The Illusion of Gender in M. Butterfly
In David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, Song Liling and Rene Gallimard engage in an extramarital affair that positions male against female, and East against West. Hwang uses the affair, along with its power dynamics, to challenge traditional notions of gender. Though society wants to view people as either male or female, both Song and Gallimard’s characters suggest that this is a forced categorization, which does not align with how gender really presents itself. Hwang suggests that gender identity is indicative of a greater power struggle that constitutes our sense of place and self, and not the binary, male-or-female category to which we are so accustomed.
Throughout the play, Song undergoes a series of gender transformations, leaving the reader unable to conclude whether or not Hwang believes Song to be a man or a woman. Song contains contradictory information with regard to gender. The very title of the play indicates a discrepancy with respect to Song’s gender. M. Butterfly, though it refers to the title of an opera, could be interpreted either as “Monsieur,” as the “M.” traditionally refers to, or “Madame,” the title associated with the opera. Even during Gallimard’s affair with the apparently female Song, he acknowledges...
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