Hysteria: Exaggerated or Uncontrollable Emotion
By definition hysteria is described as ”exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement”. Because of the development in psychology, hysteria is not a term is no longer a term used in medical context, rather, in today’s modern society the term ”hysteria” is rather used as term when explaining mass panic (mass hysteria) such as the Salem witch hunt, or for an individual whom is acting excessively emotional.
But the term hysteria has a dark past that is still affecting the female role in modern days society and to understand women’s rolls in film. The term hysteria has a long and complicated past. The physician Melampus is believed to be the founder of the term hysteria. He believed that women’s madness came from their uterus being poisoned by a venomous mindset as a result of a lack of orgasm.
Another physician named Hippocrates then developed this theory further. Believing that the uterus started to wander because of boredom or displeasure he named it after the Greek word ”hystera” for womb. Hippocrates believed the same as Melampus that due to the lack of orgasm that the uterus would then become bored or upset and start moving, and depending on it’s movements different symptoms would arise. The doctor would then prescribe different cures such as smearing honey on the vagina or smelling ammoniac to lure the uterus back to it’s original place. Because knowledge on the the female biology was not vastly researched hysteria became a diagnosis for most women when the physicians could not determine the illness.
During the 1800’s century, hysteria slowly begun to be seen a disease of the brain rather than the uterus. But this was not a fast process, even during the victorian times women used to carry around a small bottle of smelling salts refraining back to the ”wandering womb” of Hippocrates. Around the late 1800 centers the neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot started utilizing hypothesis on his patients suffering from hysteria which was vital to the studies of Sigmund Freud who’s known as the father of psychoanalyses.
Together with Joseph Breuer, Freud started developing Charcot theories further. He believed that hysteria actually wasn’t a physical injury in the body but rather a the result of a ”psychological scar produced through trauma or repression”. Especially, that this psychological injury was a result of the male sexuality being removed from females, an idea that unsurprisingly derives from Freud’s infamous ”Oedipus Complex” more specifically the ”Feminine Oedipus Attitude” which is, without going too deep into it, where instead of developing a fear of castration which males do, females instead develop the envy of a penis as she believes that she has been previously castrated and therefore projects a form of resentments onto her own kind which then gets translated into inferiority.
So hysteria according to Freud was the incapability in women to reconcile with the loss of their penis, and like his previous fellowship, he also then believed that hysteria was to be treated with sex to replace the lack of penis for the female individual. The Piano, directed by Jane Campion, tells the story of the mute woman Ada McGrath who gets married off to a landowner in New Zealand named Alistair Stewart. Ada has not spoken a word since she was six years old for a reason no one knows, not even herself. She instead expresses herself through her piano or her daughter young daughter Flora whom she uses as a translator through sign language. Ada does not care much of her surrounding except for her daughter Flora and her piano that she plays tirelessly.
Ada and Flora are finally shipped of to New Zealand with there belongings and most importantly Ada’s piano. Upon their arrival they end up being left on the beach with all their belongings by the sailors who transported them there. Unaccompanied they set up a small tent using Ada’s hoop skirt frame, until the next morning where her new husband Alister picks her up with the help of his friend Baines and the Maori people. But due to insufficient man-power Alister decides to leave Ada’s piano on the beach against Ada’s objections. Upon their arrival to their new house, Ada is pushed into a wedding dress and made to sit in the rain for a wedding photo.
The next morning Ada pleads to Alister to retrieve her piano, but he objects and tells her that there’s not enough room in his house for a piano leaving Ada furious. Ada then goes to Alister’s friend Baines and asks him to take her to the beach so that she can play. He initially objects but then agrees and brings her to the beach where he ends up listening to her play until sundown.
Baines sparks an interest for Ada and decides to make a trade with Alister; the piano and piano lessons with Ada for a piece of land, which Alister agrees on. Ada soon after starts going over to Baines, but it turns out that Baines has something else in mind. He makes up a deal with Ada, he will trade her back her piano one key at a time in exchange for letting him do ”thing he likes” while she plays. Ada agrees and slowly hers and Baines develops, while she shows no affection to her husband Alister.
The secret romance does not last for long though as Alister soon finds out about the affair between his wife and friend which results in him locking her up in his house. Ada starts showing affection towards Alister in hopes that he will loosen up. It turns out to work and he finally removes the barricarion he has created around house but before he leaves for work he asks Ada if she will go see Baines while he is gone which she shakes her head ”no” to as a response. Soon after though she makes her daughter Flora go to Baines with a key inscribed with a love declaration. Flora does not like the affair and instead of giving the key to Baines she gives it to Alister, which returns home in rage and cuts off one of Ada’s fingers in rage, making her unable to play the piano.
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