The English Governess Literary Analysis

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The need for discerning right and wrong within life is a strong one, and Anna Leonowen’s memoir The English Governess stands as a struggle on behalf of the viewers and creators to establish this binary without in betweens. With so many adaptations, each one brings to life a different attempt at creating such a distinction. These adaptations work to find a protagonist in the confusion of the original work, for when a character is so tarnished by the negatives, it can be uncomfortable for the audience to cheer them on or enjoy their positive moments and qualities. The English Governess is layered with unseemly descriptions of Anna, the representative of the English and Western world, and King Mongkut, the representative of the Siamese and ‘Oriental’ …show more content…
However, to do so would be to ignore many of the complexities that are lost or ignored in The English Governess. James Buzard describes the history of the royal harem, which stood as a unifying force in Siam that protected it from imperialism. By unifying the country in such a manner, it made Siam impenetrable to the West and strengthened its resistance. Buzard writes, “Much as we should celebrate Leonowens's striking at the institution of the harem, we must also recognize that to do so was to attack a bulwark of Thai resistance to European power” (Buzard 444). Although acknowledging the immoral practices of the harem and usage of concubines is important, this degradation is not a black and white issue. The resistance against imperialism is vital as well, and one cannot simply insult the harem without realizing the intricacies of what it stood for. In addition, Anna’s description of King Mongkut has been found to be incomplete and partially fabricated. Originally a monk, Mongkut held much higher moral values than that which Anna describes. In an interview with his great granddaughter Princess Vudhichalerm Vudhijaya, she discusses the illegitimacy of a scene written by Anna in which the King tortures and executes one of his concubines. The Princess states, “King Mongkut was in the monk's hood for 27 years before he was king. He would never have ordered an execution. It is not the Buddhist way” (Dunne 7). To further her point that the story was made up, she then pointed out that the specific concubine Anna names as being tortured and killed was in fact her grandmother who ended up marrying the Prince. The true account of the king shows a much different character, one who is a combination of qualities of good and bad. This is conflicting for the viewer for he can no longer be deemed as a true villain, and yet, certain negative