M. Butterfly

A Postcolonial Reading of M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly draws links between sexism, racism and imperialism. Hwang’s play, which is loosely based on a scandal involving a French diplomat and his lover, a male Chinese opera singer, utilizes postcolonial ideas in order to imply a connection between sex, race and imperialism. Part of how this is illustrated is through the parallel that the play makes between its plot, and the story of Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.

Rene Gallimard, the main character, alludes to Puccini’s opera throughout M. Butterfly. He is enamored by the opera’s title character, Cio-Cio-San, romanticizing her as the ideal woman. This can be seen when he says, “Its heroine, Cio-Cio-San, is a feminine ideal, beautiful and brave.” (108, 1.3., Hwang). As far as Gallimard is concerned, she is the epitome of perfection because he sees in her a pure love, devotion and sense of sacrifice and duty. Ironically, the “woman” who turns him on to this attraction, Song Liling, is herself completely disgusted by the messages in the opera. She expresses this in the line: “But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner-ah!-you find it beautiful.” (111, 1.7., Hwang). Song repudiates the opera early on in M. Butterfly by turning the...

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