Assignment: Comparing and Contrasting Highway & Ryga

Compare The Rez Sisters to George Ryga’s play The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1970). Consider some of the following questions and prompts:

  1. Note the similarities and differences in tone, dialogue, setting, and actions. What do these illustrate about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in Canada? How do these two plays complement each other? What messages might these plays be offering their audiences about the rez and the city?
  2. How are women represented in the plays? Are these representations sympathetic or dismissive, intelligent, or naïve?
  3. What is the place of humour and comedic strategies, broadly, in both of these plays? Look at how the authors poke fun at stereotypes, expectations, values, or roles. How do they introduce topics that might otherwise be ignored? What controversial content is humorously brought into the play and how might it function subversively?
  4. Both authors use code-switching in different ways. For instance, for Ryga’s play, discuss the tension between legal and common English-language use and the (possibly quite different) assumptions about community life and values they support (see Robin Ridington’s discussion of legal and cultural discourses). For Highway’s play, consider the use of Cree and Ojibway (the two most common Aboriginal languages in Canada, but also the ones simply used on Highway’s fictional reservation) within a largely English-language play. What does this suggest about the characters (especially Marie-Adele) and how does this situate the (now likely, although originally not) largely non-Aboriginal audience in relation to what is being said? For instance, what does it mean to a non-Cree or Ojibway person to have to read a pamphlet with the translation in the midst of the play? How does this position a predominantly English-speaking audience and why might this be important to the play?
  5. How does magic realism function in both of the plays? Read Slemon’s article on magic realism and postcolonial theory for ideas regarding how to approach this topic.

Works Cited

  • Highway, Tomson. The Rez Sisters. Saskatoon: Fifth House, 1988. Print.
  • Ridington, Robin. Cultures in Conflict: The Problem of Discourse. Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 273–89. Print. (PDF)
  • Ryga, George. The Ecstasy of Rita Joe. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1970. Print.
  • Slemon, Stephen. Magic Realism as Post-colonial Discourse. Canadian Literature 116 (1988): 9–24. Print. (PDF)