Staging the Human in George Ryga’s The Ecstasy of Rita Joe

Saradindu Bhattacharya

Assistant Professor, Dept. of English Studies, Central University of Tamil Nadu. Email:

Volume 11, Number 1, 2019 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v11n1.05


This essay examines George Ryga’s play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe for its literary and dramatic strategies of representation of the violation of the human rights of its titular subject. I demonstrate how Rita Joe embodies the discursive construction of the racialized native subject whose speech and actions, at the textual level, are very often at odds with the immediate theatrical setting of the play itself, while also bearing deeper contextual resonance with the backdrop of the colonial history of Canada within which her story unfolds. The essay examines how (a) popular racial stereotypes operate within the colonial institutions of law and administration, education and religion as the discursive grounds for the dehumanization of the native subject (b) the ‘criminality’ of the native subject becomes a logical outcome of, and further inducement to, the breach of her rights as human, and (c) the dramatic staging of the violation of the racialized, criminalized subject creates a space for her to articulate her own suffering and thus claim a resistive narrative voice as a human subject. I contend that Ryga employs theatrical techniques (such as voiceovers, stage setting and lighting, transition of scenes) and dramatic elements (like plot, character, dialogue and action) not only to represent Rita Joe’s systemic victimization and ultimate destruction within the colonial regime, but also to engage the audience in bearing collective witness to her trauma as that of a fellow human. In doing so, Ryga effects a narrative reconstruction and an empathic re-cognition of the colonized subject as human in her vulnerability to violence and her capacity to feel and articulate suffering, and thereby positions her narrative within a larger discourse of human rights.

Keywords: George Ryga, The Ecstasy of Rita Jo, human rights, victimization, colonized subject.