The Significance of Music in Ruined Essay Example
The Significance of Music in Ruined Essay Example

The Significance of Music in Ruined Essay Example

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In Lynn Nottage’s Ruined, Mama Nadi’s bar and brothel is a safe haven for all who enter. She strips soldiers of guns, she insists that filthy miners wash their hands and she keeps the place socially separated from the civil war waging just beyond the door. The customers seem to find a sense of peace amongst the chaos when they enter Mama’s bar. In order to keep the sense of tranquility, Mama Nadi provides live music. Sophie sings passionately to entertain the customers.

The music helps her to express her impassioned hopelessness. The lyrics of her songs that she sings symbolize Sophie’s despair over the seemingly never-ending conflict of the civil war in the Congo and her reaction to the soldiers’ way of dealing with the moral implications of their violent actions, such as their physical and sexual v


iolence toward innocent women. Sophie’s songs seem to expose the unhealed wounds left by the perpetual violence surrounding her and connect her to soldiers who fight for a blurry cause.

The inclusion of Sophie’s music transforms Ruined from a play about tragedy and hopelessness to a story about endurance, inspiring hope in both Sophie and Mama. The songs sung by Sophie serve the purpose of unearthing Sophie’s hopefulness. One song in particular is repeated multiple times throughout the play. It represents her ability to disconnect from the physical embodiment of her pain and release her suppressed optimism. Sophie is immediately introduced to Mama and to the audience as a “ruined” woman.

This initial impression we have of her is central to the impact she eventually has on the play. She is useles

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in a setting that sexually services men for money. It begs the question of why Mama would even allow her to stay at the brothel when it will only cost her to feed and care for Sophie. Christian persuades her by insisting that “the girl cooks, cleans and sings like an angel. And you [Mama]… you haven’t had nice music here since that one, that beauty Camille got AIDS” (10).

The fact that Mama is convinced by this and would take in a girl when she cannot perform the most necessary part of the job and merely brings an attribute to the already successful bar suggests that her singing and the gift of music itself is more important to Mama than bringing in another girl who can perform sexually and bring in revenue. The audience is quickly plunged into the lyrical prowess of Sophie. She sings soulfully, creating a seductive, comforting ambience for the male customers. Though she is physically unable to attend to the men as Mama wishes she could, her sensuality becomes tangible while reading the lyrics to her songs.

By using her voice and her words to seduce the male customers, her sexuality becomes even more powerful and desirable than the blatant, overt sexuality of women like Josephine because Sophie is untouchable. When Sophie sings “Dusk ushers in the forests’ music/ And your body’s free to unwind”, she is simultaneously easing the minds of those listening and expressing her desire to be freed from the imprisonment of physical pain (15). This is what makes Sophie’s character so pertinent to the play.

Nottage cunningly threads lyrics together to add another layer

to Sophie, keeping her from becoming a young woman known for nothing but her beauty and her tragedy. Sophie’s song is sung multiple times throughout the play and the chorus resonates in the audience. When she sings the recurring lines, “You come here to forget/ You say drive away all regret/ And dance like it’s the ending/ the ending of the war” she emphasizes the calamity of war that the soldiers are anticipating just beyond the walls of Mama Nadi’s bar (17).

She expresses that the men are suffering in their own right by waging a war in which the outcome seems unattainable. Though she never explicitly makes the comparison, it is evident Sophie connects with the soldiers. The soldiers fight bloody battles for a cause they may not fully comprehend. They are emotionally wounded by losing friends and family to the enemy. Though Sophie does not fight a literal battle of the war like the soldiers, she battles the emotional scars left by the encumbrance of constant violence and the physical scars left by being raped with a bayonet.

While soldiers come “here”, as Sophie sings, to the bar in order to forget the ugly ways of the war outside, Sophie comes “here” in a different way. Her singing transports her to a place where she has power, a place where she can dream of the beauty that lies within the world and within the Congo, waiting to be uncovered. Her strength is found when she sings, further separating her from the women who are rendered powerless by their sexual overuse. In her song, Sophie encourages the men to “dance like it’s

the ending of war”(17).

She inspires hopefulness and suggests in her lyrics that a sense of peace can be felt by ignoring the tragedy of the war and simply enjoying life as if it were already over. Though Sophie is rendered physically incapable of actually dancing, her lyrics perpetuate the dream of the end of both her physical pain and her own emotional battles. The idea of dancing here is symbolic of Sophie’s dream to one day feel happiness again by managing to scrounge together enough money to virtually repair her damaged body through surgery.

The second act begins to show the unification between Mama and Sophie when they join in their first duet. It is through this song that we begin to see a deeper connection between them. Sophie uses her voice to release the tension of fighting a constant physical battle. When Mama joins her, their lyrics sung in unison, a bond is suggested that runs deeper than that of a traditional employee and employer. They sing, “’cuz a warrior knows no peace/ When a hungry lion’s awake”, to help create a sense of ease for the tired soldiers seeking comfort in the hominess of the bar(42).

Yet, a deeper correlation of these lyrics to their singers is even more apparent upon the discovery at the end of the act that Mama has also been “ruined. ” Sophie and Mama take turns singing parts of this song separately, but they always sing these two lines in unison. This implies that they are connected by the feeling of knowing “no peace” as they are held captive by their ceaseless pains, which

softens Mama’s sometimes harsh character. Once Mama professes at the end of the play that she is “ruined”, there becomes an ever present hope for Sophie.

Her desperation to be surgically “fixed” is realized when Mama gives her the diamond to pay the surgical bills. Though in violent, uncertain surroundings, Mama is drawn to the hopefulness of Sophie. She is the only character in the play who not only sympathizes with Sophie but can empathize with her as well. She sees Sophie as able to break the chains of her “ruined” physical form and live life the way in which Mama has never had the chance. This itself is what changes the entire concept of the play from bleak to hopeful and expresses the power of Sophie’s ability to endure.

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