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Diana Odajyan
Professor Batty
English 102

Monsieur Dragonfly
David Henry Hwangs play M. Butterfly is a play that delves into the relationship between

two men. Gallimard is the heterosexual male in the play, who can be deemed the representation

of the Western ideologies on the premise of relationships. On the other hand, Song plays the role

of a female in the narrative and deemed to represent the notions of the East. At face value, many

would argue that Hwangs intention is to portray the image of a tyrannical Western culture that

domineers over the Oriental culture, which is the represented by how the two protagonist relate

in the play (Lin, Role-playing Games). The writer uses various symbols and metaphors

throughout the play to present the disparity between East and West. However, Hwangs rationale

in depicting the play is indicative of the issues in the gender roles, which questions the status quo

of society.

The starting point of the play aligns with the predominant perception of gender in society.

Gallimard provides a monologue coinciding with the domineering approach by men in society.

He narrates the catalyst for the plays title as it is based on Madame Butterfly, an opera created

by Puccini. The narrative goes on to expound on how an American man marries an Oriental

woman he met when she was 15 (Hwang, Romantic Illusions). She gives birth to his child, the

American leaves for three years, and returns to announce that he married an American woman.

The Oriental woman commits suicide leaving her child with the American family. Subsequently,

the opening monologue is the representation of Western ideas trumping the Eastern culture.

Furthermore, the idea is centered on insinuating that the males had the preference of choosing
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companions at leisure while undermining the freedoms of women (Wen, The Subversion).

Furthermore, the idea of suicide is the enforced to suggest that the West can suppress or

overpower the Oriental counterparts.

This transitions into the relation between Gallimard and Song, where (like the American Man),

the former falls in love with the latter after seeing her perform in an Asian Theater. Hwang

uses the scene to enlighten the viewer on how Song is a spy disguised as a woman to obtain

information for the communist party (Lin, Role-playing Games). The disparity is important to

question the ideologies of power dynamics because of the unique twist that links Madame

Butterfly to Hwangs play. Gallimard justifies the Oriental womans death by stating, Death

with honor, is better than life, life with dishonor (Hwang, Romantic Illusions). The quote

relates to Gallimards situation because he perceives the idea of homosexuality as dishonor, and

he commits suicide after discovering Songs situation.

The main problem with the context of the narrative is the tunnel vision concerning how one

will perceive Gallimard while ignoring the context that he may be a homosexual. Hwang

provides a smart approach that would allow the viewer to assess the play in that Madame

Butterfly is meant to be the central construct of the Western perspective of gender roles. His

depiction stains the Western aspect of the play by questioning Gallimards sexual orientation. In

the Madame Butterfly, the Oriental woman is the symbol of weaknesses, as she cannot contend

with the actions of her American counterpart leading to her death. Moreover, her end is

promoted by the actions of her companion, which are beyond her control. On the other hand, the

catalyst of Gallimards suicide is based on his own actions and choices in the play. He is

infatuated by the Asian woman as he is attracted to her in a love at first sight scenario

(Lin, Role-playing Games). The protagonist feels dishonored by the revelation that he is
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attracted to an oriental man; however, the viewer should be able to see beyond this by realizing

that there is the prospect that Gallimard could have been a homosexual. A further analysis of the

play validates the idea of him having an interest in men.

Specifically, Gallimards time in a prison cell is a good metaphor or symbol of the idea. It is a

representation of his sexuality in that the heterosexual world is unwilling to accept the idea of

homosexuality in the community. The same idea can be applied to Song in that he has to live in

an enclosed idea by having to live as a woman (Wen, The Subversion). One can also argue that

both are forced to hide the notion of homosexuality in that Song can only live the idea as a

woman while Gallimard must conceal it by committing suicide when his interest in men is no

longer a secret. The contrast in perspective is essential to understanding the divide in that the

East is open to the idea of homosexuality but it is not a steady or acceptable idea in society. On

the other hand, the Western culture does not choose to accept or agree with the idea because it is

not a development that people want to embrace. Subsequently, the West is willing to take

extreme measures such as suicide to hide or reject homosexuality.

Furthermore, Hwang reverses the gender role in his play by giving Song the power. Essentially,

Song is a man; however, she has a power over Gallimard because he is obsessed over her. It

can be argued that the context of the play is a change in nature of the East-West relation where

the West dominates the East. However, Song dominates any situations involving Gallimard to

the point that he cannot hide his affection for her (Wen, The Subversion). Moreover, the

East-West relation returns to normalcy when Gallimard finds Song without the make or the outfit

that she wears and begins to ridicule her after returning to the theater after a long. However,

Song returns the aspect of power by revealing that he is the Frenchmans fantasy (Wen, The
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Subversion). As a result, Hwang structured the play to represent a different outlook on the

notion of power between East and West by reversing the roles between the two protagonists.

In hindsight, Hwangs play is a representation of how the East would be classified as a

progressive community in the modern era. The main reason is that Song depicts an individual

that is comfortable being a woman, while enjoying the process of enticing another man (Lin,

Role-playing Games). Furthermore, Song (being a man) is aware of what a man would expect

from a woman and puts on a performance that achieves this objective. However, Gallimard is the

symbol of the Western that is upheld to abide by specific ideologies that emanate from the

community and undermine other cultures. As a result, the audience witnesses the difference in

the two cultures through the play (Wen, The Subversion). Subsequently, the presentation

makes the East more progressive because Song is accepting of homosexuality, while his western

counterpart is defiant of embracing the idea.

Therefore, Hwang uses the play to question the norm when it comes to East-West relations and

cultural ideas. Homosexuality is the focal point of the play and it applies in emphasizing the

differences. In addition, the presentation questions that audience mindset when generating an

opinion on the protagonists. At face value, Song reflects the accepting perspective of the sexual

orientation, while the French counterpart is the opposite. Though the circumstances may support

Gallimard, but the context towards the later stage of the play indicate he did not want to accept

the idea of homosexuality. Thus, Hwang manages to present a point or subject of interest that

questions the norms of the East-West social construct.

Works Cited
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Hwang, David. Romantic Illusions: Cultural Contexts for a Play. N.p.,

https://vitruvianman.wikispaces.com/file/view/Hwang.pdf. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.

Lin, Shih-Chun. Role-playing Games in David Henry Hwangs M. Butterfly. National

Hsinchu University of Education, 2011,

http://aca.web2.nhcue.edu.tw/ezfiles/6/1006/img/198/435334696.pdf. Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.

Wen, Songfeng. The Subversion of the Oriental Stereotype in M. Butterfly. University of

Light Industry, 2013.


Accessed 7 Oct. 2017.