The Actual Roles of “Him” and “Her”: Contrasts in She Stoops to Conquer and M. Butterfly
The figurative use of masks in She Stoops to Conquer and M. Butterfly is present in both the characters and the themes to define genders and deceit. Goldsmith and Hwang use mockery and satire in the two plays interchangeably through time and space and to interlock the two plays together in terms of themes as well as to set them apart. When it comes to the ending of the play. Both protagonists from M. Butterfly and She Stoops to Conquer challenges social norms through satire and deceit to transform and break gender stereotypes for femininity and masculinity, and while M. Butterfly makes the audience form false assumptions about gender roles from disguise and irony, She Stoops to Conquer uses satire to cross boundaries on how the audience thinks about men and women from different social hierarchies.
As the play begins, Rene Gallimard in M. Butterfly paces around his jail cell and mutters about losing his one and only love, addressing Butterfly, who is actually a man in disguise: “He still claims not to believe the truth.” “What? Still? Even since the trial?” “Yes. Isn’t it mad?” (Hwang, 8) By using two complete random characters whose name isn’t even mentioned, Huang uses irony and satire to emphasize on making fun of Gallimard about how he is still so hung up on a man whom he thinks was the perfect woman. In Scene Three, Gallimard thinks the whole country is still idolizing him when in reality; the whole nation is mocking him. Smilng, Gallimard starts talking to the audience, “You see? They toast me. I’ve become patron saint of the socially inept. Can they really be so foolish? Men like that – they should be scratching at my door, begging to learn my secrets! For I, Rene Gallimard, you see, I have known, and been loved by… the Perfect Woman” (Hwang, 9). The very fact that M. Butterfly is indeed, a man cloaked as a woman, suggests the notion that everything started out as a lie, or disguised in falsehood, from the beginning. Gallimard recognizes himself as the masculine figure in the situation, but towards the end realized that he is actually the feminine figure in terms of politics and personal relations as well. Song, or otherwise known as Butterfly, says to Gallimard towards the end, “You don’t really believe that I’m a man. I’m your Butterfly. Under the robes, beneath everything, it was always me. Now, open your eyes and admit it – you adore me” (Hwang, 65-66). There is strong satire and mockery dripping from the words of Song. It is only towards the ending where the tables have turned and the gender and cultural stereotypes have been reversed – for the West to be masculine and for the Asian/East to be feminine. Gallimard has made a fool out of himself as a result of believing too much in stereotypes.
On the other side, Hardcastle and his daughter, Kate (or Ms. Hardcastle) starts bickering about Kate’s future spouse, to whom Hardcastle says its Marlow. In the beginning scenes, Hardcastle seems to push the idea of Marlow as a possible spouse for his daughter, yet Kate’s generic replies have already start serving as disguise for the gender and class stereotypes existing in the play. Hardcastle continuously says, “Depend upon it child, I’ll never control your choice, but Mr. Marlow, whom I have pitched upon, is the son of my old friend, Sir Charles Marlow, of whom you have heard me talk so often. The young gentleman has been bred a scholar, and is designed for an employment in the service of his country. I am told he’s a man of an excellent understanding […] Young and brave. Very generous. And very handsome. And, t crown all, Kate, he’s one of the most bashful and reserved young fellows in all the world.” (Goldsmith, 17-18) It is ironic because when talking about gender stereotypes, Kate’s fate and marriage is clearly arranged by her father, Hardcastle, yet a while later Kate eventually determines her own fate through disguise. All Hardcastle could say about Marlow is how good of a fit he could be for Kate. By disguising as a maid, or a woman of a lower class hierarchy, Kate is able to grasp Marlow’s sincerity and persona and eventually makes Marlow fall in love with her. Kate single-handedly determines the fate of the two families, just by being herself, thus breaking the stereotype of gender classifications and social class hierarchies. “I never knew half his merit till now. He shall not go, if I have power or art to detain him. I’ll still preserve the character in which I stooped to conquer; but will undeceive my papa, who perhaps may laugh him out of his resolution.” (Goldsmith, 119) Kate has definitely ‘stooped to conquer’ by lowering herself into another class and shows that women from all hierarchies can have an influence. It is satirical and ironic because while Marlow could not talk to women of higher classes, he is smooth and reserved when talking to women of lower class; yet Kate is toying along with him along the way. The scene portrays how stereotypes are easily made and assumed, but in reality the tables has completely turned, therefore resulting in the complete opposite of how gender stereotypes are not accurate at all.
Song takes on both roles of femininity and masculinity through deceit in order to break cultural stereotypes of the East and the West, causing not only the audience but also Gallimard to be caught completely off-guard. Song uses his Asian origins as a tactic to pretend to be a submissive Asian woman to ‘serve’ white men. Song’s words and actions is completely depleted of egotism and pride, ‘she’ leaves it all for Gallimard. “Yes, I am. I am your Butterfly. […] No…no…gently…please, I’ve never… […] I’ve tried to appear experienced, but … the truth is no. […] No, let me keep my clothes… Please, it all frightens me. I’m a modest Chinese girl. I am your treasure. Though inexperienced, I am not… ignorant. They teach us things, our mothers, about pleasing a man. I’ll do my best to make you happy. Turn off the lights.” (Hwang, 33-34) Song’s bubble of innocence is all an intentional act of luring Gallimard in to the eventual great scheme of acquiring secret information about international affairs between the East and the West. The intentional acting and talking like a woman blinds Gallimard’s common sense and alertness because he is so obsessed with the idea of a Perfect Woman and the submissive, Oriental, woman. Gallimard tries to portray himself as the masculine one, the man of the West, and the wants to be the one who’s in control; he does not even notice that Song is not only a man, but also a spy for the Chinese embassy under-covering as a woman as a form of tactics. Song shows his true side later on in the courtroom, revealing to everyone that he’s a man, and testifying that Gallimard indeed loves him, with a hint of homosexuality suggested. “Go where? Rene, you can’t live without me. Not after twenty years. […] I’m your fantasy, so throw away your pride, and come… In the crush of your adoration, I thought you’d become something more. More like… a woman.” (Hwang, 67) Song explicitly refers Gallimard as a woman, immediately feminizing the West and playing a more masculine role for the Oriental. Thus, the tables have turned. Song knows Gallimard will go mad and cannot live without the idea of a Perfect Woman after twenty years, therefore keeps pushing the notion onto Gallimard and he eventually loses his mind, his job, his wife, and his life. Song immediately breaks and transforms the gender identity stereotypes for an alien culture to be more feminine and the West to be more masculine
Marlow in She Stoops to Conquer is a controversial character himself; Goldsmith uses Marlow’s own actions and words against him, turning it into irony and satire to distinguish how two genders act and present themselves from different social classes that usually mean nothing at all. Being on the higher end of the class hierarchy himself, he shows disgrace and awkwardness when it comes to socializing with women of the higher class, yet pertains and courts lower class women. When Kate, or Ms. Hardcastle, disguises herself as a bar maid, Marlow immediately replies, “Nothing, my dear, nothing. But I was in for a list of blunders, and could not help making you a subscriber. My stupidity saw everything the wrong way. I mistook your assiduity for assurance, and your simplicity for allurement. But it’s over. This house I no more show MY face in. […] This is the first mark of tenderness I ever had from a modest woman, and it touches me. Excuse me, my lovely girl… and I can never harbor a thought of seducing simplicity that trusted in my honor, of bringing ruin upon one whose only fault was being too lovely.” (Goldsmith, 117-118) Marlow appears to be smooth, genuine, and composed, in which the author uses this tactic to make fun of his character as well. Marlow thinks he’s more masculine by courting a woman of the lower class, and appears to be more feminine talking to women from the upper class, yet the whole time he is not the one in control, it is Kate who is; therefore Kate achieving the more ‘masculine’ role in the play. Previously when Kate hasn’t disguised herself yet, Marlow stutters and stumbles across his words. “Pardon me, madam, I-I-I-as yet have studied – only – to deserve them […] It’s – a – disease – of the mind, madam. In the variety of tastes there must be someone who, wanting a relish – for – um – a – um. […] Yes madam. In this age of hypocrisy there are few who upon strict inquiry do not – a – a – a – a – “ (Goldsmith, 63-64) Clearly, Marlow cannot even pronounce himself enough to get a proper sentence across to Kate when she is in her actual class status. He portrays the real feminine role here, ironically, because he likes to think of himself as the man who has control. Goldsmith also uses the satire in gender roles and identities to mock Marlow’s character in how controversial his actions and words are.
While the endings of the two plays are completely different and opposite, with Marlow and Kate getting married and Gallimard committing suicide because of his shame, deceit and disguise make a strong presence in determining the two plays. The themes both set them apart and brought them together in terms of gender relations and stereotypes. M. Butterfly and She Stoops to Conquer transforms and breaks the discrimination about the roles of women and men. The characters and the scenes also depicts how satire help break the stereotypes and reaches to a level of revelation. By the end of the two plays, gender roles have been switched, broken, and changed the conceptions of social norms.
