Subject Final Report on M. Butterfly
Posted by Zoe
Posted on Thu Jun 22 08:42:26 2000
From IP  

* How does M. Butterfly deal with gender + postcolonial issues through the switching of roles?
In M. Butterfly, David H. Hwang firstly displays the conventional views on the conflicts between male and female
, west and east, but he then plays with people's universal prejudice towards gender and postcolonial issues by
mixing what has been constantly assumed for granted. In this way, the play with two main roles of complicated
personality blurs the border between the confronting components and thus challenges the authority that has been
The playwright provides the readers with a set of the stereotyped binary oppositions, and therefore, we can see
how each unit is tightly attached to one another within one side in the traditional system. There are always two
contradicting elements of one level in the binary system, and according to certain values and conceptions, some
kind of superior vs. inferior power relations regularly exist. Hence, the binary system basically constructed in
M. Butterfly would be as these two main forms: west vs. east, male vs. female, and no matter in what form we try
to examine, the former ones are ordinarily considered as overpowering the latter. Under such biased knowledge,
the playwright visualizes the abstract superior concepts of the Western and male-dominant through creating the
protagonist, Rene Gallimard. On the other hand, assembling all the outwardly weaker characteristics in respect of
gender and postcolonial issues, there comes to the role of the Chinese opera diva, Song Liling, who is an oriental
woman. These two externally flat and typical characters produce a sense of potential dynamic, but the tension
within the story is being covertly hidden underneath in the beginning. Therefore, apparently, diplomat Gallimard is
equipped with all the overlying elements as being a male, white elite from America, being constructed in such
position, so he surely enjoys his superiority way much higher above Song. In Gallimard's eye, Song simply matches
what western people, particularly western men, misperceive oriental women, for she appears to be a very beautiful,
feministic, and most important of all, submissive wife. To the harsh contrast between these two characters, the
obvious oppression from the west and male imposing on the oriental and female can thus be seen here. However,
as the story undergoes, there are more and more reversals gradually proceeding and also switching the roles in the
power relation.
The concealed ambiguity of Song Liling's identity is the key to swap his/her powerless position for the powerful
one. Let's define Song's identity of the Chinese spy as male, and that of the diva as female. But then, masque of
the disregarded gender as female and also the spy's unchanged oriental identity enables "him" to triumph over the
power of the male and west that has been oppressing "her." On the surface, Song is just fatalistically obedient to
her husband, but in fact, her doubled identity as the spy consciously acts out what exactly a typical western man
would aspire for an oriental woman. The spy performs Gallimard's fantasy in reality as being his mellow little wife
and actually has swayed Gallimard's superiority by grabbing the power of control.
Owing to the obstacle built upon Gallimard's failure to understand who she is, he is rather possessed with what he
eccentrically assumed she to be. Consequently, he ends up with being unable to show respect for the woman he's
married to in reality but infatuation with what he fantasizes Song.
In short, the playwright's ambition comes to a success, since he presents the bias on the oriental and female
held by most westerners and then wavers its absoluteness by reversing the power relationship between Gallimard
and Song. In the dominating Westerners' view (as the role Gallimard), the Chinese opera diva, Song, is the pure
demonstration combining all the disfavored conditions. However, the Chinese spy, Song, ironically makes perfect
use of the belittled, deprived, and overpowered misperception of what the oriental and feministic should be like to
eventually switch his/her own lower position with Gallimard.

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