David Henry Hwang wrote the play M. Butterfly on the basis of the story of a French Diplomat who had a lover for twenty years who be believed to be a Chinese actress. However, it was revealed to him that his lover was actually a Chinese spy and a man. The protagonists of the play are Rene Gallimard, a diplomat from France and Song Liling, a man who is posing as a woman in order to get state secrets. Hwang focuses on their relationship in context to the society and presents the preconceptions of race, gender and sexual identity. Hwang suggests that the East has always been a provocative challenge to the West.
The West with its concepts of liberalism and diplomacy has been fascinated with the exotic East. The oriental women have been seen as submissive and obedient to the men. However, anyone actually familiar with the East will realize that the women of China are not submissive to a person but rather to a culture. They have the strength to go against. In M. Butterfly Hwang creates a plot where a Western man falls in love not with a woman but the concept he has of the Chinese women. She is exotic and her appeal to the ‘mind’ blinds him to reality; that he has been sleeping with a man for twenty years and has not known that.
Intertwined in the concept of the submissive woman of the East is the effeminate nature of the Chinese man. The men’s physical structure is such that they are seen as ‘womanly’ by the West not realizing that the structure has nothing to do with the actual reality. [Brent, 2001] These stereotypes by which the West judges the Chinese are shown by Hwang as being baseless and it is these stereotypes he aims to bring down by making a mockery of the same through his presentation of relationships in the play.
The sterotypes are epitomized in the words, “[t]he Orientals simply want to be associated with whoever shows the most strength and power … Orientals will always submit to a greater force” (Hwang, 1989 45-46) Thesis: Hwang chose to write the play M. Butterfly in order to dismantle the preconceived notions of gender, sexual identity and race that surrounded the East. The West had created an effeminate version of the men of the East and a submissive ideal of the woman, Hwang chose to write this play and deconstruct the false ideals that were associated between the two races.
Analysis The liberal West is post-colonial times associated the East with various stereotypes. The men were viewed as feminine and the woman as submissive and obedient to their male partners. The ideal was constructed not on facts but rather a racial basis. The Chinese valued a patriarchal family system and upheld their past and culture. This made no sense to a fast developing and industrial West that was becoming more and more secular. So what they could not understand they began to deride, through associated stereotypes. The plot of the pay is simple.
Song Lilliang meets Gallimard after perfoming in Puccini’s play Madama Butterfly. Gallimard believes her to be a woman, becomes her lover and allows the relationship to continue for years before returning to France and to his wife. After sometime the Lliang goes to France and presents him a baby suggesting to the now divorced Gallimard that it is his child. The relationship resumes for more than a decade until finally Gallimard is arrested for giving out secrets of the government to the Chinese government via Lilliang. Here we see how completely Hwang reverses the stereotypes’ that were built around men and women.
In prison Gallimard wears a wig and traditional Chinese clothes for a woman and kills himself. Within the plot emerges the theme for it is through the ideal of the passive and helpless Chinese woman that Song is able to take advantage of Gallimard. Gallimard should have been able to perceive that Song was a man but his own ideals of the Chinese woman made in his mind Song to be the perfect woman who did what she was told and made no demands on him. Hwang then tries to dissociate the concepts of sexual identity and gender that are usually stereotyped with men constantly subjugating the women to their dominance.
In the play by giving Song a feminine identity he shows how a man successfully lives like a woman for two decades. Then he further rips of the veil of difference by ending the play with Gallimard’s suicide. The way Gallimard commits suicide would be thought as ‘womanly’. By presenting such unique concepts Galllimard though to show society that sexual identity, racial difference and gender stereotypes are usually a societal creation rather than anything genetic or inherent in an individual. The irony of the situation is that even when Gallimard realizes that Song is a man he states, “I have known, and been loved by .
. . the Perfect Woman. ” This is again a way to show the readers, by Hwang, that Gallimard was never in love with Song; rather, he was enraptured with the ideal that Song represented. The theme of the Western masculinity and East and its feminism is brought out more profusely during the trial where Song suggests that the West perceives the Orient as being feminine so a man here to the west would never be a man and so it was easy for Gallimard to believe that Song was a woman [Brent, 2001].