The Passage from the Orient to the Occident
The establishment of imperialism can be condensed to the rift between the Self and the Other. One can only believe that he or she possesses the right to will the destiny of another by assuming that there is an essential devaluation of that human being, otherwise known as an Otherness. Likewise, this legitimization of tyranny through the use of essentialism is the basis for the oppression of many social categories: race, gender, class and their intersectionalities. This dichotomy proves to be very problematic because various discourses of knowledge, whether it be film, literature or academic writings are only able to provide a subjective viewpoint for one side of the divide. In most cases, race and gender both figure very prominently in determining which side performs as the Self and which is the Other. Women and racial minorities are widely Otherized because they are foreign and antithetical to the idea of a subjective self that a white male audience believes in. Post-colonial criticisms like David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Wilibrordus Rendra’s The Struggle of the Naga Tribe deconstruct and invert Western notions of an antithetical Eastern Other. In Hwang’s play, a French diplomat named Rene Gallimard carries out a twenty-year-long affair with the feminine and enigmatic Song Liling, a Peking Opera actress. At first glance, their love story mirrors the plot of the opera Madame Butterfly, in which Pinkerton, the American Lieutenant marries a young Japanese woman named Butterfly. The Oriental woman’s love for the foreign devil faithfully endures despite his cruelty. However, in Hwang’s work, Gallimard discovers that Song is actually a Communist spy and a man. Song has never loved Gallimard and has been exploiting him as an unknowing informant all along. On the other hand, Rendra’s play takes a much more moralistic approach in narrating the struggle of Abisavam to protect his tribe’s homeland and copper reserves from the kingdom’s own Queen Sri Ratu and her foreign imperialist minion, the Big Boss. Abisavam is assisted in his fight by Carlos, an Occident who is devoted to writing about the Naga tribe and attracting international attention to the matter. In the end, thanks to Carlos’ activism, the Queen spares the Naga tribe’s village. However, Carlos’ visa has been revoked and the Naga tribe says their tearful goodbyes all the while realizing that this struggle is not over. Many voices from various post-colonial critics argue the disconcerting cultural imperialism that is still prevalent in today’s discourse because marginalized races and genders are forced to objectify and Otherize themselves. Both Hwang and Rendra deconstruct and reverse the racial and sexual Otherness of the oppressed groups by superimposing the empowerment of the Self on their characters. Song and Abisavam’s transformation from Otherized individuals to empowered selves and their capability of being the masters of their own destiny allow the respective playwrights’ to debunk the shallow Orientalist archetype of the East. The prevalent Orientalist concept that the East is the feminine antithesis to the West metaphysically establishes imperialism as a violent and phallic gesture. In his seminal discourse on Orientalism, Edward Said reasons that the basis of this supposition is Western exceptionalism and its assumed superiority over the Oriental world. The latter is “separate” in its “eccentricity, its backwardness, its silent indifference, its feminine penetrability. … this is why every writer on the Orient … saw the Orient as a locale requiring Western attention, reconstruction, even redemption” (Said, 206). This prevalent epistemological feminization of the Orient justifies the stated Occidental attempts to annex or even occupy regions that they assumed were “uncivilized” (207). Moreover, the aggressive nature of Western expansion and those countries’ position as the empowered and masculine Occident exercises its power by raping the Orient’s helpless femininity. Said’s portrayal of imperialism and his use of sexual diction confirms the interrelated Otherness between race and sexuality – a metaphor that each author intricately depicts in M. Butterfly and The Struggle of the Naga Tribe. Contemporary post-colonial critics also deconstruct the established archetype of the feminine throwing off the shackles of colonialism. In his play, Hwang visualizes the power struggle between East and West through Rene and Song’s sexual relationship. He depicts Song as the stereotypical exotic oriental woman, a beautiful and educated Peking Opera singer who, despite her poise, is still weak and dependent on a Western man to “protect her, take her home, [and] pamper her until she smile[s]” (Hwang, 16). In her pretense, Song also contributes to Gallimard’s construction of this oriental fantasy through her description of the “delicate Oriental woman” whom Song likens to a “slender lotus blossom” (22). Song’s actions show her deliberate acknowledgement of the notion of Eastern exceptionalism. Despite their emotional intimacy, Song refuses to appear naked in front of Gallimard. Gallimard speculates that due to her sexual modesty and adherence to tradition, she often feels inferior when compared with Western women (31). Those two decades of female submission and self-possession constructed the fantasy of the feminized Oriental Other; an idea which Gallimard swallows unquestioningly. Gallimard’s relationship with Song is very much indicative of his power and dominance over his situation. Prior to their meeting, he suffered from various insecurities due to his unattractive appearance, his bashfulness and his unremarkable performance at the Embassy. After meeting Song, he achieves masculine dominance over Song’s emotions, epitomized in his metaphor of piercing a butterfly with a needle (32), and subsequently, political ascendancy when he is promoted to vice consul. Gallimard admits that he finds a strange kind of enjoyment from not answering Song’s letters and heartlessly ignoring her. Hwang eloquently depicts Gallimard’s new-found masculinity when he muses that his divine blessings are a gift from “God who creates Eve to serve Adam, who blesses Solomon with his harem but ties Jezebel to a burning bed – that God is a man. And he understands!” (38). Gallimard reacts to his first taste of empowerment by cruelly abusing Song’s affections, therefore symbolically winning in the power struggle between East and West.However, in an unexpected turn, the Orient becomes empowered when Song reveals that she is a man. In this twist, Hwang demystifies the Eastern ideal of feminine vulnerability. Gallimard’s dominance suddenly becomes hollow when he discovers that Song has been sabotaging his political power through her espionage activities and when he realizes that that their love affair was a mere pretense. In his testimony, Song – in true Edward Said fashion – deconstructs his armchair political theory on how the West dominates the East and how he exploited that flaw to ensnare Gallimard. Song describes how “The West has sort of an international rape mentality towards the East. … “Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes.” The West thinks of itself as masculine – big guns, big industry, big money – so the East is feminine. … The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated – because a woman can’t think for herself” (83). In this speech, Song deconstructs the very notion of Orientalism as defined by Said, rejecting the presupposed femininity of the East and her need to be dominated and redeemed from barbarity. Because she is actually a man, Song knows exactly how to make herself into the male fantasy of a perfect woman that a man like Gallimard would love. Hwang’s visualization of Song’s empowerment by masculinizing him is further elaborated in the penultimate scene. Song’s boldness is a violent change from his genteel charm in the first half of the play, when the audience perceived him as a woman. As a man, Song becomes the dominant sexual agressor in the relationship as he emotionally abuses Gallimard and strips off his clothes to show his genitals, despite the French man’s constant pleading for him to return to his identity as “Butterfly.” In his concluding monologue, Gallimard acknowledges his Orientalist fantasies – “A vision of the Orient. … Of slender women in chong sams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils. … Women willing to sacrifice themselves for the love of a man. Even a man whose love is completely without worth” (91). He comes to the realization that his Orientalist perspective is flawed and fantastical and that he is the only hopeless romantic int his situation. He professes that his “name is Rene Gallimard – also known as Madame Butterfly,” and finally commits suicide in the hands of a foreign devil, a Chinese man by the name of Song Liling. Overall, from the preciseness of the parallel between M. Butterfly and Orientalism, we can observe Hwang’s deliberate deconstruction of the rigid dichotomy between the Self and the Other in traditional colonial discourse. The relationship between The Struggle of the Naga Tribe and Orientalism is much less pronounced, which is a fascinating example of how a playwright separated by time and space from Said can come to such a similar observation on Otherized Eastern bodies.Rendra creates the binary opposition between the chief of the Naga Tribe Abisavam and the Astinamese Queen Sri Ratu by inverting essentialist notions of masculinity and femininity.2 Rendra depicts Abisavam as masculine, empowered and potent but untainted by the typical virile hamartia of aggression and domination. He remains a charismatic leader who is steadfast in defending the Naga Tribe’s cultural integrity and copper reserves despite the doubts of his sister, Supaka and his daughter-in-law, Setyawati. However, Abisavam’s love for peace does not hinder him from confronting the President of Parliament about the nation’s agenda for “progress.”3 Abisavam frankly proclaims his dislike of the President and Parliament and proceeds to argue that rights of the constituency take precedence over the parliament’s agenda. When the government official accuses him of being subversive,4 Abisavam bravely exclaims that “I want justice – not a change in government” (Rendra, 65). In the end, although the Naga Tribe has been left untouched, the government exiles Carlos, a friend of the tribe who has been writing about their struggle in the international media. Abisavam rises above this defeat by facing the audience and questioning “Why must you be afraid of defending the balance? Defending life brings serenity” (71). Despite his gallantry, Abisavam is not a dominant character and possesses certain “feminine” Eastern qualities as defined by Orientalism. His leadership and his culture in the Naga Tribe is very inward looking, and may at first fall under the Orientalist assumptions of eccentricity, backwardness