M. Butterfly

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M. Butterfly Act 3, Scene 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Song’s makeup is gone. He takes off his wig and steps out of his kimono, under which he wears a tailored business suit. Addressing the audience, he talks about his first days in Paris, sleeping in the doorways of Chinatown until a tailor agreed to make him a kimono on credit so he could present himself to Gallimard. In the fifteen years following their reunion, Song says, Gallimard provided “a very comfy life” for him and Peepee — welcome luxury after four years in a labor camp in rural China.
Song — who, now that he has permanently abandoned his disguise and appears as a man before the audience, is called “he” in stage directions — gives only a brief description of his arrival in Paris, but in doing so alerts the audience to the existence of an entirely different perspective on the story to which they have been listening, Song differentiates himself from Gallimard more completely than ever in these lines.
Themes
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
As Song tells his story, the scene changes. The same actor who plays Toulon appears onstage, wearing a judge’s robe and wig. He and Song sit next to each other. They are in a courtroom, and the year is 1986. Song is describing his activities as a spy for China, and Gallimard’s role in those activities. He tells the judge that he didn’t do much spying when he first arrived in Paris, because Gallimard no longer held a powerful diplomatic position. Eventually, Song tells the judge, he convinced Gallimard to take a position as a courier — a messenger charged with delivering sensitive government documents. He allowed Song access to these documents, and Song would deliver copies to the Chinese embassy in Paris. The judge asks whether Gallimard understood the seriousness of what was happening, and Song replies that it was enough for Gallimard to know that he needed access to the documents; he didn’t ask questions about what Song was doing with them.
That Toulon, whom Gallimard once trusted and felt respected by, plays the role of the judge in this exchange illustrates how the entire upper echelon on French society to which Gallimard once belonged has turned on him during his trial. While the partygoers at the start of the play represent his humiliation, the reappearance of Toulon in this guise speaks to his total social and political rejection. Song’s testimony reveals both the reason for Gallimard’s imprisonment, and his willful participation in the espionage of which he is accused. While Gallimard passed information about the Vietnam War out of naiveté, not believing Song savvy enough to misuse it, he gave Song sensitive documents without question, out of loyalty that surpassed his patriotism.
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
The judge asks Song whether Gallimard knew he was a man. Song answers that Gallimard never saw him completely naked, and that the nature of their sex life meant he seldom touched Song’s body with his hands. More important than deception, however, Song says, was the thorough understanding of the male mind he gained from his mother, a sex worker who serviced white men. He tells the judge that men will always believe things that please them, even if those things are ridiculous lies.
The invocation of Song’s mother, a member of an older generation who negotiated sexual encounters with white men during a period when Western colonialism in Asia was thriving, serves as a reminder of the long, troubled relationship between Asia and the West. While Song’s story is unusual, it’s only a small part of a sprawling narrative of contact and conflict between the two regions.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
To his first claim, Song adds that Western men become “confused” when they come into contact with Asian people and cultures. He argues that Westerners have a “rape mentality” with regard to Asia. In ordinary relations between men and women, a man might attempt to excuse sexual violence by claiming the woman he abused secretly wanted him to treat her that way — even if she protests. Song explains this reasoning succinctly as: “Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes.” In the same way men justify violent treatment of women, Western nations justify violence against Asian nations through stereotypes that suggest Asian people want to be dominated. Western men see Western countries as strong, powerful, and therefore masculine. By contrast, they see Asian countries as fragile, weak, and therefore feminine. They apply their beliefs about women to Asian people to excuse the gross exploitation of Asian countries.
Song describes connected systems of racism and sexism: because Western men disdain and mistreat women, they feel entitled to abuse nations they consider feminine. Stereotypes that emasculate Asian men are the foundation for justifying imperial violence against Asia, but these stereotypes wouldn’t justify such violence if white men did not think of women as subhuman creatures who exist for their pleasure, and who do not deserve agency over their own lives and bodies. The notion that women are unable to think for themselves translates, in imperial politics, into ignorant paternalism that masks (even to themselves) the imperial countries’ real, self-serving reasons for abusing and exploiting other nations.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
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Prompted by the judge, who does not understand how these comments relate to the success of the deception, Song offers a brief summary of his ideas: Gallimard convinced himself Song was a woman because he wanted to believe Song was a woman, and the fact that Song was Asian — a person whom stereotypes depict as feminine regardless of biological sex — he could not conceive of Song as a true man, even if he suspected Song may have had a male body. The judge dismisses these ideas as “armchair political theory.” Song tells him Westerners will always suffer in their political relationships with Asia as long as they refuse to acknowledge the impact of their racism and sexism.
In the final moments of his testimony, Song expresses a deep anger toward Westerners that has not been apparent at any other point. Though he negotiated complicated relationships to both his home country and his foreign lover, and seems to have taken on the work of a spy mainly to protect his own material interests, it becomes clear at this moment that Song also feels resentment toward the Westerners for having exploited his country, and relishes the idea of their receiving punishment in future failed dealings with Asia.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon