by Lynn Nottage

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Who are the dynamic characters in Ruined?

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Most of the characters in Lynn Nottage's play Ruined are static, and the choice to present static characters very well may have been deliberate on the part of the playwright. The static nature of the characters emphasizes the tyranny of the war going on in the Congo, a war that stagnates society while killing individuals. Amongst these static characters, however, is one dynamic character: and that is Mama Nadi.

A dynamic character undergoes some sort of significant change as the work of literature unfolds, and Mama Nadi does indeed go through a transformation. At the start of the play, she is a hard businesswoman, focused on making her living and accomplishing her daily tasks. Mama Nadi displays some evidence of a social conscience, but she is primarily self-interested as a means of preserving her own life and means of survival.

By the end of the play, Mama Nadi has softened. The events of the play have impacted her character, and she sees herself as truly vulnerable. At the same time, she reaches out for connection, realizing that the isolation of her position is no longer tenable.

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Lynn Nottage's play is not primarily concerned with character development or plot. She has created an ensemble of characters who interact in stylized ways. Although new people are introduced into the situation, the audience gets the sense that a pattern is being repeated. The war outside Mama Nadi's place is the dominant force, and the people react to its abstract power. The whole society is ruined.

The playwright also offers a few challenges to that overall arrangement. Although Cristian keeps bringing girls to the brothel to be remade into prostitutes, not all the girls are the same. The characters of Sophie and Salima take deliberate steps to remove themselves from this cycle.

Salima, in particular, shows dynamism. She not only rejects a future in sex work, she refuses to go back to her husband. Even though she dies, her last words show her transformation.

"You will not fight your battles on my body anymore.”

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One of the most dynamic characters is Mama Nadi.  She is dynamic because she experiences a defining change as a result of all that she has seen in her life and in the development of the narrative plot.  As the drama unfolds, it is evident that Mama Nadi is the force that binds: she holds everything and nearly everyone intact.  In a world where there is so much social, political, and psychological fragmentation, Mama Nadi represents a cohesive force.  She runs her brothel/bar with the strictest of focus, and she carries herself in a controlled manner that the world around her lacks.

The dynamic element of her characterization emerges at the end of the narrative.  When Christian leaves after he reads her response to his advances, something in her breaks. Her declaration--“I’m ruined. I’m ruined."--is one of the most important moments in the drama.  It speaks to how "ruined" is the most appropriate descriptor in articulating the world in which she lives.  It is a statement that women who are subject to violations of their space and freedom, what Salima states in her declaration of “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore," are forever scarred.  When Mama states this, the audience grasps her dynamic nature.  We no longer see the singular focus that has defined her.  Rather, we see someone struggling to make sense of that which is impossible to categorize and explain.  Her dancing at the end is a statement of how much she has changed.  It reflects her dynamic condition, an ending that emphasizes how survival is a form of resistance.  While the women in the drama might not have chosen the life they were forced to lead, they can make a choice in how they progress from that point.  Mama's choice to reluctantly and then passionately dance in Christian's embrace reflects how far she has come in her own journey.  It also serves to explain how much more she can progress despite what has happened to her.

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