and irrationality. The Nagas’ closeness to the earth and their position as guardians of nature is exotic and serenely indifferent, especially juxtaposed against the cosmopolitan government officials of Astinampuram. Abisavam himself is very introspective and constantly emphasizes that “Every farmer must own land. … that land owned by a person must be worked by that person. … Farmers must protect their land” (20) in order to prevent the economic dominance of a particular group in society. The Astinamese Queen Sri Ratu is the opposite of Abisavam. She is a character who is constantly swayed by the varying inexpert opinions of her ministers and the enigmatic Big Boss. The dalang5 describes her as having “the character of a clothesline, nothing to it except what’s hung on it” (26). Likewise, the Sri Ratu is glib, coarse and graceless despite her status as a queen. For instance, she fails to recognize the dalang, who is a very respected figure in Javanese society. She possesses the Otherness of a woman, but none of its mythical charisma and so it is difficult for an audience to sympathize with her. She flaunts a masculine desire for domination, but none of the empowerment that accompanies it. In The Struggle of the Naga Tribe, the ownership of land coupled with the tribe’s cultural and natural integrity is important in establishing imperialism as a phallic act of domination. Abisavam’s lack of the tendency for obsessive male domination is depicted through his controlled attitude in managing land. He instead accuses the Sri Ratu’s decision “to disregard our spirit and rape nature, in the name of commerce” (69). While Hwang inverts the gender of his characters to visualize empowerment, Rendra does it by using essentialist notions of gender as a common point of departure with the audience and plays around with those assumptions in order distinguish thos who are empowered and those who are hungry for power.In general, the two playwrights show their defiance against the imperialistic establishment using Said’s method of shifting the archetypal knowledge that proclaims the East as a negative inversion of the West. Due to this misconception, the Orient suffers from a “sense of estrangement experienced by Orientalists as they dealt with or lived in a culture so profoundly different from their own” (Said, 260). In Orientalism, Said uses Foucault’s method on the discipline of the body and considers the example of Islamic Orientalism, which is doomed to forever be scrutinized from a Western Judeo-Christian perspective that threatens its religious primacy and ownership of the Holy Land. Muslims are haunted by “cultural effrontery, aggravated naturally by the fear that Islamic civilization originally (as well as contemporaneously) continued to stand somehow opposed to the Christian West” (260). The forms of knowledge that various academic works, novels, plays and other literature distributed amongst the East constantly Otherize them. Those discourses in themselves are tools of Occidental bondage to discipline Eastern bodies; establishing specific standards that an individual must obey in order to access the intelligibility to the rest of his identity (Foucault, 155). This tendency is also the reason for Said’s grievance that the East has been reduced to a stereotype of the feminine, backwards and fragile Orient. Both playwrights reverse this tendency to “Otherize themselves” by inviting the audience to view the Oriental character as an empowered Self.Hwang highlights Song’s revelation as a man and his testimony as the reversal of the Oriental mystique and its establishment as an empowered Self. When Gallimard is reunited with Song in Paris, (s)he sidesteps his embrace and starts speaking with the audience instead. This moment serves as one of the first instances when Song intimately converses with the audience over the course of the play. She also defies Gallimard’s pleas for her not to leave, ushers him off stage and tells the audience that she will “change.” The way she commands the stage is evidence of Song’s newly acquired empowerment previously only reserved for Gallimard (Hwang, 79). When Song delivers her testimony in the French courthouse, she exposes the audience to her intersubjectivity. She narrates the account of her affair with Gallimard from the Orient’s perspective. The audience, who is accustomed to observing the world of the play through Gallimard’s gaze now occupies a different phenomenological space that allows them to gaze at Gallimard through Song’s perspective. Song leaves the position of the Other when her character sheds the Oriental feminine mystique and builds an intimate relationship with the audience. However, whereas Hwang elevates Song’s position to the subjectivity of the self, Rendra does the exact opposite and relegates the stereotypical Self into the position of the Other.Rendra presents the Occidental characters in the play – the Ambassadors and the government officials of Astinampuram – using the archetypal and satirical methods normally reserved for Otherized Oriental characters. During the Ambassador’s entrance, Rendra uses comic stereotypes to depicts representatives of various countries that were guilty of neocolonization in Indonesia. For instance, The Japanese Ambassador Horomoto obsessively repeats the onomatopoeia “ah-so,” which is not an actual Japanese word but an Indonesian jest on their perception of the Japanese language. To the audience’s further amusement, he is unable to pronounce the letter ‘l’ and says “Harro, harro!” instead of “Hello.” The German ambassador, who introduces himself histrionically as “Herrrr Schmits Schmerrrr” is another comical representation of how Indonesians perceive the German language – with overaccentuated “err”s and “itt”s. The Dalang ridicules the German by calling him “cleverrr” and comments that the “fly shit isn’t too bad eitherrr” (Rendra, 8). Rendra characterizes the Astinampuram scene with satirical and comical motifs that both Otherize and emphasize their crimes against the country. The Sri Ratu repeatedly credits her stresses to her high blood pressure. Her many ministers also suffer from various diseases, ludicrously admitting to taking up to seventeen pills a day. Their ailments cause them to constantly emphasize the need for “the most modern hospital in Southeast Asia” to be built in Astinam (27). On the other hand, the realistic characters of the Naga Tribe; Abisavam, Abivara and Carlos, are more genuine and relatable human beings, allowing the audience to vest their sympathies and observe themselves through the lens of the Naga Tribe. Here, we see a change in the paradigm where the Oriental and somewhat “exotic” characters are presented as the Self and not the Other. These two playwrights, in dealing with post-colonial issues, interchangeably utilize subjectivity and Otherness to complicate the relationship dynamic between the “colonizers” and the “colonized.” In his seminal work that uncovered the specter of Orientalism throughout modern discourse, Said argues that the most powerful tool to reverse this is the distribution of knowledge. He believes that writers, playwrights and academics need to reverse the habit of using marginalized genders and races to Otherize themselves. In these two plays, both Hwang and Rendra begin by reaffirming and utilizing the stereotypes of racial and sexual Otherness then reversing them to represent the Otherized characters using the appropriate subjectivity. Hopefully, this epistemological empowerment is a step towards bridging the gap between the Orient and the Occident and will allow us to imagine a world that is not tainted by Otherness. Endnotes1 Apart from the preciseness of the parallel between M. Butterfly and Orientalism, various extrinsic sources also show evidence that Hwang intentionally meant the play as a metaphor based on Said’s theory. In an afterword of the New American Library Edition, David Henry Hwang acknowledges the intellectual weight of the term “Oriental.” Hwang explains that “I use the term ‘Oriental’ specifically to denote an exotic or imperialistic view of the East. … The idea of doing a theoretical and deconstructivist Madame Butterfly immediately appealed to me” (95).2 Even though The Struggle of the Naga Tribe is set in the fictional country Astinam, the similarity of the socio-political setting to Indonesia undeniably reaffirms its role as a metaphor for the actual country. During the New Order regime, it was dangerous to openly criticize the government. Thus, the setting of “Astinam” is a cover that will allow Rendra more freedom in performing the play. In the beginning of the play, the dalang even sarcastically emphasizes that “This story does not … take place in Indonesia. So don’t get uptight and censor the story” (Rendra, 3). 3 Progress in the economy and infrastructure of Indonesia was seen as the merits of the New Order regime. However, these affirmations of progress were the result of millions of dollars of foreign aid, mainly from the United States. Thus, even though a national unity state was established under Soeharto, the brand of nationalism prevalent during that era went hand in hand with the role of foreign aid and intervention. On the other hand, in an attempt to establish unity and tighten their grasp on every layer of society, autonomy in culture, language and local customs in various diverse Indonesian provinces were marginalized for the sake of a uniformed “nationalistic” society (Scott).4 Under Soeharto’s dictatorship, subversion is the worst indictment for any civilian. Under this sentence, many were sent to penal colonies, where they were subjected to torture, forced labour and starvation (Scott).5 The dalang is a significant role especially in wayang kulit shadow puppet performances. In wayang kulit, they perform the dialogues, give cues to the gamelan orchestra and serve as the main puppeteer. In The Struggles of the Naga Tribe, the dalang serves as the main narrator who controls the flow of characters and scenes. Moreover, they are a very respected occupation in Javanese society, which points to the Sri Ratu’s witlessness when she fails to recognize him. (Art of Indonesia: Tales from the Shadow World) Works Cited1. Art of Indonesia: Tales from the Shadow World. Produced by Christopher Noey. Directed by Andrea Simon. Chicago, IL: Home Vision, 1990. 2. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon, 1978.3. Hatley, Barbara. Javanese performances on an Indonesian stage: contesting culture, embracing change. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press 2008.4. Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. New York, NY: New American Library, 1989. 5. Rendra, W. S. The Struggle of the Naga Tribe: A Play. Trans. Max Lane. New York: St. Martin’s, 1979.6. Said, Edward William. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003. 7. Scott, Margaret. “Waging War with Words.” Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong) 9 Aug. 1990, Books Special sec.: 26-30.
