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On one of her usually busy days running her bar / brothel, Mama Nadi is visited by Christian, a regular customer who also serves as a go-between for Mama and merchants who supply her with cigarettes, rare luxuries like lipstick and chocolate, and one of the tools of Mama’s trade – girls who, for various reasons, are forced to enter a life of prostitution. As Christian flirts with Mama, continuing an ongoing conversation about starting a new life with her, he convinces her to accept two new girls: the sturdy Salima and the more ethereally beautiful Sophie, both of whom, Christian says, were assaulted by men. He also confesses that Sophie is his niece, and that she has been “ruined” (i.e. her reproductive organs have essentially been destroyed as the result of having suffered frequent, extreme sexual violence). In spite of her reluctance to take on another girl that she has to take care of, Mama accepts Sophie into her home.
As time passes, Mama’s bar is visited by leaders of both the government army and the rebels. She makes sure to keep them both happy so that she can retain their business and also prevent them from attacking her. She is also visited by Mr. Harari, a diamond trader who tells her that a stone she is keeping for a rebel fighter is, in fact, a raw diamond worth a significant amount of money. Mama Nadi keeps it in her lockbox, along with a document she took from Sophie that outlines the details of an operation that can restore her fertility. There are also further visits from Christian, from Fortune (a soldier from the government and Salima’s husband), and from a succession of drunken, sexually aggressive soldiers from both armies.
When they’re not being forced by Mama to entertain soldiers, Sophie and Salima develop a friendly rivalry (or a rivalrous friendship) with Josephine, another of Mama’s “girls”. Salima reveals that she’s expecting the baby of one of the soldiers that raped her, and begs the others to not tell Mama. She also refuses to see Fortune. Meanwhile, Josephine tries to decide whether to set up a home with Mr. Harari in the city; and Sophie refuses, more than Mama thinks she should, to entertain the men that come into the bar.
As the conflict comes closer and closer to Mama’s bar, Christian’s alcoholism resurfaces; Sophie’s rebelliousness gets her in more trouble with Mama; and the leaders of the two rival factions come closer and closer to actually meeting. At one point, fed up with waiting for Mama to let him see Salima, Fortune tells the leader of the government army that the leader of the rebels was recently seen in Mama’s bar. When the government leader confronts her, Mama convinces him to not do anything, handing the violently protesting Sophie over to him.
With the conflict within hours of arriving at Mama’s door, Mr. Harari makes plans to leave. Mama tells him to take Sophie with him, giving him her raw diamond to pay for the operation to restore Sophie’s fertility. The truck taking Harari away leaves before Sophie can join him, and she is still there as Mama’s bar gets caught in the crossfire between the rival factions. The battle is stopped when Salima appears, apparently having killed the baby she is carrying and telling the combatants that they will not use her body as their battleground anymore. She dies in the arms of her husband.
In the aftermath of the battle and of Salima’s death, Mama is rebuilding her business when she is once again visited by Christian, once again sober and once again trying to convince her to share a life with him. Mama again tries to resist, eventually confessing that she too is ruined. Christian comforts her as she cries, telling her he wants to settle down and help her run the bar. While she doesn’t exactly agree to his suggestion, she doesn’t say no … and, as the play closes, dances with him.
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SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Ruinedby Lynn Nottage.
Ruined is a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage which, in addition to the Pulitzer in 2009, has racked up numerous other wins and nominations from the Drama Desk Awards, the Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League Award, the Lucille Lortel Award, and the Obie Awards.
The play is set in a tin mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo and opens in Mama Nadi’s bar—which doubles as a brothel. In walks Christian, Mama Nadi’s connection to goods like cigarettes, chocolate, lipstick, and other necessities for the girls that ply their trades under Mama Nadi’s roof. During their conversation—in which Christian flirts with Mama Nadi—the man gets Mama Nadi to bring two more girls into the fold of her brothel’s activities. Both girls—named Salima and Sophie—according to Christian, had previously been assaulted by men. It is also revealed in this conversation the Sophie is Christian’s niece and she is, as the title of the play asserts, ruined. This means that she will be unable to reproduce in the future because of frequent sexual violence she had forced upon her. Mama Nadi reluctantly accepts the girls, allowing them to work at her bar.
Over time, a wide variety of people—important and not—walk into Mama Nadi’s. The important ones—leaders of the government, the army, and the rebel army— however, hold Mama Nadi’s interest, as she tends to their wants and needs. This not only keeps them happy, but it ensures that they will not hurt her or her business in any way, shape, or form.
One day, a diamond trader name Mr. Harari informs Mama Nadi that there is a diamond in her possession—which she is holding onto for a certain rebel leader—that is worth quite a lot of money because it is actually a raw diamond. The diamond itself is kept in a special place where only one other thing is stored—a document that states how Sophie can get her fertility to return to her. After this visit, there are more visits from drum soldiers and rebels, from Christian, and from a soldier named Fortune, who is Salima’s husband and works for the government as a soldier.
The next major scene happens between Sophie, Salima, and another girl, Josephine, whom the two develop a rivalry of sorts with. You learn that Sophie is refusing to sleep with the men that come for pleasure in the bar, that Josephine is contemplating moving into the diamond trader Mr. Harari’s house in the city, and that Salima is pregnant by one of the soldiers that has raped her and she is also refusing to see her husband, Fortune. All of these conflicts are mean to represent the myriad conflicts going on outside.
Sophie’s choice to refuse sex has repercussions, though, as she gets in more trouble with Mama Nadi. You also learn that Christian is an alcoholic and it has come back to haunt him and, when Salima refuses to see Fortune, the soldier tells one leader that the other was seen at the bar, where he then goes to. In the chaos that ensues, Mama Nadi gives Sophie to the government leader while convincing him not to do anything else.
After this, Mr. Harari decides he is leaving, as he does not want to get caught in the conflict that seems about to erupt. Mama Nadi gives Mr. Harari the special diamond in order to pay for him to take Sophie with him and have the procedure to fix her undertaken. He agrees, but the truck he’s on leaves before Sophie is able to get on.
It is at this point that the rival groups meet at Mama Nadi’s and begin a gunfight. The fighting stops when Salima shows herself, announcing that she’s killed the baby she was pregnant with. She also says that she won’t be used anymore, and dies in Fortune’s arms.
After the fight ends, Mama tries to rebuild her business. Christian comes back, sober again, and says that he wants to try and build a life with her, as he did earlier in the play. Mama Nadi tries to play it off and resist, but eventually it is revealed that she, too, is ruined in the way Sophie is. The two embrace and Mama Nadi cries. As she cries, Christian tells her that he really does want to settle down with her and run the bar and live their lives together. Mama Nadi doesn’t give a straight answer, and as the play ends, the two dance together.