The difference in Hwang’s theme in the deconstruction of the stereotypes associated with the Orient is his presentation. Rather than creating a play where he defends the masculinity of the Oriental male, he creates a play where the concept of western masculinity is destroyed. The gayness of the play then reveals the shortcomings of the Western society rather than the Oriental. Hwang presents the deviance of the cultural concepts where the submissive Oriental woman is actually a man and the masculine western man is actually a homosexual, consciously or unconsciously [Shin 1996]
One critic of the play has written, “As audiences leave the theater, then, racial/sexual identity is not an issue; rather, most are simply incredulous at how for twenty years Gallimard could have confused Song’s rectum for a vagina” (Moy, 1990). The complete gullibility of Gallimard as shown by Hwang is a way to take of the rose tinted glasses that he wears. Hwang wanted there to be no doubt left that the manner in which Gallimard thought and behaved was wrong. Hwang had to choose humor and irony to deconstruct the image if the Western man and the stereotypes the West had against the East.
The concept of superiority of the Western male and hence Western politics over the East can be stated as, “the traditional Western concept of masculinity – which values men as embodiments of civilization, rationality, and aggressiveness and devalues women as embodiments of primitiveness, emotion, and passivity – was extended to account for the West’s sense of economic and political superiority over Asia by projecting the latter as a diametrically opposed feminine Other” (Ling, 1997 314). Conclusion: Hwang in M.
Butterfly has done well in deconstructing the various stereotypes associated with men and women in society and the racial and sexual roles assigned to them in context of culture. He has broken down the cultural conceptions of men and women in the East, the ego of the men in the West and the chauvinism that is associated with it all for consider the words of Gallimard when he wrote, “The first time I saw them in his closet … all lined up–my body shook. Not with lust–no, with power. Here were women–a shelf-ful–who would do exactly as I wanted” (10).
Initially Gallimard was a man who did not respect woman and wanted them only for the fulfillment of his desires. He wanted to lord over them and create for himself a sort of submissive statue who only responded to him rather than acting on her own. He wanted that from his wife Rene, and Song. When Rene returned his desire he thought she was too ‘masculine’. So Hwang took all the superiority of the Western man, the concepts of submissiveness, sexual orientation, gender and racial superiority and turned it around and presented Gallimard, a homosexual who could not control anything in life.
All that he thought was real was in fact a fantasy and this then distorted his concept of reality and stripped clear the actual truth, that the ideals we have of others are socially constructed not realistic, in any way. His death then can be seen as the end of the reality of race, gender and sexual identity, as we perceive it. Hwang knew that any realistic manner of handling the misconceptions of the same would lead to scorn and disbelief so first he had to strip down the issue to its core, and then he had to show the nonsensical value of these notions.
Had he not taken such a dramatic plot to follow he may not have been able to create a theme that had any effect on the audience and yet, by making the issues so unbelievable he forced the people to think and critically analyze the message and then accept that the social constructions of gender and sexual identity as perceived by the West are merely that, social conceptions, there is no truth in them and if the audience continued to believe them then they would end up like Gullimard caught in a situation that was mostly fantasy and unable to perceive the reality as it really was.
As Kondo  states, ‘…Hwang suggests that gender identity is far more complicated than reference to an essential inner truth or external biological equipment might lead us to believe [ . . . ] M. Butterfly deconstructs that naturalness, opening out the inner spaces of true gender identity to cultural and historical forces, where identity is not an inner space of truth but a location in a field of shifting power relations” (43). Sources – Brent, Liz. “Critical Essay on ‘M. Butterfly’. ” Drama for Students. Ed. Elizabeth Thomason. Vol. 11.
Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Gale. PIMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://0-go. galegroup. com. library2. pima. edu:80/ps/start. do? p=LitRC&u=pima_main>. – Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. New York: Plume, 1989. – Kondo, Dorinne. About Face: Performing Race in Fashion and Theater. London: Routledge, 1997. – Ling, Jinqi. “Identity Crisis and Gender Politics: Reappropriating Asian American Masculinity. ” An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. 312-337. – Shin, Andrew.
“Projected Bodies in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Golden Gate. ” MELUS. 27. 1 (Spring 2002): 177-197. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter. Vol. 196. Detroit: Gale, 2005. 177-197. Literature Resource Center. Gale. PIMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE. 20 Nov. 2008 <http://0-go. galegroup. com. library2. pima. edu:80/ps/start. do? p=LitRC&u=pima_main>. – Moy, James S. “David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Philip Kan Gotanda’s Yankee Dawg You Die: Repositioning Chinese American Marginality on the American Stage. ” Theatre Journal 42. 1 (1990): 48-56.