M. Butterfly

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M. Butterfly Act 2, Scene 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Toulon appears onstage, and Gallimard goes to meet him. Toulon is not in Gallimard and Song’s apartment — the ensuing conversation takes place in the French embassy — but Song watches them from beside the couch while they speak, as though she is listening in on their private conversation.
The physical configuration of this scene is the first clear hint that Song is more shrewd and intelligent than Gallimard believes. He believes her to be blinded by admiration, but she is clearly observing him with her own purposes in mind. The scene implies that what Toulon is telling Gallimard, Song has manipulated Gallimard into telling her through her fawning proclamations of how impressed she is by his important job.
Themes
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Toulon is telling Gallimard that the Americans have made plans to begin bombing Vietnam. Since there is no American embassy in China, Toulon says, military leaders have asked the French embassy to send reports on the Chinese people’s opinions about the American government and their actions in Vietnam. Gallimard tells Toulon that the Chinese will protest if bombing begins, but assures him that, in their hearts, they don’t support the Vietnamese president, Ho Chi Minh.
Gallimard’s characterization of the Chinese is extremely patronizing — he believes they cannot be taken at their word regarding their own political opinions, assuring Toulon that their protests do not reflect their true feelings. He is willing to ignore all evidence to support his belief that the Chinese want Western rule as much as the Westerners want to exert their power. He sees the Chinese/Western dynamic as being the same as the Song/Gallimard dynamic (though of course his Orientalist viewpoint makes him misunderstand both dynamics disastrously).
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Toulon complains about the American’s swooping in to seize control over Vietnam, when they refused to help the French defend their colonial authority there during the Indochina War. Gallimard tells Toulon that the French lost in Indochina because they didn’t have the will to win. He says the “Orientals” want to build connections with people who are strong and powerful.
Just as Toulon once connected leadership with displays of masculine self-confidence and aggression, Gallimard treats military action in Asia as an opportunity for Westerners to assert themselves as the strong — and therefore, masculine — leaders through a show of brute force.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Toulon makes a joke about Gallimard’s intimate knowledge of the Chinese, and reveals that he has heard rumors about Gallimard and his “native mistress.” He seems unperturbed, and even admits to being impressed by Gallimard’s affair.
By making a joke about Gallimard’s private life, Toulon invites him into a casual, friendly intimacy outside their professional relationship – they are two boys being boys.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
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Toulon asks Gallimard again for “inside” information about Chinese popular opinion of the West. Gallimard tells him that the Chinese miss the period of Western influence before the Revolution, and mentions their longing for “cappuccinos” and “men in tuxedos.” Asian people want “the good things” Westerners can provide for them, he tells Toulon. He says Americans will gain Vietnamese support if they “demonstrate the will to win,” and assures Toulon that “Orientals will always submit to a greater force.”
Gallimard believes so ardently in the superiority of the West that he cannot imagine Asian people wanting anything other than to have a Western-style life. He repurposes comments Song made in one of their earliest conversations to make his point, illustrating how little he knows about the Chinese outside of their relationship. His characterization of Asian people as submissive, always ready to accept domination by a greater force, frames the relationships between Western and Asian nations in gendered terms, with Asia acting as the helpless woman and the West, as always, playing the role of the strong and forceful man.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
As Toulon prepares to leave, Gallimard asks him how many people have heard the rumors about his affair. Toulon assures him nobody in the embassy will betray his secret, because they all have secrets of their own. After Toulon leaves, Gallimard tells his audience that he was learning, more and more, the benefits of being a man — one of which, he says, is the freedom to pal around with other men and “celebrate the fact that we’re still boys.”
Though men are given power to make decisions that change the world, Gallimard observes how they revel in acting like “boys,” shirking responsibility in their personal lives and doing what they please without worrying about consequences. Though the patriarchal society assumes women are not smart or mature enough to lead, men are trusted with serious roles even when they prove that they are not smart or mature.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Comrade Chin appears onstage. Gallimard, distressed, turns to Song — who has been sitting quietly onstage this whole time — and asks why Chin has to come into the story. Song dismisses Gallimard’s protests, saying the audience cannot understand the story without Chin. Gallimard tells his audience that they are about to learn the reason he has become an object of ridicule for so many people. He begs the audience to try and see things from his point of view, then exits the stage.
Song is not literally sitting in Gallimard’s cell with him; she is a figment of his imagination. Still, he is forced to capitulate when she insists on bringing Comrade Chin into the story. Though Gallimard has maintained total control over his story until this point, he cannot hide from the truth — deceiving himself and his audience — indefinitely.
Themes
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon