Jane Campion's The Piano - A Metaphor for European Domination

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Jane Campion's The Piano - A Metaphor for European Domination

The exact nature of the encounters between Captain James Cook and the Polynesian natives of Hawaii as well as all interactions and exchanges between Europeans and native Polynesian peoples of the Pacific while Cook was exploring the islands of Hawaii and after has been investigated by anthropologists and historians for many years. Captain Cook died at the hand of Polynesian natives while he was at Hawaii in 1779. Marshall Sahlins stated that Cook was seen as the god Lono during the celebration of the Makahiki festival taking place at the time of Cook’s visit. Gananath Obeyesekere, in his noted work, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific, argues that Sahlins is incorrect in his conclusions about Cook and his myth models, which are defined as indigenous people not using rationality in the same way as Europeans. They underestimate the flexibility and pragmatism of indigenous cultures and cosmology. Obeyesekere argues that the Prospero myth and the Kurtz myth are evident in the works of Sahlins and other historians as well. The Prospero myth that is of the European explorer who brings forth peace and a "civilized" culture to the native peoples of the lands he or she explores. The name "Prospero" is taken from a character in Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest. The Kurtz myth is that of the explorer, who witnesses the raw nature and "uncivilized" culture and ideology of the native peoples and becomes himself "savage". The name "Kurtz" originated from Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness and is adopted in Francis Ford Coppola’s cinematic masterpiece Apocalypse Now. Obeyesekere’s ideas are prevalent in The Piano, a feature film involving a lov...

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...rts Obeyesekere’s arguments by having the savage element awakened, then subdued with force in the supposedly civilized Europeans, as opposed to Sahlin’s denial of European savagery in the explorations of Cook and the denial that Cook was a savage and bloodthirsty male seeking to kill, using "civilization" as an excuse for killing. This idea is seen in the domination of Ada by both Stewart and Baines, and the males’ violence and sexual aggression toward the innocent and mute Ada. The inability to speak on Ada’s part is a metaphor for her domination by the males, a trait of european culture in the ninteenth century. The piano is the means by which she is able to communicate, embodying both the Kurtz persona in the raw, beautiful sound that flows from the piano, and the Prospero persona in the intricate and ordered melody and harmony with that a skilled pianist plays.
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