Madame Butterfly

The Death of the Butterfly: Murder, or Suicide? College

Many have lamented the tragic story of a Japanese wife abandoned by her American husband in Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera, Madame Butterfly, which was adapted from John Luther Long’s novella, Madame Butterfly. In the opera, Cio-cio san (Butterfly), a Japanese girl, marries B.F. Pinkerton, an American naval officer. The performance follows her futile wait for her husband after he leaves her, until her suicide when she finds out that he has already wed in America. As the story was told in a period of American imperialism and Western fascination with the Japanese culture, Butterfly’s story has mostly been seen through an Orientalist frame, with authors depicting her as an “Asian female conquered and destroyed by the sexually and culturally dominant white male” (Tsen 153). However, I argue that she is not entirely blameless in her own death. Madame Butterfly hints at Butterfly’s complicity in her destruction by suggesting that she is in fact responsible for imprisoning herself in a fantastical cultural narrative that she has created. Through the portrayal of Butterfly’s walk towards self-destruction, the opera criticises the stereotypical figure of a submissive Japanese woman who engages in blind admiration and belief in the West...

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