Stereotypes and Male Power in M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang
“M. Butterfly” is David Henry Hwang’s dramatized account concerning a real French diplomat who had an affair with a Chinese opera singer for about twenty years (Hwang 13). He later discovered that she was actually not a woman as he always portrayed. There is sexual and racial stereotyping, the western imperialism and an illusion role in the ability of a person to truly understand the other.
The play explores how western imperialistic male power dominates over the submissive Oriental woman. Galimard experiences power and a renewed sense of self through his fantastical relationship with Song. When Song is revealed to be a man, he reveals that the foundation of their relationship, and, therefore, Galimard’s perceived power, was an illusion and that Song was really the one controlling the relationship all along.
According to Hwang drama Rene Gallimard with Pinkerton in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, there is a when Gallimard perceive himself as an uncooperative, slow at showing love, but becoming blessed with the utter devotion of an oriental beautiful singer woman (Hwang 16). This is not always the case as those who do not show much love in most cases do not receive it. She was ‘oriental’ and this conveys how exotic and imperialistic a beautiful lady found from the East. Rene becomes so engrossed with his perception of the Asian women that he distorts his mind and could not think beyond her. He later tests the Asian queen commitment to him by abandoning and humiliating her, eventually, forcing her admits she is his “Butterfly,” which he later criticizes in public.
Gallimard did not know that Liling is a communist agent who just wanted to manipulate him to extract information from him regarding the Vietnam War. Gallimard is treated like a prince in the Embassy and his social status increased because of his oriental affair (Hwang 33). When he was later found wrong in his analysis of East-West relation just because of his self- delusion he is demoted and later deported to France.
People are faced with the challenge of choosing between what is real and the fictional worldly pleasure that are often seen in the ideal world. When one decides to choose fantasy just because it sounds fantastic are overlook the outcome that is often embedded with the truth, they become disappointed and even end up losing what they have or what they were to gain. His usefulness is forced to endure hard labor which is an embarrassment since there is no homosexual tolerated in china. He is later sent to France to restore his affair with Gallimard. When Gallimard is caught by the intelligence and tried for spying, it is openly discovered that Liling is a man. Liling then changes his clothing to coincide with those of the men. This shows that there is a role reversal when someone does not want to live in truth. He became the dominant masculine figure while Gallimard becomes submissive feminine figure (Hwang 36).
Preferring fantasy to reality, people change and become what is exactly the opposite. Gallimard becomes a “butterfly,” and dress in Liling’s wig and kimono, choosing to die horrible other than living dishonorably.
Butterfly demonstrate the effects and dangers of inherent in living a life that is full of lies but becoming satisfied with a shallow stereotype and delusion. Gallimard’s main remarkable desire for a submissive oriental woman was own thinking. People tend to put their desires before anything else not considering the repercussion that may befall them afterward. It blindfolded him to every truth about his concubine and not agreeing even to accept the truth about Liling until he stood before him without clothes. This caused him his career, which he lost in the Asian countries, his dear wife and then his dignity and respect since he had to be embarrassed in the public. These are not only the things he lost but also his love and finally his dear life (Hwang 38). Even when people are confronted by the truth, they only confessed that they had known it before but become obsessed by the fantasies ahead of them. This is why Gallimard responded by saying he has known and has been loved by the perfect and oriental woman.
There are two different but distinct stereotypes in the oriental fantasy; the oriental female gender and the western male. The one that is considered to be oriental female is that which has both exotic and dominated easily while the western male is a type of stereotype which is a deep masculine type with a lot of power. Masculine nature is threatened by the western women but accepted wholeheartedly by the oriental woman who is a disguise of another man. This is portrayed in David Henry Hwang as he describes the two distinct stereotypes in M. Butterfly with the reversal of roles. Gallimard relies solely on his idea of being with a traditional Eastern woman. He is ignorantly and deeply rooted into the oriental fantasy and forgets about the reality. This causes him to fail terribly in seeing the song and failing to understand what he really is (Hwang 47).
The song created an illusion of the role and part played by the oriental woman in order to gain and have the clarification of the important information needed. He does not notice that his character had begun to follow the duty that he was seeking to claim with a lot of desperations, he just believed in penetrating the erotized orient using his invasion of songs as the traditional always viewed the Asian female (Hwang 66). The song later revealed his true gender and does not show the oriental characteristic of the oriental male, but rather convey the real character of western male explorer, placing him to be more powerful. In the same line of being very powerful, Gallimard eventually encounters his fate and become hopeless. He is the doomed butterfly; he becomes weak after having played the role of a typical Asian woman.
This further makes the Western to become the displays rather than the East, the orient, therefore, exploited the West using groups that were envisioned to oppress the East. There is also the rejection of the truth song’s gender which simply means there is a draining of gender and cultural lines. Hwang succeeds in fitting the gender stereotype which is set forth by their origins which are neither fully male nor fully female regardless of their physical and the true sex, which suggest the flexibility in performance. Tropes which are meant to portray a given stereotype can be broken and get mixed and distorted (Hwang 73).
There is a lot of irony in the play, things do not turn out as they seemed and plain reality becomes into existence which is difficult for Gallimard to accept, it is hard to live in truth and accept what comes by it. This is a direct borrowing from Puccini’s opera, which speaks of the story of Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton, who was a callous and a selfish American naval officer working in Japan as his workstation. Franklin dated and leaves a young geisha girl of about fifteen years old, named Cio-Cio-San, also meaning “butterfly” in Japanese, she gave Franklin a male child and she was always living in a belief that Franklin would one day go back to Japan.
Only to realized three years later when Pinkerton comes back with his lovely American wife just to claim the son, Cio-Cio-San could not accept the fact and decided to commit suicide (Hwang 113). This is how the modern society lives, accepting the truth and living by it is bitter and one would not rather live to see the truth, but decide otherwise. Hwang says that it is a parallel situation of love and betrayal (DiGaetani 148). Primarily people will choose to believe in what they want to believe, ignore the truth and cover it with illusion blowing apart, leaving them with no choice; such mutation produces the unnatural creature that must now annihilate the outcome indifference with more strength and power.