A Postcolonial Reading of M. Butterfly
David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly draws links between sexism, racism and imperialism. Hwang’s play, which is loosely based on a scandal involving a French diplomat and his lover, a male Chinese opera singer, utilizes postcolonial ideas in order to imply a connection between sex, race and imperialism. Part of how this is illustrated is through the parallel that the play makes between its plot, and the story of Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Rene Gallimard, the main character, alludes to Puccini’s opera throughout M. Butterfly. He is enamored by the opera’s title character, Cio-Cio-San, romanticizing her as the ideal woman. This can be seen when he says, “Its heroine, Cio-Cio-San, is a feminine ideal, beautiful and brave.” (108, 1.3., Hwang). As far as Gallimard is concerned, she is the epitome of perfection because he sees in her a pure love, devotion and sense of sacrifice and duty. Ironically, the “woman” who turns him on to this attraction, Song Liling, is herself completely disgusted by the messages in the opera. She expresses this in the line: “But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner-ah!-you find it beautiful.” (111, 1.7., Hwang). Song repudiates the opera early on in M. Butterfly by turning the tables on the plot. If the American woman were abandoned by the lecherous Asian man, she would be scorned and mocked by a Western audience. On the other hand, a Western man is attracted by the desire to protect the poor, modest, submissive and devoted Asian girl, and idealizes her as an Oriental “Perfect Woman.” This is what Gallimard does while under Song’s spell. As opposed to calling Song by her “name” (or the name of the woman being played by the man in disguise), Gallimard calls her “Butterfly”, and lusts for her as an exotic prize the way his Madama Butterfly counterpart, Pinkerton, does for Cio-Cio-San. Gallimard expresses this when he says, “There is a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in cheongsams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect women.” (129, 3.3., Hwang). Song plays her part as modest, when necessary, mysterious, when necessary and submissive, when necessary. For example, Song tells Gallimard, “Please…it all frightens me. I’m a modest Chinese girl.” (117, 1.13., Hwang). Song is doing everything to play into Gallimard’s fantasies about Oriental women. Gallimard bases these fantasies on racial stereotypes. Song appears to understand very well that to Gallimard, the stereotype of the East reflects that of its women: they are weak-willed and frightened, and would rather side with the powerful than stand independently. Likewise, when Gallimard feels secure enough in his relationship with Song, he feels a masculine power over her, and tries to abuse that power until Song is begging for him. Gallimard admits, “I knew this little flower was waiting for me to call, and, as I wickedly refused to do so, I felt the first time that rush of power — the absolute power of a man.” (115, 1.11., Hwang). He tries to be Pinkerton, and exert his power over Song. However, his experiment falters when he feels remorse over hurting the person he in fact loves very deeply. Madama Butterfly is a very colonial opera in which the Asian woman is the solemn martyr for the sake of the “white devil”. In the postcolonial M. Butterfly, the roles become reversed. In the courtroom scene toward the end of the play, the actor formerly known as Song speaks openly to the judge and jury about his ease in deceiving Gallimard. He says, “Basically, ‘Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes.’ The West thinks of itself as masculine-big guns, big industry, big money-so the East is feminine-weak, delicate, poor…but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom-the feminine mystique.” (127, 3.1., Hwang). Here, the role reversal is clear, and the link between sex, race and imperialism is made explicit. Song describes the relationship between the land of the conquered and its conquerors. In this view, the conquered land is the woman, and the conqueror is the man. Song makes use of “rape mentality” to complete the metaphor: the people of a conquered land cannot say no, because deep down they want to be dominated. This is related to the assumption that women want to be dominated by men. This is why Asians, will, according to Gallimard, only ever side with the winning team. Yet, one cannot overlook the fact that Gallimard is duped by his submissive Oriental bride. He is led by the nose by his adoration of a gender and racial construct. This is described when we are told “I’m a man who loved a woman created by a man” (128, 3.2. Gallimard). Gallimard is the one who, in the end, makes himself a martyr for his lost love. He commits seppuku after declaring this: “And now, to you, I will prove that my love was not in vain –by returning to the world of fantasy where I first met her.” (129, 3.3. Hwang). And when he dies, Song, in men’s clothing, stands over him asking “Butterfly? Butterfly?” (129, 3.3. Hwang). The postcolonial outlook of this play is made undeniable by the fact that the former submissive character can be Pinkerton, while the formerly dominant character can easily be his Butterfly. “Cultural Case Study: David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.” Texts and Contexts Winter 2010. Ed. Wendy Eberle-Sinatra. Montreal: John Abbott College, 2010. 105-37. Print.
Power is Sexy: The Politics of Racial Fantasy in M. Butterfly
In both society and literature, fetishes and sexual fantasies constantly find themselves rooted in racial differences. The philosophical concept of the “other” is one that addresses the idea of fetishization, in that we find ourselves idealizing and fantasizing about that which we are not; that is, racial and sexual fantasy become intertwined in the fetish, where racial discrepancies dictate sexual desire. The fetish usually involves some sort of inherent power struggle, where the person being fetishized is reduced to a mere object of sexual desire and the person with the fetish is in a position of creation or control, shaping the fantasy as he or she sees fit. Though David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly may initially appear to disavow traditional notions of power struggle surrounding the fetish and racial fantasy, the politics of power remain an integral facet of the fetish. Hwang’s protagonist, Rene Gallimard, develops a politic and hierarchy concerning racial fantasy based on a fetishized mythology of Asian women and his ability—whether it be perceived or actual—to exercise sexual and patriarchal power over Song. The narrative of M. Butterfly may initially seem unconventional because Song is aware of Gallimard’s fetishes for the duration of the play, which could potentially upset the traditional hierarchy of power governing racial fantasy and the fetish. However, Song recognizes that, as a man, he best knows how to portray a woman because only a man knows exactly what a man wants. In his seduction of Gallimard, Song is successful because he knows that Gallimard fetishizes Asian women and can, therefore, act according to Gallimard’s racial fantasy, playing into the conventions of the fetish. In talking to his comrade Chin, Song discloses his theory about the politics of identity and recognition in sexual fantasy: Song: Miss Chin? Why, in Peking opera, are women’s roles played by men? Chin: I don’t know. Maybe a reactionary remnant of male—Song: No. (Beat) Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act. (63) The quote implies that, while men watch women, women watch men watching women. In doing so, women discover what men want and then adapt to accommodate these desires, suggesting that men control how women act by means of fantasy. Therefore, it is implied that without the overt fantasies of men, women would be unable to satisfy their desires. The quote also mandates Song’s gender, implying that the only way to be sure of a man’s desires is to, in fact, be a man; it is only because Song is a man that he can recognize the desires of Gallimard. Therefore, recognizing what dictates sexual fantasy in terms of gender politics aids Song in his seduction of Gallimard because it provides him with a type of script to follow.It is clear from early in the text that Gallimard is a man who is aroused by power. The opening scenes, while farcical, show Gallimard trying to convince the audience that he is an important societal figure, even while in prison. As the text continues, the reader witnesses Gallimard’s aspiration for power morph into something comparable to sexual desire, as evidenced in his description of the first time he viewed pornographic magazines: “The first time I saw [pornographic magazines] in [my uncle’s] closet … all lined up—my body shook. not with lust—no, with power. Here were women—a shelfful—who would do exactly as I wanted” (10). Gallimard does not mention the hair, legs or breasts of the women in the magazines. Instead, he takes something fairly concrete—the image of a naked woman—and abstracts it to accommodate his hunger for power. And, while he claims that his reaction to the magazines did not result from lust, his body “shook” in something the reader might consider similar to orgasm from the sensation of power he experienced from seeing the women “ all lined up” and there to serve him, to do “exactly as [he] wanted.” The extraction of power coupled with the projection of female subservience to his whims, rather than overt sexuality, is what arouses Gallimard. However, Gallimard’s fantasy is one that is too complex to be situated solely in gender—that is, he not only fetishizes women, he fetishizes Asian women. In the specificity of Gallimard’s fetish lies racial fantasy. After seeing Song play the lead role in the opera Madame Butterfly, Gallimard is immediately taken with her, claiming the story made sense to him for the first time because of Song’s heartfelt, sincere portrayal of the opera’s sacrificial heroine: However, Song is ready to rebut Gallimard’s flattery, immediately exposing his fetish of Asian women:Gallimard: …her death. It’s a … a pure sacrifice. He’s unworthy, but what can she do? She loves him … so much. It’s a very beautiful story.Song: Well, yes, to a Westerner.Gllimard: Excuse me?Song: It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man. (17)While Gallimard claims that the romanticized notion of suffering for love is what moves him about the opera, Song knows that his true attraction to the tale is rooted in the stature of the “submissive Oriental woman.” Song establishes the site of Gallimard’s fantasy not in a performance of perverse, sacrificial love, but in the inevitable success of the white man. That is, Song exposes Gallimard’s fantasy as one fixated on the execution of power and the presence of a specific hierarchy, where the Western man always overpowers the Oriental woman. Gallimard’s obsession with power is only exacerbated by the misogynistic ramblings of his friend, Marc. After having a flirtatious conversation with Song, Gallimard dreams not of “Sophia Loren in a towel” (23), but of his friend Marc. After claiming that a relationship with Song would be impossible because he is a foreigner, Gallimard is once again intoxicated with the idea of exercising power over a woman, this time assisted by Marc’s statement: “Ah, yes. She cannot love you, it is taboo. But something deep inside her heart … she cannot help herself … she must surrender to you” (25). This statement plays on Gallimard’s ideas fantasy and power, claiming that Gallimard’s love is simply too powerful to overcome and, though it is “taboo,” his woman simply “cannot help herself.” The forbidden nature of love is especially appealing to Gallimard because it affords him a situation where the power of his love and masculinity can—and must—prevail. Marc excites Gallimard even more, claiming that the power of Western men frighten Asian women: “They fear us, Rene. Their women fear us” (25). Yet again, the hierarchy of Gallimard’s sexual politics is established in which the Western man is situated in a position of power, controlling the emotion of the impressionable, Asian woman.We see Gallimard as the play opens relating to the audience the story of Madame Butterfly, and, in the process, revealing at once his racial fantasy about Asian women, describing the posturing of an Asian woman by saying, “Even her life itself—she bows her head as she whispers that she’s not even worth the hundred yen he paid for her. He’s already given too much, when we know he’s really had to give nothing at all” (10). Gallimard is obsessed with the myth of Asian women—the fantasy that they are submissive, weak, and easy to overpower. Since Gallimard lacks the fortitude often associated with traditions of masculinity, as evidenced in the confidence and virility of his foil character Marc, Asian women are particularly appealing to Gallimard. He characterizes Madame Butterfly’s heroine Cio-Cio-San as meek and mild, “bow[ing] her head” in shame or fear and not even daring to speak at full volume, but “whispering” instead. Gallimard engages in racial fantasy about Asian women because, according to the myth he maintains, they adhere unflinching to patriarchal standards, maintaining a posture of weakness in order to make their partner—their man—feel useful, strong, and, most importantly, powerful. And yet, even after he is betrayed, after Gallimard discovers that, for all those years, his “Butterfly” had been a man masquerading as a woman, his vision and fetish of the Asian woman does not change. Instead, he holds steadfastly to the mythology of the submissive, Asian woman:There is a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in chong sams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect women. Who take whatever punishment we give them and bounce back, strengthened by love, unconditionally. It is a vision that has become my life. (91) Despite suffering humiliation, deception, and betrayal, Gallimard does not rescind his vision of the Asian woman. He holds onto it, claiming that the fetish has become “his life” because, in order to fulfill the politics of his racial fantasy, he must guard the mythology of the Asian woman. He envisions the Asian woman as “perfect” because she will suffer abuse—“take whatever punishment we give them”—and still remain loyal to their partners. While the mythological Asian woman will “love, unconditionally” her partner in this case, it is not the love of an Asian woman that attracts Gallimard—it is the control that he can exercise over her. His perfect woman is “slender” and small, something he can overpower. She takes his abuse and maintains a love that survives all sins committed by the man, yet commits no sin against him. The characterization of the Asian woman once again puts the man—Gallimard—into a position of power while the woman is left to his mercy.M. Butterfly is an obscure text in that it plays around with traditional notions of fetishism and racial fantasy, yet manages to maintain perhaps the most basic politic of all—that of power. While Song is aware of Gallimard’s fetish for Asian women, that consciousness does not undermine Gallimard’s racial fantasy because he maintains an illusion of power. Gallimard is aroused by power which is what makes the mythology of the stereotypical Asian woman—soft-spoken, subservient, and accommodating to men—especially appealing to him. In the end, sex and power become inseparable for Gallimard because they are so intimately associated within the politics of his racial fantasy.
The Illusion of Gender in M. Butterfly
In David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, Song Liling and Rene Gallimard engage in an extramarital affair that positions male against female, and East against West. Hwang uses the affair, along with its power dynamics, to challenge traditional notions of gender. Though society wants to view people as either male or female, both Song and Gallimard’s characters suggest that this is a forced categorization, which does not align with how gender really presents itself. Hwang suggests that gender identity is indicative of a greater power struggle that constitutes our sense of place and self, and not the binary, male-or-female category to which we are so accustomed. Throughout the play, Song undergoes a series of gender transformations, leaving the reader unable to conclude whether or not Hwang believes Song to be a man or a woman. Song contains contradictory information with regard to gender. The very title of the play indicates a discrepancy with respect to Song’s gender. M. Butterfly, though it refers to the title of an opera, could be interpreted either as “Monsieur,” as the “M.” traditionally refers to, or “Madame,” the title associated with the opera. Even during Gallimard’s affair with the apparently female Song, he acknowledges certain masculine tendencies of Song’s. Gallimard describes Song as “outwardly bold and outspoken” but with a heart that is shy and afraid. The boldness of Song’s character seems to be indicative of an inner masculinity, but Gallimard ignores this in favor of the modesty and shyness he identifies in her. These qualities are what attract him to her and validate his sense of self in the process. Song says, “I’m a modest Chinese girl.” She knows exactly what to say to Gallimard to appeal to his desire to dominate a feminine partner. Despite Song’s apparent femininity, Gallimard seems aware of a deep gender conflict within his lover. But Song’s “real” masculinity is subverted by her feminine affect. These simultaneous displays of both masculine and feminine qualities demonstrate Hwang’s opposition to the notion of binary gender. Rather than being something that is prescribed at birth, gender is portrayed as a spectral characteristic. It is Song’s femininity that engenders Gallimard’s masculine sense of self. Gallimard values his relationship with her for its ability to validate his own desire to feel manly. He often praises her for this quality, saying, “I wanted to take her in my arms – so delicate even I could protect her, take her home, pamper her until she smiled.” Here, Gallimard’s masculinity appears fragile. Song is so delicate that “even [he]” is made to feel like a man in protecting her. This suggests that Gallimard is insecure about his manliness, and furthermore that his attraction to Song is based on Song’s ability to validate his masculinity. Song is not so loveable because of who she is, but because she engenders a sense of security in Gallimard. He is generally insecure about his gender, and exclaims that Song makes him feel “for the first time that rush of power – the absolute power of a man.” Gallimard’s search for masculinity ends with Song, as he feels for the first time what it is like to dominate another. He is protective of this found power even though it is clear from early on that it may be illusionary. Long before Song reveals his biological self, Gallimard wonders, “Did I not undress her because I knew, somewhere deep down, what I would find?” Gallimard questions whether or not he always knew that Song was not the delicate butterfly she appeared to be. But he is willing to ignore this potential illusion from the very beginning because of its ability to satisfy his masculinity. He quickly concludes that “Perhaps, happiness is so rare that our mind can turn somersaults to protect it.” It is more important to Gallimard that he be validated than that that validation be truthful. If the illusion of Song’s femininity is broken, so is Gallimard’s manliness.For Hwang, gender identity is a fluid construct that is tied more to the dynamics of power than to any physicality. Though gender is traditionally defined biologically, Hwang’s play insists that gender is about power and control. Gallimard speaks often about his power over Song, in relation to Song’s gender. He says, “I had finally gained power over a beautiful woman…” Gallimard speaks of this power as if it is something that he has searched for for a long time, and it seems to be of particular importance that Song is a “beautiful woman.” Her beauty and submission produce the power that Gallimard describes. But this is a novel power for him; he says, “I was learning the benefits of being a man.” This particular line suggests that Gallimard was not always a man and, in fact, that his manliness is a new quality. The idea of masculinity in response to femininity supports Hwang’s idea that gender is both relative and spectral. Gallimard may have always been a biological male, but it is not until his relationship with Song that he feels he is a real man. This view both challenges traditional binary understanding and identifies power as an essential determinant of gender.The idea of having power over another is not unique to gender; for Hwang, the implications of power and gender identity are also tied to race and culture. The power dynamic of gender is implicated in the opposition of Western and Eastern cultures, with oriental culture always in the submissive position. Song describes this dynamic:‘West thinks of itself as masculine – big guns, big industry, big money — so the East is feminine – weak, delicate, poor…but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom – the feminine mystique. Not only is Western culture viewed as more dominant than Eastern culture, but Western culture is powerful because Eastern culture is relatively weaker. The power of one is derived from the weakness of the other. In addition, the relative weakness of oriental culture prevents Song from ever being a true man, regardless of his desires. Song says, “I am Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man.” The weakness of Oriental identity precludes Song from ever attaining absolute power. Even the playwright’s notes indicate that Song can never fully shed his femininity. They describe him “[standing] as a man.” But there continues to be an emphasis on gender as a performance, as Hwang insists that Song retains his oriental femininity even as a man. In this way, power is at the center of both gender and cultural conflicts. Song’s revelation of biological masculinity is a death sentence to Gallimard, whose identity is shattered by the ruined butterfly who made him a man. Because he is dependent on Song as a docile, oriental woman for his identity as a male, Song’s transformation is lethal. Gallimard admits that he always knew his happiness to be ephemeral. He says, “I knew all the time somewhere that my happiness was temporary, my love a deception. But my mind kept the knowledge at bay. To make the wait bearable.” Gallimard’s contentment is based on an external quality over which he himself has no control, and he has always suspected that Song is not as she appears. He is able to prevent his suspicion from overpowering his love for Song because he knows that the clear illusion of manliness is better than an uncertain identity. Gallimard confirms this choice when he says; “I’ve finally learned to tell fantasy from reality. And, knowing the difference, I choose fantasy.” When Gallimard is forced to confront societal notions of gender and reality – the “truth” is that Song is a biological male – he admits to his fantasy, and pledges his allegiance to it. He chooses fantasy because only that affirms his masculinity. Forced to live in the real world, Gallimard’s preference for illusion is not enough. After he loses his masculinity, the most essential piece of his identity, it is as if he has been robbed of the ability to live. Gallimard cannot accept himself as anything less than the masculine image he so desperately seeks. When he looks in the mirror, he “[sees] nothing but… a woman.” Unable to reconcile his loss of a solid gender identity with his Western conception of manliness, Gallimard has no choice but to end his own life. Hwang’s portrayal of gender as fluid and ephemeral causes us to question the very nature of identity itself. Together, race, gender, and culture lose their permanence and weight when viewed as symptoms of a greater power struggle. Though Song represents the gentle image of a butterfly throughout the duration of their affair – the absolute absence of masculine power – it is Gallimard who morphs into the butterfly at the end of the play. The Armani-clad Song is left crying out for his “butterfly,” while Gallimard performs his last act of power, dying at his own hands.
