Saturday, June 11, 2011

The King and I: Differences Between the East and the West

Paper Topic: Orientalism


What will happen if two different cultures clash? Alienation, curiosity, and adaptation shall arise. The King and I gives us the many differences between the East and the West. Anna comes to Siam to teach English and American culture and customs to the people of Siam.

             Siam represents the East while Anna’s beliefs, mannerism, etc. represent the West. The East is known for its many religions, one would be Buddhism. The Western, on the other hand has Christianity. There are certain differences in the belief system of the two. In the film, women are property in Siam. Tuptim is a beautiful woman and is also a present to the King of Siam from the Price of Burma. She becomes the property of the king of Siam and obliged to abide to the King’s law. She is forbidden to leave the palace. Polygamy is alright to the East. The King of Siam has many wives and children. “A woman is designed to please man. Man is designed to be pleased by many women,” that is what the King said. The King when asked how many children he has. He answers that he has a hundred and sixty seven and he’s expecting more (5 or so). Christians / West on the other hand believe that for a man to be happy, he has to fall in love and remain faithful to one woman. Anna says that “For a man to be happy, he must love one woman and one man only.” Monogamy is what the Westerns believe.

            The East is also represented as uncivilized while the West is represented as scientific. The East wants to become like the West, to have technological advancement. The East seems to be very adaptive of Western culture. It seems that Siam is willing to give up their culture and tradition in order to achieve what the West has. During a party, all the Siamese women dress English costumes. The dining and menu are all English. Anna suggests to the King that it will be better if the one they will show would be what Siam really is (its delicacies, costumes), but the King insists that he wants them to look and become English.  Western are more scientific.

            In the East, there is the concept of monarchy; the King has the right to do anything to his people. He is then described to be barbaric. He has slaves and silences people not to speak out their views. The West has their democracy, where everyone is equal and Anna best represents this. Anna is free. Anna is able to say what she wants to say not fearing what the King will do to her. The King is surprised of her and says that she is a very difficult woman. The West is more expressive and free to say that they love someone. Anna’s son is very open to question her about anything, while the children of the King have limited talking time because the children always bow to him and have a minimum time to get real close. Human rights are valued by the West while in the East, there is no freedom. The little prince asked Anna, “How slaves are set free if their masters wish to keep them?” She answers that it would be possible by passing and enforcing a law. One of the most memorable line in the film would be “The question is not of what we want but what is right.” Slavery is still enforced in Siam until in the end of the film when the new King proclaims that there will be no slaves and bowing.

            The concept of being independent in the West is very dominant. This is the reason why Anna insists on having a separate house included in the agreement. The East has the notion that why leave if you can all stay together. All the wives and children of the King live on the same roof. Thus, Anna is surprised in the beginning and said that she wants a little privacy when all the women come in to her room.

            This film is not a story about love, but I really hoped that Anna and the King had stayed together and the King didn’t die. What the film’s story all about is valuing and giving importance to each other’s belief and culture even if they are very different and contrasting each other.

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