Ruined by Lynn Nottage: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:05 Act One
  • 4:05 Act Two
  • 5:19 Analysis
  • 6:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

Mama Nadi's brothel is an oasis for civilians and soldiers alike in Lynn Nottage's ''Ruined''. The play focuses on prostitutes at Mama's, most of whom have endured abuse yet manage to prevail over adversity. In this lesson, we will summarize and analyze Nottage's play.

Act One

Lynn Nottage's Ruined is set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mama Nadi owns a bar in the war-torn country, and most of the play's action occurs inside the bar. As the play begins, Mama is speaking with a salesman named Christian who periodically visits the bar. When she tries to serve Christian a beer, he reminds her that he hasn't had a drink in four years.

As the play progresses, Christian asks Mama to come see what he has brought. Once we see the inside of Christian's truck, it soon becomes clear that the bar is also a brothel, for there are three women in the back. Mama Nadi says she doesn't need three girls, but Christian offers her a good price if she takes the whole group. Mama indicates that she only wants Sophie, a strikingly beautiful girl.

Still trying to strike a deal, Christian then offers her two girls for the price of one, but Mama resists and asks, ''Are you deaf? No. Tst! I don't need two more mouths to feed and pester me,'' she says. Seeing his plan fall apart, Christian finally reveals that Salima was kidnapped from her small village, and the soldiers had used her as a concubine. Salima was married to a farmer, Christian says, but she can't go home, either. Continuing to provide the backstories of the girls, Christian says Sophie is 'ruined'. ''Look,'' Christian says, ''militia did ungodly things to the child, took her with ... a bayonet and then left her for dead.'' After some bickering, Christian reveals that he's trying to find a home for the girl because she is his niece. After hearing this, Mama finally agrees to take Sophie in and has her sing, clean, and cook.

The Civil War rages on, and various soldiers drift in and out of the bar. In spite of this, Mama Nadi does her best to remain neutral and keep the peace inside the bar. One of the prostitutes, Josephine, entertains a regular suitor named Mr. Harari, a Lebanese mineral merchant. Because of his profession, Mama Nadi produces a bag of diamonds and asks Mr. Harari to appraise them. Mr. Harari says that one of the raw gems is valuable.

Later, Sophie and Salima secretly make plans to leave on the bus. Both women miss their families, and Salima frequently mentions her baby. The two plan to fund their trip with money Sophie has been stealing from Mama. Salima also tells Sophie that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Christian returns to the bar with the news that the white preacher has been kidnapped. Here we should keep in mind that Mama serves both the government soldiers and the rebel soldiers at her bar, which is why she attempts to remain neutral in the conflict.

In this instance, remaining neutral might be tricky with Osembenga, commander of the government forces, not only hanging around but warning Mama of a rebel soldier named Kisembe. Warning complete, Osembenga then turns his attention to Christian, demanding that Christian drinks with him. To keep the peace, Christian reluctantly agrees.

Eventually Sophie discovers the stones that Mama has hidden and asks about them. Mama tells her that a man gave the dull stone to her to keep for him. A lot of people would sell it and run away, Mama says, ''But it is my insurance policy, it is what keeps me from becoming like them. There must always be a part of you that this war can't touch. It'll be here, if he comes back.'' With that being said, Mama Nadi then confronts Sophie about her theft of the money. Explaining why she's been taking the money, Sophie tells Mama Nadi that a woman has told her about an operation to repair her damaged genitals.

When Christian enters the bar the next day, he tells Mama that the preacher has been found. ''The cook said it was Osembenga's soldiers. They accused the pastor of aiding rebels. They cut him up beyond recognition. Cut out his eyes and tongue,'' Christian reports. He then orders a drink. Mama asks if he's sure, and it becomes clear that he has taken up drinking again when he says ''Just give it to me, damn it!''

Around that time, two soldiers, Fortune and Simon, enter and order food. Fortune asks if there is a woman named Salima at the bar, revealing that he is her husband. Though Mama convinces him to leave, he stays outside because, despite whatever Mama said, he believes Salima is there.

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