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How believable did you find the transformation of Miss Ruddock in Prison

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  • Category: Prison

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Irene Ruddock, the main character in Alan Bennett’s dramatic monologue, “Lady of Letters” first gives the impression of being a prejudiced, nosey and naive woman who writes letters whenever she finds something of which she disapproves. However, after entering prison for libel she encounters a huge personality change. In my opinion, the time scale in which this happens is the biggest factor which makes it unbelievable. I am going to discuss other factors that contribute for and against this decision.

To begin with, Miss Ruddock starts the monologue in a negative way “I can’t say the service was up to scratch”. From even the very first sentence she starts speaking, the audience, ironically, are supposed to make prejudicial assumptions about her. Throughout the first scenes we see, she makes horribly racist and prejudicial judgements on people she deems as inferior like “they don’t look very promising… the kiddy looks filthy”. Making decisions when she doesn’t fully know the situation promotes the idea of her being nosey and extremely quick to jump to conclusions.

We also see a lonely side to Miss Ruddock since she goes to a funeral of a distant acquaintance for an excuse to go out. Although she reveals that she hasn’t been out in a long time, “At least it’s an outing”, she tries to deny this by putting on a brave front “which is the one time I’m dangling my feet”. The truth is that she is always dangling her feet. However she is ashamed to admit this since her mother was always very sociable “My mother knew everybody in this street. She seems to feel overshadowed by her mother.

Furthermore, the reader sees her as a petty person for writing a poison pen letter to the director of operations from the crematorium because the hearse drivers had been smoking in the rhododendrons near the crematorium, “The least I could do was to write”. Additionally, the reader sees just how naive and gullible she is because she misunderstands the reply that is basically telling her politely that they would not take any action, “I had a charming letter back.

She also thinks it is necessary to write to the relatives of the lady who had died to inform them what she had done. She could not see that the relatives did not really care and had more distressing things on their mind. This adds to the audience’s view of her being naive. To confirm this point, when the opticians write to her to remind her that she should buy more glasses as they will “certainly be in need of verification” she misinterprets this as a nice gesture and writes back to thank them, “I said I thought it was considerate of them to have kept me in mind”.

This was unnecessary as they were only trying to create business by getting her to pay for more glasses. At this point, it becomes quite clear that through isolation, she has suffered a loss of perspective. When Miss Ruddock describes the pen that her mother had given her as “a real friend” it makes it seem as she doesn’t have any other friends. This also makes the reader pity her because she is so lonely. The way she personifies the pen also adds to the unbalanced side of her. This scene reveals the sentimental value of it just because her mother had given it to her.

When she mentions that she wrote to the council and got a ramp put up for the disabled because there is a broken pavement, she thrives on the attention and recognition that she has done something right, “My monument that ramp”. Furthermore, the reader realises that she is extremely observant and notices a lot of detail. In addition, when she takes a trip to London she notices how much dog mess there is about, “I spotted some on the pavement right outside Buckingham Palace”. Most people would go to London to see attractions or go shopping or something unique to a big city, but she goes to see how much dog dirt there is around.

The way she judges people on how they look and act adds to the idea of her being prejudiced, “this other side’s Asians so they won’t know what’s normal” although I don’t think that the audience would condemn her for this as it is partly the generation in which she grew up. Another criticism she makes is when she says, “he has a tattoo anyway”. This seems as if she is saying that just because he has a tattoo, she deems him socially inferior because people with tattoos are violent people. When she finally seeks help and goes to the doctor, he isn’t very helpful and just gives her some pills to give her a balanced view on things.

In my opinion, she doesn’t need tablets, she needs psychiatric help. She is not very keen on taking pills either “I didn’t want anymore tablets” but the doctor just dismisses her like the rest of society. The vicar also fails to understand Miss Ruddock and tries to force her into religion and does not succeed. When the vicar is talking to her she takes a very pessimistic view of love and Christianity, “You’re barking up the wrong tree, I’m an atheist”. This shows that she is very stuck in her ways and slightly stubborn to see other people’s views.

However, she is entitled to her view and this is what the vicar ignores. When the Police Officers come round and issue her with a suspended sentence, they also neglect and patronise her and don’t try and understand why she keeps writing nasty letters about everyone. Even the Social Workers do not deal with her correctly, they only sympathise with her instead of trying to help her. She makes it hard to help her though, because whenever someone tries to she takes a defensive role “They think they’re being nice, but it’s just a nice way of being nasty”.

She takes this defensive role so it seems as if she does not want to be helped and likes being set in her ways. On the other hand, she wouldn’t seek help if she didn’t want to be helped. The fact that she is extremely observant is unmistakable, but I think that she misuses this aspect of her character. She accuses people of misdemeanours or criminality when she has no proof but it is not surprising, as she has nothing to do and is obviously has not got a balanced view. Her anxiety for ordinary people is exaggerated and misplaced and has becomes interfering and slightly malicious.

She accuses the Chemist’s wife of being a prostitute, something that undoubtedly is disgusting to her, and the Lollipop man for molesting children. When the new neighbours move in, she immediately assumes that their child is neglected. “Thin little thing, bruise on its arm”. Later on, she goes on to say that “Every single night they go out, and the kiddy doesn’t go”. Her concern is misplaced here, since she doesn’t know their situation. Anybody else would offer to babysit and get to know their family more before judging them as inferior.

This point is proved later when the policemen come over and explain why the neighbours were going out every night, “the kiddy was in hospital in Bradford, that’s where they were going every night”. After this I think Irene realises that she needs to change. In prison, Irene, she is no longer Miss Ruddock, encounters a personality change. She doesn’t judge people as inferior straight away anymore but finds it easier to sympathise with Bridget who “did away with her kiddy accidentally”. The fact that she is still friends with Bridget who has killed her child shows a complete transformation.

She is the most content she has been since her mother died maybe even in her whole life as “it’s the first taste of freedom I’ve had in years”. When Irene is helping Shirley write a letter to her imaginary boyfriend, she is showing generosity and patience, something she seemed incapable of before her prison sentence, as “we’re sitting in her room concocting this letter to her pretend boyfriend”. She says this in a humorous way, rather than the negative way she would have used before. Even when Geraldine makes fun of Shirley, she sticks up for her and tells Geraldine to “fuck up”.

Bennett uses humour to show that the overall mood of the monologue has lifted. Irene even starts occasionally smoking although “I shan’t ever be a full-time smoker”. This shows that she is a lot more open to more modern ideas. Before her time in prison, she almost certainly wouldn’t believe in sex before marriage but now she even states that she would feel more comfortable in that situation since “Bridget has taken her through the procedure step by step”. Her naivety seems to have lessened as well, as she realises that it probably never going to happen at her age. However she still lacks understanding since she has been isolated for so long.

In conclusion, I think that the transformation of Miss Ruddock into Irene is not completely believable because the time scale in which this happens is minute. Other factors also contribute to my decision such as, the portrayal of a women’s prison to be a jolly place. However, the dramatic change in Miss Ruddock was demanded by the situation that she found herself in and people are able to change in different environments. Overall, I do not think the transformation in Miss Ruddock is entirely believable but the point Bennett makes about the human capacity to change is nonetheless credible.

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