Literary Analysis of M Butterfly
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In the short play and film adaptation of M Butterfly, David Henry Hwang allows his readers and audience to identify several bilateral misperceptions that overshadow the cultural and political differences between a proclaimed feminine Orient and a foreign devilish West. “M Butterfly” underscores the devaluation of women in general by Western culture, communism and espionage in China during the Vietnam War era, and is also synonymous with one man’s fantasy of being loved by what he perceived as the Perfect Woman a drag-queen.
Rene, the protagonist and also referred to as the “adventure imperialist”, incorporates preconceived Western beliefs in his own value system that demoralize Oriental women to intensify his oblivious and perverted fantasy of pretending he didn’t know that Song was really a man. “It’s true what they say about Oriental girls, they want to be treated bad” (Hwang P.6). This perverse attitude of Asian women was used to make Rene fall in love with the Butterfly allusion. A façade that represents a certain alienable shyness and fear of the Western man which is what made Butterfly so delicate and illusive in Rene’s eyes. “It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man” (Hwang P. 17). The Chinese all too often refer to the white man as the “foreign devil” which is illuminated with the following passage: “The whole world over, the Yankee travels, casting his anchor wherever he wants. Life is not worth living unless he can win the hearts of the fairest maidens, then hotfoot it off the premises ASAP” (Hwang P.58). This passage infers that all Western men are sexually promiscuous in an animalistic sub-textual level and are incapable of loving just one woman while dominating the rest of the world for selfish reasons.
Ironically Song, the antagonistic Chinese Diva spy from the Peking Opera, uses manipulative and deceitful tactics to appeal to Rene’s internal feelings of dominating a submissive oriental womanlike butterfly with low self-esteem and a willingness to “live with honor oppose to life with dishonor” (Hwang P.92). Song is really a man disguised as a woman for the purpose of becoming something different metaphorically speaking such as a moth in a cocoon which transforms itself into a beautiful and illusive butterfly. This deception perpetuates the story’s love theme and allows the Chinese to obtain information about American troop movements in Vietnam from a dysfunctional and naïve Vice-consul diplomat working at the French Embassy in Beijing. Song’s female intuition made him/her the right person for the espionage campaign as indicated by a conversation with Commander Chin. “Why is a woman always played by a man in Peking Opera? Only a man knows how a woman is suppose to act” (Hwang P.63).
Though we do not see Marc’s character in the film adaptation, he is a critical character in the play because his conversations with Gallimard give the readers information about Rene’s childhood that plagued his adult life. Marc is also the foil character to Rene Gallimard and is an alter ego with significant meaning in allowing the readers to identify with Rene’s personality defects and shortcomings with the opposite sex. We know that Marc is a sexual predator and unfaithful husband who slept with as many as 300 different women in a 12 year span. “I cheated after six months. Then again and again, until now – three hundred girls in twelve years” (Hwang P. 24) David Henry Wang accentuates Rene Gallimard’s moral and ethical values by contrasting those of Marc’s. Furthermore, in a subtle way, Marc contributes to the Asian stereotype of the West by saying, “It’s an old story. It’s in our blood.
They fear us, Rene. Their women fear us and their men – their men hate us. And you know something? They’re all correct” (Hwang P. 25). It was obvious throughout the story that an old Chinese communistic government strongly disliked social progress and Western people living in their country. “In the New Society, we are all kept ignorant equally” (Hwang P.43). The film adaptation reinforces this point with the student movement called the Red Guard that justifies the expulsion of all foreigners in China. Furthermore, the government deemed all Chinese artists, writers and intellectuals as enemies of the rich culture. As a punishment for their creative and different views of the Chinese social structure, they were held against their will and forced to do rigorous labor on plantations for approximately 4 years. The imagery used in the film to convey the Chinese social attitude were the protests, bonfire of the artists’ costumes that include masks, geisha dresses, and Song with several other people spiking away at the dirt on a hillside in the middle of nowhere.
In conclusion, through the dialogue of the characters in the play and the screenplay adaptation of “M Butterfly”, David Henry Hwang allows his readers and viewers to look into the eyes and hearts of the Western /Chinese public attitudes aimed at one another during the Vietnam era. The ancient Chinese opera play “M Butterfly” is synonymous with the actual love story that unfolded between Rene and Song because on the surface it involves an Oriental woman who falls in love with a Western man. Ironically it’s the Western man who commits suicide in the end, not the Asian woman. The stereotypes conveyed in this story as they describe the human condition and the program themes are interracial sex is taboo, homosexuality is completely forbidden, and cultural differences cause major conflicts throughout the world. Moreover, Asian cultures strongly suggest that Westerners under appreciate education and have no loyalty to marriage while being monogamous. Transfixed by illusions of Asian beauty and A 20-year romance underscored by gender deception, fantasy role playing, and the devaluation of women in general.