Maria Full of Grace: Body Agency
Maria Full of Grace and The Piano Teacher, by Elfriede Jelinek, both follow the story of females struggling to gain confidence about and control over their own bodies. In Maria Full of Grace, Maria Alvarez struggles with her problems of poverty, pregnancy, and desire for independence which ultimately leads her to be a drug mule. Her life is subsequently controlled, for the most part, by the drug dealer who is powerful and able to influence her life. In The Piano Teacher, Erika Kohut has little if any power over her own life. She is constricted by her overbearing and controlling mother and has been shaped into what her mother wants for her. Even in the moments with Klemmer when she has power over him, as a masochist, she commands him to inflict pain on her body: an interesting and convoluted expression of Erika’s power over her body. In both stories the two protagonists do manage to gain control of their own bodies in certain moments, although there is always a male figuring involved, casting doubt on whether the female character truly gains agency. Although Erika and Maria embark on different paths, both are initially portrayed as tools being used to further the lives of others. Both works clearly indicate that the female body is a tool crafted and controlled to be used by, not only by men, but by the people closest to them: Maria’s family and Erika’s mother.
Maria Alvarez’s life is clearly not her own as she is forced to work long hours in a job and for a boss she despises, to be able to provide for her family. Because of this responsibility her life is largely restricted and dictated by her mother with whom she butts heads frequently. She also butts heads with her boss who is demeaning and unsympathetic even when Maria is clearly sick. These are early indicators that her body is not her own, but merely a tool. For her family she is a provider and to her boss she is cheap labor. The scene between Maria and her boss is a particularly powerful scene because it sets the tone for her interactions with men for the rest of the movie. Her boss dismisses her when she complains about feeling ill and is still unrelenting even when Maria spits up in front of him. He asserts his power over her by demanding that she clean the flowers and states how he cares very little for her plight, indicating that the flowers are what are important. This power trip creates a clear separation between, not only Maria and her boss, but between men and women in general. The boss is the sole male in the factory which is filled with all female workers. Throughout the exchange between Maria and her boss, all the workers, with the exception of Blanca, are expressionless and concentrated on their jobs. A similar situation occurs when Maria is at home with her family. The family is clearly dysfunctional which coincides with the lack of a male figure in the house. This is an interesting scene because the combination of Maria’s role as bread maker and her disconnect with the rest of the family, all females, throws her into the position of the male. Although she is in the position of the male, because she is a female she has no power even though she makes the money. This is further evidenced when Maria tells her mother and sister that she is going to quit her job. The two are clearly, and rightfully, enraged, although the scene also shows how little intimacy there seems to be in the family. Maria is treated solely as a provider rather than a daughter of sister. In fact, the first thing the two do upon seeing Maria is demand money to pay for medication followed by a stern lecture from her mother. It is appalling to see the lack of intimacy within the family.
The revelation of her hectic life is, of course, topped off by the revelation of her pregnancy, an interesting and obvious way of indicating that she has no control of her body. Judging by her reaction and the character of her boyfriend, who is quite frankly an...
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