Subject final exam
Posted by sukie
Posted on Sun Jun 11 23:27:45 2000
From IP  

Theoretical Terms:
Choose one, define it and discuss the meanings as well as how they can be related to a literary/cultural text.
3. floating signifier.

In the structuralism study, according to Saussure, a signifier is a written or spoken mark that conveys meanings (signified) to the consumers (61). For example, when we hear ¡§water,¡¨ the signifier is the sound ¡§water¡¨ while the signified (concept) can be ¡§coolness.¡¨ However, later on to the time of deconstruction, Derrida had different idea towards the signifier and signified. He pointed out that ¡§the signified cannot orient or make permanent the meaning of the signifier, for the relationship between the signifier and the signified is both arbitrary and conventional¡¨ (75). For example, as Hall said that ¡§the meaning of racial signifiers (like skin color) are never fixed, but depend upon cultural context, and are discursive, or "floating signifiers."¡¨ (screen). In a sense, one signifier can become different shifted signified(s) due to the context and the consumer¡¦s point of view. And this kind of signifier is called floating signifier. In this paper, I will use a text M. Butterfly as an example to discuss how the meaning of the signifier ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ is shifted with the context.
First of all, the signifier ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ represents two kinds of title. By its position shown in the cover of the play and the left top corner of each page, we can see that the first signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ is the title of the play though we don¡¦t know what it means. However, when we turn to page one, we are told that Madame Butterfly is the title of a Western opera by Puccini. Therefore, the signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ now changes from a title of the play to the title of Puccini¡¦s opera.
Besides signifying the different titles, the signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ is also shifted to a submissive Oriental woman when the character, Madame Butterfly in the opera, is introduced to the audiences. In Puccini¡¦s opera, Madame Butterfly is a very obedient, tender, and submissive beautiful Chinese woman who sacrifices herself for a white man, Pinkerton. Since this kind of feminist image is very attractive to the western men, many white men have a fantasy to possess a beautiful Oriental woman as Pinkerton does in the opera. We can see Gallimard said ¡§We, who are not handsome, nor brave, nor powerful, yet somehow believe, like Pinkerton, that we deserve a Butterfly¡¨ (10). We can see that ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ now is signifying a kind of beautiful Oriental woman who is very submissive to the white men.
Nevertheless, the signified of Madame Butterfly in the opera is different from the signified of Madame Butterfly that Song plays though they are referring to the same character. The former one is a general image of an Oriental woman from a Western men¡¦s point of view, or just an actress playing a role of an Oriental woman. However, the later one is a fantasy that Song creates for Gallimard in order to make him fall into his trap. And later on this Madame Butterfly becomes Gallimard¡¦s desired Butterfly¡Xhis submissive beautiful Oriental woman. Therefore, the signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ here shifted from a character¡¦s name (Madame Butterfly in the opera) to Gallimard¡¦s ¡§My Butterfly¡¨ (his ideal woman).
  However, as the story goes to the end, the signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ loses its pervious meanings. Now it is signifying either Song or Gallimard who is victimized in their love affair. In a sense, the one between them who is in an inferior position or loses power in love is ¡§M. Butterfly.¡¨ And this signified is shifted again and again between Song and Gallimard. At first, Song is acting a role of an Oriental woman who is submissive to Gallimard, so she is Gallimard¡¦s Butterfly. However, after Gallimard knows Song¡¦s real identity, Gallimard becomes the victim in their love affair. His pervious power is damaged by Song revealing his body. On the contrary, Song¡¦s power is increased by his male identity. Therefore, the role of Madame Butterfly now belongs to Gallimard instead of Song. That¡¦s why Song says to Gallimard ¡§come here, my little one¡¨ (86). It¡¦s Song who holds the superior position in their love affair.
However, when Gallimard refuses to accept Song and continues fall in love with his imaginative Butterfly, Song no longer can hold power on Gallimard. Therefore, the signified of ¡§M. Butterfly¡¨ now is neither Song nor Gallimard, but shifted to Gallimard¡¦s fantastic Butterfly (the Butterfly that Song acts before). At the end, after Gallimard kills himself, he becomes the role of Madame Butterfly again¡Xa person who sacrifice himself/herself for love. Therefore, Gallimard becomes Song¡¦s Butterfly finally. That¡¦s why Song looks at him and says ¡§Butterfly? Butterfly¡¨ (93).

Works Cited

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: an Introduction to Theory and Practice.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1994. 61-75.
Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. New York: Plume, 1989.
¡§Race, the Floating Signifier¡¨ Online. Internet. 3 Jun. 2000.

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