Inspiration For M. Butterfly
Based on a true story that stunned the world, M. Butterfly opens in the cramped prison cell where diplomat Rene Gallimard is being held captive by the French government – and by his own illusions. In the darkness of his cell he recalls a time when desire seemed to give him wings. A time when Song Liling, the beautiful Chinese diva, touched him with a love as vivid, as seductive – and as elusive – as a butterfly. How could he have known, then, that his ideal woman was, in fact, a spy for the Chinese government – and a man disguised as a woman? What inspired Hwang to write the play, and most importantly, what do the real life Song and Butterfly have to say about what really happened? M. Butterfly, by David Henry Hwang, is set in several different places and time periods. It begins in the present, in Gallimard’s prison cell in Paris. Gallimard is the former French diplomat who has been imprisoned for treason, and as he tells his story, the scenes flashback from locations in Beijing, China, from 1960 to 1970 to locations in Paris from 1966 to the present. However, Hwang was not the first person to pen the story. The original story came about in 1898 when John Luther Long was inspired by his sister’s chance meeting with the real Butterfly’s grown son. Not long after, the short story Madame Butterfly appeared in the Century Magazine. According to his sister Butterfly’s ‘husband’ had been a British merchant, and her attempted suicide had failed. (Origins, 1)David Belasco, the Broadway legend and writer, later wrote the one-act play Madame Butterfly, which premiered March 5, 1900 at the Herald Square Theater in New York to great success. Apart from beginning at the point when Pinkerton has already been gone two years, the play closely follows the story of Long’s original. However, Belasco believed there would be more drama if Butterfly succeeded in killing herself. Then Pinkerton would arrive in time to remorsefully cradle the dying body. Adelaide is renamed Kate. Belasco also took a big theatrical risk by taking fourteen minutes for Butterfly to stand stationary waiting for Pinkerton as a lighting effect showed the passing of the night. It was a success. (Origins, 2)Later in the same year Belasco’s play was presented in London at the Duke of York’s Theatre, this time on the program with Jerome K. Jerome’s Miss Nobbs. Puccini was in London for the premiere of Tosca at Covent Garden and saw the play on opening night. Even without fully understanding the dialogue, Puccini was so moved by the play he immediately knew he wanted to create an opera of the story and rushed backstage to meet Belasco. Puccini’s first version of the opera failed at La Scala in 1904, but a revised version was successful the same year, the version that we hear today, one of the most frequently produced operas in the entire repertory. As an opera, Madame Butterfly is a staple of even the most innovative opera houses and has been seen practically everywhere opera can be seen. Each director has placed his or her own mark to put on it. (Origins, 2)In Hwang’s version he touches on themes such as: East vs. West, man vs. woman, sexuality, power relations, race, gender, class, stereotypes, fantasy, etc. Hwang set out to write a play that would deconstruct the race and gender stereotypes that the West has adopted in its dealings with Eastern culture. First, he had to show these stereotypes in operation. Negative Western images of the Chinese occur frequently throughout the play. Gallimard complains that the Chinese are arrogant, a view which he learned in Paris, where, according to him, it is a common belief.M. Butterfly is one of the most celebrated of recent American plays, and the first by an Asian American to win universal acclaim. It was first produced in 1988 and won numerous awards, including the Tony Award for Best Play of the Year, the New York Drama Desk Award, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Broadway play, and the John Gassner Award for the season’s outstanding new playwright. M. Butterfly enjoyed a popular run on Broadway and when it moved to London’s Shaftsbury Theatre in 1989 it broke all box office records in the first week. In his version the Westerner is once again French and it is he who takes his life as the only honorable escape from public betrayal. In the past 15 years, David Henry Hwang has written more than a dozen plays and screenplays’. Born in Los Angeles to a banker and a professor of piano, both of whom are Chinese immigrants, Hwang has said that when he was young, he regarded his Chinese ancestry as “a minor detail, like having red hair,”(qtd in “early years”) but later added that the combination of wanting to delve in Chinese and Chinese-American history for artistic reasons and being exposed to an active third-world consciousness movement” was what started to get him interested in his roots while in college. He graduated from Stanford University in 1979 with a B.A. in English, and briefly taught high school before attending the Yale School of Drama in 1980 and 1981. (Hwang, David Henry: A Literary Biography, “early years”)Aside from playwriting, Hwang has also worked as a theatre director, and has written a number of screenplays including M. Butterfly and Golden Gate. He also made a preliminary adaptation of Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet. A critic writing for Time Magazine stated “the final scene of M. Butterfly, when the agony of one soul finally takes precedence over broad-ranging commentary, is among the most forceful in the history of the American theater…. Hwang has the potential to become the first important dramatist of American public life since Arthur Miller, and maybe the best of them all.” (Hwang, David Henry: A Literary Biography, “early years”)Hwang feels that writing is “a search for authenticity”, and for two years, Hwang stopped writing. “I hit a period of writer’s block and I looked at my work and some of it had more dragons and gongs and stuff, and some of those seemed to be more popular. I was wondering if I was repackaging old stereotypes in more intellectually hip forms.” Authenticity is an extremely heated debate among Asian Americans and among people in general. The most common criticism an Asian-American author hears is that his or her work reinforces stereotypes. M. Butterfly was criticized for reinforcing the stereotype of Asian men being effeminate. (Hwang, David Henry: 1994 William L. Abramowitz Guest Lecturer, MIT, 15 April 1994) When asked why Hwang wrote M. Butterfly, he replied, “In some sense, M. Butterfly allowed me to explore the very issues of authenticity which had caused the writer’s block. I created a French diplomat who was caught up ill all Orientalist fantasy and in doing so, I was exploring both the popularity and the seductiveness of these stereotypes. Through the combination of fantasy and reality that’s in the play, I’m asking whether it’s really possible to see the truth, to see the authenticity about a culture, a loved one, or even ourselves.” (Hwang, David Henry: 1994 William L. Abramowitz Guest Lecturer, MIT, 15 April 1994) Hwang chooses to address the subject of authenticity because “a lot of these debates come down to some sort of struggle over whether we can reach a definition of objective truth, whether or not we can define a universal standard of excellence. I think that those of us who write about minorities, women, gays, whatever, are often criticized for being inauthentic by our own group and in turn, some of us like myself, also go and criticize other people for being inauthentic. So I feel like I’ve been on both sides of that fence and I’m going to frame this a little bit in terms of my own artistic journey. But I’m a playwright and my journey is essentially a personal one.” (Hwang, David Henry: 1994 William L. Abramowitz Guest Lecturer, MIT, 15 April 1994) M. Butterfly reminds us of the varied ways American drama and theatre are confronting with imagination and spirit and some of the more vexed political and social issues of our day. M. Butterfly has been sometimes regarded as an Anti-American play when in fact it is quite the opposite. “I consider it a plea to all sides to cut through our respective layers of cultural and sexual misperception, to deal with one another truthfully for our mutual good, from the common and mutual ground we share as human beings.” (Qtd. in “Afterward”) In other words, Hwang feels that writing the play was his chance to open other people’s eyes to the way in which other people live and once we do that, we will all be a lot happier and respect each other more as individuals. As for the real Butterfly, it is said that the actual affair went on for 19 years when, according to Bernard Boursicot, the inspiration for the character of Gallimard, the affair lasted only a few months in 1965. When Bernard, who was used to getting everything his heart desired, met Shi Peipu, the onetime opera singer, and inspiration for the character of Song, he pursued him with intensity. Now, you may be wondering if Bernard knew that Shi was a man. Well, despite the story, which is told in M. Butterfly, Shi was not dressed as a woman at their first meeting and Bernard never saw his lover perform a woman on stage. The person Bernard saw, and was attracted to, was a young man who was witty and the center of attention at a party. “He was telling a lot of stories and he was attractive and someone that I thought I would like to know,” says Boursicot. (Qtd in “Real Butterfly”) The two men give conflicting versions of how Boursicot came to believe his good friend was a woman. Shi, who insists he never told Boursicot he was a girl, says Bernard mistakenly came to that conclusion on his own. ”I was showing him a scrapbook from when I was in the theatre, and I came to a picture from The Story of the Butterfly . . . ,” says Peipu. (qtd in “real butterfly”) ”I was explaining this story to him in French, but my French wasn’t very good and when I got to the part where I said, ‘I played the role of the girl,’ Monsieur Boursicot said, I understand! I am so happy!’ ” Couldn’t Shi have set him straight? ”I tried to,” he says, ”but he didn’t believe me. And I didn’t want to take my pants down. I loved him so much. He was so innocent. It’s me who was the criminal.” (qtd in “real butterfly”)Boursicot tells a different tale: ”. . . We went for a walk on a bridge near the Forbidden City, a very romantic place. Shi had something to tell me: He was a woman, just like the person in the Chinese legend. Shi said that he was his mother’s third daughter, — Shi did have two older sisters, and that when he was born. His mother, afraid her husband would divorce her for not producing a son, decided to bring Shi up as a boy. Shi said I must keep this secret to protect his family. And I did, for 20 years. . . . It seemed possible. His face was completely without hair, he had the hands of a woman, and the Chinese women had very little breasts. . . .” When Shi had finished his story, Boursicot recalls, ”I said, ‘It’s okay, you are a woman. We can share our life together. I will always be your friend.’ (qtd in “real butterfly”) Yet the relationship grew over time. Boursicot insists he was not blackmailed into passing information to the Chinese but volunteered. Furthermore, he didn’t feel like a traitor. ”France was not at war with China,” he says. ”I did not give the Chinese everything they wanted, only papers reflecting how the powers felt about China.” (qtd in “real butterfly”) The French government would eventually describe Shi as ”the main component in the plot.” (qtd in “real butterfly”) Eventually, the friendship between Bernard and Shi dissolved and the two were arrested by the French government where Shi confessed everything and Bernard only found out that Shi was a man through a news report he heard on the radio. At the end of the play, Song’s transformation is complete. No longer the Butterfly, he is now dressed in a well-cut suit and is in a Paris courthouse. It is now 1986, and the year in which the scandal hits the press. The audience is also treated to his interpretation of events, which are no longer flashbacks in Gallimard’s mind, but actual courtroom testimony. Song tells the judge how he came to meet Gallimard, why and how Gallimard came to think he was a woman, and why he shared top-secret government information with the French government, which led to the arrest of the two gentlemen. Works Cited DAVID HENRY HWANG 1994 William L. Abramowitz Guest Lecturer Kresge Auditorium, MIT April 15,1994 (Transcript of lecture by Don Dee) http://www.balletmet.org/Notes/ButterflyStory.htmlhttp://www.culturevulture.net/Opera/Butterfly.htm http://www.fb10.unibremen.de/anglistik/kerkhoff/ContempDrama/Hwang.htm Hwang, David Henry M. Butterfly, Plume Books, 1989David Henry Hwang. No editor. C. 2002 InfoPlease.com Learning Network. 8 April 2002 http://www.InfoPlease.com/ipea/Ao880532.html “Mr. Butterfly,” American Drama: Colonial to Contemporary, Stephen Watt and Gary A. Richardson, Eds.
Masculinity, Femininity, and the Western Rape Mentality in “M. Butterfly”
As its title suggests, “M. Butterfly” is essentially a play about metamorphosis. It is, firstly, the metamorphosis of Giacomo Puccini’s famous opera “Madame Butterfly” into a modern-day geopolitical argument for cultural understanding. Author David Henry Hwang shows, through a highly implausible love affair between a French diplomat and the male Chinese opera singer he believes to be a woman, how the failure to separate desire from reality can result in deception and tragedy. Less obviously, “M. Butterfly” alludes to the literal metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Gallimard transforms Song from “just a man” into “the Perfect Woman” (Hwang 88, 4). Due to his insecurity about his own masculinity, Gallimard needs to create Song in the image of the perfect Asian woman – exotic, sensual, and acquiescent – in order to feel wholly male. Though he seeks to confine Song within the context of his fantasy, Gallimard’s vulnerability and need actually free Song by providing her with an outlet to flee the Orientalist representation of Asian people. Gallimard transforms Song into a butterfly, but instead of transforming him into “a butterfly who would writhe on a needle”, Gallimard is the one who eventually ends up trapped by his own fantasy (Hwang 32). Through an analysis of Gallimard’s cultural, sexual, and personal relationship with Song Liling, Hwang demonstrates that his treatment of Song is a reflection of the Western rape mentality toward the East, a philosophy that is ultimately self-destructive.”Orientalism” is a term that refers to the study of Eastern cultures, but, according to postcolonial theorist Edward Said, “can also express the strength of the West and the Orient’s weakness – as seen by the West. Such strength and weakness are as intrinsic to Orientalism as they are to any view that divides the world into large general division” (45). The rape mentality of the West is a byproduct of the occidental conviction in the dominance and superiority of Western cultures. By playing into the racism and sexism inherent in Gallimard’s Orientalist belief system, it is not difficult for Song to deceive him. According to Song, “The West thinks of itself as masculine – big guns, big industry, big money – so the East is feminine – weak, delicate, poor…the West thinks that the East, deep down, wants to be dominated” (Hwang 83). Because Song is from the East, he can never be fully masculine in Gallimard’s eyes. The objective of this rape mentality is to serve as an imperialist reminder of the West’s supremacy and an assurance of its power over the East. If the West feels it is by nature masculine and that the East is feminine, its power is viewed as natural, real, and justified; in short, something that cannot be helped. Furthermore, the moral compass of Orientalism is the duty to aid the East in becoming more like the West, while still retaining the aspects of its own culture that the West deigns to accept. Said writes, “The modern Orientalist was, in his view, a hero rescuing the Orient from the obscurity, alienation, and strangeness which he himself had properly distinguished” (121). In a telling scene, Gallimard tells his colleague Toulon that the Asian people will always submit to the force of the greatest power (Hwang 46). Therefore, by submitting to him, Song has given Gallimard the right to power.Hwang comments on the cultural exchange between the East and the West by forming “M. Butterfly” as a deconstructivist version of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly”. The notion that the beautiful Cio-Cio-San would commit ritual suicide because she has been abandoned by Pinkerton, a “not very good-looking, not very bright, and pretty much a wimp” of a Naval officer, seems entirely absurd (Hwang 5). But as feminist writer Marina Heung observes:As a master text of Orientalism, ‘Madame Butterfly’ confirms the Asian woman’s perpetual sexual availability for the Western male even as her convenient demise delimits such liaisons; in the end, Cio-Cio-San’s suicide recapitulates the face of the expendable Asian whose inevitable death confirms her marginality within dominant culture and history. (Heung 225) For Gallimard, Song’s Cio-Cio-San to his Pinkerton represents the supreme fantasy of male sexual power. This relationship is made all the more ironic because Song is an opera singer, and Gallimard meets her at a diplomatic function where she was hired to sing Cio-Cio-San’s death scene. In Act One, scene 13, when Gallimard first tells Song he loves her, instead of asking for her love in return Gallimard simply asks, “Are you my Butterfly?” (Hwang 39) It is only when she replies in the affirmative that Gallimard responds, “My little Butterfly, there should be no more secrets: I love you” (40). But while Gallimard’s statement “Butterfly…Butterfly…” opens the play, it closes with Song’s question, “Butterfly? Butterfly?” The inversion of the opening and closing lines indicates the dissolution of Gallimard’s “Madame Butterfly” fantasy; just as the meaning of the lines has changed completely, so has the relationship between Gallimard and Song; it is Gallimard, by the end of the play, who has become Cio-Cio-San.The tragedy of Puccini’s opera is in the destruction of Cio-Cio-San, an innocent and beautiful Japanese girl who is ruined by the one man she loved. While audiences cannot help but be moved by the helpless injustice of the situation, the circumstances under which it arises are still perceived as wholly believable, from the Japanese bride, to the American groom, to the painful termination of their relationship. As Song tells Gallimard when they first meet, “because it is an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner…you find it beautiful” (Hwang 17). If it were “a blonde homecoming queen” and a “short Japanese businessman”, the play would be considered ridiculous (17). Heung concurs, writing that “Puccini’s popular opera is in many ways a foundational narrative of East-West relations, having shaped the Western construction of ‘the Orient’ as a sexualized, and sexually compliant, space that is ripe for conquest and rule” (224). Because the East is seen as so innately feminine, any association between a blonde homecoming queen and a short, Japanese businessman would be impossible; the businessman could never, within an Orientalist framework, beat his Western competition. Orientalism arose as a study, but its underlying racism developed in response to fear – principally the fear of the East’s potential, which is a very real threat to the power of the West. A critical element in Puccini’s plot is that Prince Yamadori – rich, handsome, and royal – loses Cio-Cio-San to Pinkerton, the poor American sailor. In true Orientalist fashion, Cio-Cio-San would rather kill herself than marry Prince Yamadori after experiencing the superior affections of Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. Gallimard’s reasoning for why most Asians hate “Madame Butterfly” is “because the white man gets the girl”, but their distaste is due to more than merely “sour grapes” (17). The West’s figurative castration of the East is a very real problem, a mindset that is advantageous to neither party and doomed to be fundamentally self-destructive.It seems improbable that anyone can remain ignorant about the sex of his lover for twenty years, but “M. Butterfly” is based on the true story of the French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and his Chinese mistress Shi Peipu, with whom he had a twenty-year relationship with before discovering his lover’s true identity. Hwang attempts, in “M. Butterfly”, to provide an answer for how such an incongruous relationship could have come about. While he intends the affair between Gallimard and Song to be a criticism of the West’s xenophobic and