M. Butterfly

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M. Butterfly Act 1, Scene 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gallimard returns to Puccini’s opera, now focusing on the heroine, whom he calls Butterfly rather than Cio-Cio-San. Song appears onstage in the Butterfly costume, dancing to the opera’s “Love Duet.” Gallimard imagines the sight of the young, beautiful heroine inspires hope in the men who watch her from the audience — men who are every bit as mediocre as Pinkerton, but still believe, as Pinkerton does, that they deserve the love of a magnificent woman. Gallimard describes Butterfly’s adoring reception of her new husband, when she lays out her possessions before him and tells him that she is not even worth the tiny amount of money he paid for her.
Gallimard acknowledges the kind of masculine entitlement Pinkerton and Marc display as a fantasy — he realizes that most of the men who feel they deserve a woman’s devotion have nothing special to recommend them. Gallimard does not condemn these men for their arrogance; instead, he sees their longing as being beautiful and tragic. He is not, it is clear, concerned with the morality of this situation — in fact, he does not seem to think there is a moral problem with this kind of entitlement at all.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Gallimard remarks that it is hard to find a woman who has as little regard for her own worth as Butterfly. The closest thing, he says, are pinup girls in pornographic magazines. He removes a stack of these magazines from one of the crates in his cell and recalls his first encounter with pornography, when he was twelve years old. The idea that so many women’s bodies were available to him to do whatever he wanted filled Gallimard with an overwhelming sense of power that made his whole body shake, he remembers.
This anecdote draws direct connections between cultural objectification of women and the dehumanizing dynamics of individual relationships. Gallimard takes pleasure, not in the pornographic images themselves, but in the sense of power they give him. Western culture, his story illustrates, teaches young men to connect power with the subjugation of women. The easiest way to feel powerful is to dominate another person, and cultural artifacts such as pornography teach young men that women are the perfect targets for this kind of domination.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
A woman wearing a sexy negligee appears onstage. She is a pinup girl, the kind of woman one might see in a pornographic magazine from the 1940s or 50s. Gallimard stares at her while she describes a sensual scene of undressing in front of her bedroom window. She is completely unashamed, and tells Gallimard she wants him to see her body. She takes off her negligee. Gallimard is amazed to realize that the woman is taking pleasure in the experience. He is paralyzed rather than sexually excited, but claims he doesn’t understand why this is. He puts the magazines away and resumes his story.
Though he does not recognize the connection, Gallimard is repelled by the sexual freedom and unabashed desire the woman displays in this scene. He loses interest when he sees her taking pleasure in the act of exposing her body to him. Gallimard is not interested in simple sexual encounters with available women — he wants something more complicated. His lack of sexual excitement may also suggest Gallimard’s unacknowledged homosexual inclinations.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Gallimard describes Puccini’s Butterfly, abandoned by Pinkerton — who has gone home to the United States without mentioning that he has no plans to return — and waiting obsessively for him to come back. It has been three years since Pinkerton left her. Comrade Chin, a member of China’s Red Guard who has not yet featured in Gallimard’s story, appears onstage. She is playing the role of Butterfly’s servant, Suzuki. Suzuki urges Butterfly to forget her “loser” husband and marry Yamadori: a handsome, wealthy Japanese prince who has fallen madly in love with her. She scoffs when Butterfly says she can’t marry Yamadori because he is Japanese. “You think you’ve been touched by the whitey god?” Suzuki says in disbelief. “He was a sailor with dirty hands!”
Suzuki’s pragmatism and her unpretentious way of speaking — both of which are visible when she mocks Butterfly for her overly romantic image of Pinkerton — are distinctly anti-imperialist. Butterfly seems to believe Asians are inferior to white people, which explains her insistence on remaining loyal to Pinkerton even though Yamadori, a prince, is a better and more worthy match for her. Suzuki mocks Butterfly’s internalized racism, and in doing so rejects the power of Western nations, which have historically relied on assumptions of white supremacy to excuse the abuse of foreign countries through imperialism.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
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Marc reappears, playing the role of Sharpless. He has been sent to tell Butterfly that Pinkerton will never be returning. Gallimard describes Butterfly’s insistence that she would rather kill herself than rejoin Japanese society. Butterfly presents Sharpless with Pinkerton’s baby. Shocked by the news that Butterfly and Pinkerton have a child together, and unsure how to handle the situation, Sharpless runs offstage. Gallimard continues his narration, saying that after three years of waiting, Butterfly finally spots an American ship in the harbor, and dons her wedding dress, believing her husband will be returning to her soon.
Butterfly is hopeful against all odds: she believes Pinkerton will honor his commitment to her and return to care for their child, and trusts that he is a better man at heart than his actions suggest. Here the play presents the hallmark of an “ideal woman”—at least in Gallimard’s eyes—as being that she continues to believe the best about her man, even when all evidence suggests her faith is misplaced.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Comrade Chin, still playing the role of Suzuki, helps Butterfly, played by Song, change into her wedding dress. At the same time, Gallimard’s wife, Helga, enters and begins to help Gallimard change from his grim prison clothes into a tuxedo. As he changes, Gallimard explains to his audience that he married Helga, not out of love, but to advance his career. Knowing he would never win the love of a “fantasy woman,” he says, he settled for an advantageous match with the daughter of a diplomat. Gallimard tells his audience that he was faithful to Helga for eight years after their marriage, but admits that he always wanted a beautiful woman. All men want this, he says, and ugly men want it most of all.
The history of Gallimard’s relationship with Helga shows how disappointing and lonely his life was before meeting Song: certain he would never find real love, he settled for a passionless marriage that did nothing to sooth his desire for something grander. Though he is not someone who inspires great sympathy, Gallimard is clearly not a villain — he may espouse problematic ideas about, for example, the proper relationship between men and women, but he is not outright malicious.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Adjusting his tuxedo as Song finishes changing into her wedding dress, Gallimard tells the audience that his fidelity to Helga ended the day he saw “her” — by which he means Song — at the home of the German ambassador in Peking, singing the death scene from Madame Butterfly.
The conversation in Scene 2 has already revealed that Song — who in the last lines of this scene is revealed as the person with whom Gallimard had his notorious affair — is really a man. Still, Gallimard refers to Song as “she,” and the stage directions for the majority of the play do the same. The audience is supposed to see Song the way Gallimard did (and still does) even as they maintain some critical distance from his story.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon