Gallimard begins the scene in his apartment with Song, his head in her lap. He explains how he and “Butterfly” passed three years of their affair in Beijing, meeting in the apartment to have sex and talk about his life. Butterfly was a passionate listener, he says, which is a rare quality in a woman.
Gallimard’s relationship with Song, now Butterfly, is about his loneliness and shaky sense of self, as much as it is about lust or the desire to feel power over another person. His need to be listened to reveals his deeper need to feel valuable.
Helga appears onstage. She informs Gallimard that she has visited a doctor to talk about their difficulties conceiving a child, and that the doctor found “nothing wrong” with her. She asks Gallimard to see the doctor himself. Gallimard is insulted by the suggestion that he may be infertile, but Helga urges him to visit the doctor anyway. She reminds him that time is running out — soon, she will not be able to conceive a child.
Gallimard’s cold response to Helga is a sign their marriage is suffering. Gallimard shows little concern for Helga’s feelings, and seems to be more invested in protecting himself from insult than in conceiving a child — in fact, it is not even clear he wants to have a child with Helga.
Returning to Song, Gallimard complains about the humiliation of not being able to conceive a child with Helga. Song insists that the problem is with Helga, not Gallimard. Song tells Gallimard that she wants to bear his child. Gallimard tells his audience that he didn’t see the doctor Helga recommended — no man would do such a thing under the circumstances.
Song implies that men who cannot conceive children are not real men. Her insistence that Gallimard cannot be the problem is both a way of stroking his ego — implying that he is too masculine to be infertile — and of making him fear the doctor’s tests, lest the results prove he is not a real man. Song’s comments also construct Helga as an enemy, determined to emasculate her husband.