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by Lynn Nottage

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Is Ruined a play about love?

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While Ruined does not seem to be a play that focuses on the theme of love as much as it does the personal ramifications of the Congolese Civil Wars, love is still evident between the characters and does drive some of their motivations.

Salima is probably the character most affected by love—and by the war. After she was raped by soldiers, she was kept by them and impregnated. Her experience sours her love for her husband Fortune, who has been searching for her now that he has decided he can live with the shame of her rape. She is unable to love him the same way because he was gone on an errand she asked him to undertake while she was raped and their baby was murdered—and because he exiled her from their village due to him being considered dishonored by her rape.

Even though Salima is the one who asked Fortune to go find a pot for her, she cannot forgive him not being there because it led to the death of their child, her rape, her imprisonment, and her current pregnancy. He also felt shame at her ordeal. When she is dying at the end of the play, Salima shows that she has lost the will to live. She says, "you will not fight your battles on my body anymore," and dies. 

Christian also is driven by love in the play. He loves his niece Sophie, whose genitals were damaged, so he asks the brothel owner, Mama Nadi, who he also cares for, to take her in. Christian wants to be have a family he can care for, but he is unable to do so with the bloody wars raging on all around him. He tries to care for the women—he even dances with Mama Nadi at the end—but he cannot fix the problems that plague them.

He wants to spend his life with Mama Nadi, but she is unable or unwilling to see the value in loving each other. 

A minor note is that Sophie reads romance novels in the play. Even though she has been damaged and lives in a war-torn area surrounded by violence, she still yearns for a loving, romantic relationship. Her desires and the attempts of people in the brothel to lead a normal, safe life illustrate that human desires like love never disappear, even when things are at their worst. 

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I think that one can make a case that Ruined is a play about love.  Each of the characters displays a love of life that the current warfighting conditions in the Congo makes difficult.  None of the characters have surrendered their love of living, even though wartime atrocities have done their best to see to it that they do.  From this, there is a love that binds different characters.  For example, Salima demonstrates a love she has for her past and her own sense of identity.  While she has seen some of the worst that human beings can display to another, she does not surrender her love of herself and her own identity.  When she demands “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore," it is an act of love repudiating the forces around her.  Mama demonstrates a similar love for her past.  With tender melancholy, she fights the belief that she herself is "ruined" through what financial deceit and cruelty have done to her.  She seeks to work and prosper in the need to maintain the love she has for her past, something that is hidden deep within her.  Certainly, Mama and Christian share some level of love.  The ending in which they are dancing with one another is a reminder that love can dominate over conditions that might threaten it.  One can even argue that within the brothel, the women demonstrate a love and solidarity towards one another that prevents them from being "ruined."  It is love that binds them and love that ensures they are able to persevere the brutal conditions of war.  The experience of women is unique, as seen with the narratives offered.  Yet, love for one another in the form of support, solidarity, and nurturing in a world that denies these aspects is where the women emerge as not being "ruined."

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