Gender and Sexuality in The Piano

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Gender and Sexuality in The Piano

The Piano examines the construction of sexuality in nineteenth century colonial New Zealand within the discourses of power that shaped this era. Different discourses of gender and race and their interactions are presented in order to support a narrative critique of the European patriarchal ideology as dominant social structure.

In the opening sequence of the film, the viewer is immediately presented with an image of marriage as entirely contractual: "Today he married me to a man I've not yet met." The protagonist, although she has already been established as strong-willed and non-conforming, is accepting but not altogether optimistic about the arrangement. The viewer also learns that she already has a daughter, but the question of the child's legitimacy are left unanswered. These factors suggest potential conflict with the patriarchal authority of the husband over his spouse's sexuality and introduce the primary power discourse of the plot: that of the female protagonist's commodity status through the negation female autonomy by the patriarchal system.

European patriarchal values are embodied by Stuart's character, he symbolises repression, the narrowing of sexuality into an unemotional discourse of female passivity and male dominance. The film exposes the property mentality which resulted in the devastation of the natural landscape but also in the corruption of personal relationships - above all else, Stuart believes in his ownership of Ada. He demonstrates this by negating her own claim to property in the beginning of the film. Stuart does not hesitate in the trade of Ada's piano to Baines for a piece of land, and refuses to acknowledge her right to it, or understand her an...

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...dy of sexuality, and the destructive effect of institutionalised power discourses upon personal relationships. It emphasises the need for cultural acknowledgment of an individual autonomy, thus destroying the morality of the nineteenth century patriarchy which dictated sexual repression and ownership. Love as an integral element of sexual relations, with the definition of love conveying mutual respect as well as desire is presented as a major theme in the film, and sexual relations as a requirement of oppressive transactions such as arranged marriage are shown to be not only irrationally unjust but potentially tragic.

Sources Cited

The Piano Jane Campion 1993

Bilbrough, Miro, "Different Complexions: Jane Campion, An Interview." Jonathan Dennis and Jan Bieringa, ed. Film in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1992
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