supremacist perception of the East, Hwang writes in his Afterword that it is not a “diatribe…quite the contrary, I consider it a plea to all sides to cut through our respective layers of cultural and sexual misperception, to deal with one another truthfully for our own mutual good, from the common and equal ground we share as human beings” (Hwang 100). The only probable reason why Gallimard and Boursicot could have been blind for so long is because they did not want to acknowledge the truth. Song explains to the Judge, when he is tried for spying, that men hear only what they want to hear, and that Gallimard believes he is a woman because he needs to accept that his fantasy woman is in reality female. As a consequence of Gallimard’s profound insecurity about his own masculinity, he experiences considerable problems with communication in all of his relationships with women. His marriage to Helga was a matter of convenience, his brief affair with Renee was fueled only by his sadistic desire to cause Song pain, and he maintained a twenty-year relationship with Song without any level of emotional intimacy at all. Gallimard’s desperate need for dominance exposes a vital weakness, which provids Song with the means by which to assert his freedom from the castration of the East by asserting his sexual power over a member of the elite West. Song knows exactly how to inveigle Gallimard: “I take the words from your mouth. Then I wait for you to come and retrieve them” (86). As he admits to Comrade Chin, only a man knows how a woman should behave; because Song is aware of how the perfect Asian Butterfly is required to act, he knows precisely how to seduce men like Gallimard (63).From the start of the play, the audience already knows the entire story. The play is presented in a series of chronological flashbacks interspaced with personal commentary from the various characters. At times, both Gallimard and Song speak to the audience, calling upon the audience to attempt an understanding of the different motivations of the characters. The character of Gallimard is a tragic figure, because – as he readily admits to the audience – he does not wish to acknowledge the actuality of his situation, but chooses rather to continue to live in his imaginary world with his imaginary woman. In the final, climactic confrontation between Gallimard and Song, he tells Song, “Tonight, I’ve finally learned to tell fantasy from reality. And, knowing the difference, I choose fantasy” (Hwang 90). Like Cio-Cio-San, who faithfully waited for three years without a word from Pinkerton, Gallimard’s most pitiful quality is his dogmatic incapacity to concede the obvious truth. “I knew all the time somewhere that my happiness was temporary, my love a deception. But my mind kept the knowledge at bay. To make the wait bearable” (88). Even after the truth is presented beyond a doubt, Gallimard knows he cannot live with the weight of the knowledge. In his final speech, Gallimard yearningly recollects his “vision of the Orient…of slender women in chong sams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils” (91). Like the tragic heroine of “Madame Butterfly”, Gallimard chooses to die with the death of a dream rather than live on with the acceptance of fact.Gallimard claims he dies for love, and to an extent he is right – he does love the woman he believed Song to be. “The man I loved was a cad, a bounder. He deserved nothing but a kick in the behind, and instead I gave him…all my love” (Hwang 92). However, Song is not Gallimard’s Butterfly, but rather a strange man in Armani slacks wearing a cold chain and smelling of garlic (Hwang 90). Hwang shows, through a geopolitical lens, that Gallimard’s relationship to Song is a reflection of the Western rape mentality. The Orient of slender women in chong sams does not exist anywhere but in Gallimard’s fatally misguided imagination, and his faith in such a self-serving, chauvinistic paradigm impels Gallimard to lose grasp of reality and ruin himself. Edward Said assents:[Orientalism] set the real boundaries between human beings, on which races, nations, civilizations were constructed; it forced vision away from the common, as well as plural, human realities like joy, suffering, political organization, forcing attention instead in the downward and backward direction of immutable origins. (233). Though it is only a dream, Gallimard’s criterion for the “Perfect Woman” creates a very real wall between himself and Song, which eventually grows so ingrained that it cannot be breached. Monsieur Butterfly does not refer to Song, but to Gallimard. “Madame Butterfly” does not exist; the only Butterflies are the men who fool themselves into loving a product of their own imaginations.
The Old Switcheroo: The Role Reversal Between between Gallimard and Song in M Butterfly
A visual paradigm shift known to many: the rabbit-duck illusion. At first glance, the image is a rabbit, long ears unmistakable. A slight tilt of the head, however, and those characteristic ears morph into a beak—no longer a rabbit, but a duck. Indeed, this simple optical illusion parallels David Henry Huang’s characters in his play M. Butterfly. Although the author’s choice to model elements of Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly seems clear cut at first glance, further inspection reveals that the characters are not what they seem. Hwang leads on the reader to believe that Gallimard is Pinkerton and Song is Butterfly; however, the opposite is true, and such a role reversal helps to deconstruct ideas of imperialism and masculinity so essential to Puccini’s work.
Near the beginning of the narrative, a delusional Gallimard paints himself as Pinkerton, but Hwang later reveals that Gallimard is in fact Butterfly—a comparison that dismantles Gallimard’s masculinity and his ideas concerning the East. Gallimard, acting out a scene from Madama Butterfly, assumes the role of Pinkerton, explaining that the naval officer is “not very good-looking, not too bright, and pretty much a wimp” who has “just closed on two great bargains: one on a house, the other on a woman—call it a package deal” (Hwang 819). The parallels between the two men are clear here: Gallimard, too, is unattractive, unintelligent, and cowardly. More concerningly, however, is the parallel between the two characters that Hwang does not explicitly list: their misogyny. Pinkerton and Gallimard both put a price on women and objectify them—as Gallimard refers to a “package deal,” in which he equates Pinkerton’s house and his Butterfly to objects. Despite these parallels to Pinkerton, Gallimard is in fact Butterfly—a fact epitomized by the final moments of the play, in which the protagonist dresses in a kimono. In the final monologue, Gallimard sets the tip of the knife against his body and says to the audience, “It is 1988. And I have found her at last. In a prison on the outskirts of Paris. My name is Rene Gallimard—also known as Madame Butterfly” (864). After this monologue, he commits suicide. Especially apparent here, Gallimard’s transition from Pinkerton to Butterfly effectively dismantles ideas of imperialism, masculinity, and sexism in Madama Butterfly. For one, the submissive East—epitomized by Butterfly—in which he had believed so strongly in was only in his mind. That is why he says he has found her in himself, why he proclaims himself Butterfly. Furthermore, through Gallimard’s suicide, Hwang makes a statement: harboring toxic beliefs like his protagonist did will certainly cause your demise. With his death, Gallimard’s harmful ideas die with him, and the author includes it as an example to others who may hold similar beliefs.
The opposite is true for Song: he seems to be Butterfly but is later characterized as Pinkerton, a character shift that Hwang uses to define the true spirit of the East: hardy and clever, rather than submissive. For the majority of the novel, Hwang presents Song as a woman, and although he is not, it is clear the author draws upon conventions of femininity and the stereotype of the “Chinese doll” to initially develop his character. In Act 1 Scene 13, Song admits that she is Gallimard’s Butterfly, and as he begins to kiss her she responds, “Please…it all frightens me. I’m a modest Chinese girl…I am your treasure. Though inexperienced, I am not…ignorant. They teach us things, our mothers, about pleasing a man” (837). In this scene, Song really epitomizes Butterfly. Primarily, she does not want to take off her clothes, epitomizing the modesty so often assigned to Eastern characters. Most importantly, however, she objectifies herself, calling herself a “treasure” and insinuating that giving men pleasure is a tradition, a commonality, something passed down from mother to daughter. Through these elements, Hwang paints Song as a commodity to be taken advantage of—a Butterfly to be captured. Later, however, the tables turn: Song is not Gallimard’s Butterfly, but rather Pinkerton, when he reveals his true sex. In the courtroom where Gallimard is being tried, Song gloats, “You think I could’ve pulled this off if I wasn’t already full of pride when we met? No, not just pride. Arrogance. It takes arrogance, really—to believe you can will, with your eyes and lips, the destiny of another” (860). In this scene, the roles are truly reversed, with Song standing over Gallimard as conqueror, as Pinkerton, rather than the conquered. Song’s tone drips with simultaneous condescension and pride, and through these lines, Song parallels his arrogance in his manipulation of Gallimard to the arrogance of the West in their attempts to manhandle the trajectory of the East. Through this clear mockery of the imperialist ideals that guide the West’s interaction with the East, Song expels the concept of a weak, submissive East—a tenet of Puccini’s opera.
M Butterfly effectively deconstructs the ideals so prominent in Madama Butterfly, and although the play focuses mainly around Asians and the East, Hwang makes an example of Gallimard as a call to dismantle all problematic beliefs. The play is really a warning to others who live in such a fantasy world as Gallimard, which is why the play is set in Gallimard’s mind—a mind filled with imagination, coupled with a distinct inability to see things as they are. Hwang maintains, then, that such troublesome beliefs will not only cloud one’s perception of the world, but also only exist within that mind. Outside of that mind, these ideas are simply untrue.