultimately, she sacrifices herself to stop government soldiers from assaulting Josephine and attacking Mama and Sophie.


Christian is a traveling salesman...

(This entire section contains 1593 words.)

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in his early forties who brings Mama Nadi supplies like lipstick and cigarettes; he also brings Salima and Sophie (his niece) to work at Mama’s bar at the opening of the play. He is a cheerful recovering alcoholic who is in love with Mama and yearns for companionship, though he makes light of his feelings with frequent jokes and quotations from poetry. As the fighting increases, Christian pleads with Mama to leave the war-torn area, and despite her repeated refusals, he never gives up on her. At one point, at Mama’s request, Christian gives up his sobriety in order to keep the peace in the bar by accepting a drink from Commander Osembenga, placing Mama’s safety above his own well-being.

Christian also demonstrates strength and determination. After a few months away, during which he stops drinking again, Christian returns to the bar to make one final argument for Mama to pursue a relationship with him—though he promises to respect her decision if she refuses. His clean appearance, new suit, and resumed sobriety speak to his willpower: in spite of the horrors of the war, he has not given up on himself or the woman he loves.


Sophie is a gentle, educated young woman of eighteen. Her uncle, Christian, brings her to work at Mama’s bar alongside Salima at the beginning of the play. Sophie has been raped and “ruined,” or mutilated, by soldiers and cannot return to her village. Her goal is to amass enough money (by stealing from Mama) to pay for an operation to reverse the damage she has suffered. She shows deep care toward Salima and offers to take Salima with her to Bunia when she has saved enough money for the surgery. Sophie also speaks up for Salima when Josephine taunts her, showing no fear in the face of Josephine’s insults. She has a beautiful singing voice which she uses to entertain customers at the bar, though she confesses to Salima that while she sings, she is in constant anguish.


Josephine is an employee of Mama Nadi’s in her early twenties and is tasked with welcoming Sophie and Salima to the bar. She is angry and disdainful toward the other women, whom she feels are putting on airs; she taunts Salima about her family and Sophie about being “something worse than a whore.” Josephine herself was the daughter of the chief of her village, but when she was assaulted by soldiers during a raid, none of her neighbors helped her. Mr. Harari is her steady customer at Mama’s; she boasts about taking a trip with him to Kisangi and hopes that he will take her home with him one day. Despite her mocking of Sophie and Salima early in the play, she later shows compassion when Sophie is forced to sleep with Osembenga and joy when Mama accepts Christian’s invitation to dance.


Fortune is Salima’s husband and a government soldier. He and his cousin Simon have spent months searching for Salima, but when Salima initially returned to Fortune after having spent months as a captive of rebel soldiers, he beat her and chased her out of the family compound with a switch for having “dishonored” him. On the day Salima was taken captive and their infant daughter was killed, Fortune had gone to the market to buy Salima a pot she’d asked for and therefore was absent when she needed him most. Certain that Salima is at Mama’s, he stubbornly waits for her in the rain day and night—ignoring Simon’s pleas for him to give up—but Salima is uncertain that she can forgive him and worries about how he will react when he learns she is pregnant by one of the soldiers who raped her. Fortune eventually enlists Osembenga’s aid in raiding the bar by telling the commander that Mama knows where to find Kisembe. Salima takes Fortune’s hand, seeming to forgive him, just before she dies.

Jerome Kisembe

Kisembe is the leader of a rebel militia and a regular customer at Mama Nadi’s bar. He is an arrogant man, laughing as his drunken soldiers boast about their acts of violence and harass Mama’s girls. Josephine comments that Kisembe is “very powerful,” “fearless,” and under the protection of a charm given to him by a sorcerer: “He is the boss man, the government and the church and anything else he wants to be,” and it would be a mistake to look at him the wrong way. The extent of the fear and unease Kisembe is capable of inspiring becomes apparent during the rant he delivers against the government one day at the bar, full of “scary unpredictable energy.” His rage toward the government troops is matched by Commander Osembenga’s hatred of Kisembe and the rebels, with each accusing the other of committing terrible crimes.

Commander Osembenga

Commander Osembenga, a leader of government troops, is an arrogant, sadistic man who arrives at Mama Nadi’s bar in search of Kisembe and the rebel militia. He first appears dressed in a jogging suit, gold chain, and sunglasses, and carrying a gun. Contrary to the rebels’ claims to the contrary, Osembenga believes himself to be “paving the way for democracy.” He intimidates the staff and patrons at Mama’s and humiliates Christian by forcing him to accept shots of whiskey and dance for him. He derives clear enjoyment from the idea of what his soldiers will do to the rebels when they track them down; he also uses his position of power to force Mama to send Sophie to sleep with him. After Fortune informs Osembenga that Kisembe has been seen at Mama’s, Osembenga’s frighteningly violent nature culminates in his storming the bar with his soldiers, robbing Mama, throwing the women to the ground, and commanding one of his men to assault Josephine.




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