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.
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...
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