M. Butterfly

Pdf fan dd71f526917d6085d66d045bd94fb5b55d02a108dd45d836cbdd4abe2d4c043d Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)

Madame Butterfly Symbol Analysis

Madame Butterfly Symbol Icon
Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated 1904 opera, tells the story of a disastrous marriage between a beautiful, vulnerable Japanese woman named Cio-Cio-San — also called Butterfly — and a callow American sailor named Benjamin Pinkerton. Madame Butterfly is Gallimard’s favorite opera, not only because he finds the tragic story profoundly compelling, but because the opera is inextricably intertwined with his relationship with Song. He sees Song for the first time playing the role of Cio-Cio-San, calls her by the pet name “Butterfly,” and speaks to her in their most intimate moments using lines from the opera. Madame Butterfly becomes a shared language for Song and Gallimard. Song understands that Cio-Cio-San’s gentleness and devotion to her husband represents a feminine ideal to Gallimard, and the two of them build their relationship around a mutual commitment to that ideal. However, as the narrative progresses and it becomes increasingly clear that the relationship between Song and Gallimard is founded on self-serving lies rather than sincere love, the centrality of the opera to their story becomes less romantic and more tragic. Like Madame Butterfly, the relationship Gallimard cherishes is only a story — it does not reflect reality. That he continues to return to the language and imagery of the opera regardless of this fact reveals Gallimard’s enduring commitment to the fantasy he and Song have constructed together.

Madame Butterfly Quotes in M. Butterfly

The M. Butterfly quotes below all refer to the symbol of Madame Butterfly. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Plume edition of M. Butterfly published in 1989.
Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

But as she glides past him, beautiful, laughing softly behind her fan, don’t we who are men sigh with hope? We, who are not handsome, not brave, nor powerful, yet somehow believe, like Pinkerton, that we deserve a Butterfly.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

In the retelling of Madame Butterfly, Song appears onstage to play Cio-Cio-San. In this quote, Gallimard revels at her beauty, and notes that she is a fantasy that every man believes he deserves.

Though Gallimard condemns Pinkerton's actions towards Cio-Cio-San, he does not condemn the idea that every man--no matter how mediocre--deserves to dominate his fantasy woman. In the case of Gallimard's story, and also in the case of the opera, this is deeply tied into the colonialist perspective, wherein the West is seen as intrinsically dominant over the submissive East. When coupled with sexual politics, it leads to this philosophy that even the least-assertive Western man has, and deserves, sexual and political dominance over an intrinsically submissive Eastern woman. This is the philosophy that Gallimard essentially lives by, and is the reason that he refuses to acknowledge Song is a man: she is the Eastern woman he was destined to call his own, and he cannot fathom the concept that he was not given the chance to play out his true fantasy.

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other M. Butterfly quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Act 1, Scene 6 Quotes

It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? the submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man … Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde homecoming queen feel in love with a short Japanese businessman? He treats her cruelly, then goes home for three years, during which time she prays to his picture and turns down marriage from a young Kennedy. Then, when she learns he has remarried, she kills herself. Now, I believe you would consider this girl to be a deranged idiot, correct? But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner — ah! — you find it beautiful.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

The fist time Gallimard meets Song, he mentions that he finds Cio-Cio-San's sacrifice for love at the end of Madame Butterfly to be beautiful. In this quote, Song vehemently disagrees, pointing out that he would find the plot to the opera completely ridiculous and implausible if the nationalities of Pinkerton and Madame Butterfly were reversed. Gallimard's belief that the sacrifice is beautiful, Song points out, is due to his racist and sexist Western viewpoint.

Gallimard, as a man who has not presented as a traditionally masculine Western man, does not believe himself to be racist or sexist since he has not reaped the rewards that someone like Pinkerton has. Here, however, Song points out that his point of view is intrinsically racist and sexist simply because he is Western, and the idea that Eastern women are submissive and powerless to the pull of a Western man is completely a Western invention. Song, like this "blond homecoming queen," has her own mind and ambitions, something that most Western men completely ignore as they project their fantasies onto women they deem as interchangeable and their passing playthings. As a French man, Gallimard has never been challenged to this extent by a woman, let alone a Chinese woman, whom he implicitly believes to be inferior to him. It is this challenge--and yet her subsequent revelation that she is seemingly powerless to his charms--that makes him obsessed with the idea that Song is the Perfect Woman that he deserves.

Act 1, Scene 13 Quotes

Are you my Butterfly?

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

After receiving a promotion, Gallimard heads to Song's apartment to see her after eight weeks. Though she at first seems angry at him, Gallimard reminds her of the words she wrote to him--that she has "given him her shame"--and in this quote, asks her if she will be the Madame Butterfly to his Pinkerton.

Despite the fact that Song previously scorned the story of Madame Butterfly as an East vs. West colonialist fantasy, both Song and Gallimard here play into their respective roles in the narrative--Gallimard as the egotistical Pinkerton, and Song as the sacrificial Butterfly. In asking Song if she is his Butterfly, Gallimard is asking her to sacrifice everything for him, despite the fact that he has treated her poorly. In asking her to play this role, Gallimard is implying that he will be her Pinkerton--her shining Western knight, yet also one who feels less than tethered to their "marriage." When Song agrees that she is Gallimard's Butterfly, Gallimard realizes that he has walked right into the fantasy he has always wanted.

Act 2, Scene 7 Quotes

Miss Chin? Why, in the Peking Opera, are women’s roles played by men? … Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Comrade Chin
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Chin visits to follow up on Song's gathering of classified information from Gallimard. Before she leaves, Song asks her why she thinks the Peking Opera might cast men in all roles, including the roles of women. Miss Chin theorizes that it is a remnant of patriarchal China, but in this quote, Song refutes her guess and says it is because "only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act."

Song's seduction of Gallimard works because she acts as the Perfect Woman--that is, not a real woman. She is submissive to Gallimard's every whim, and grows only more attached to him the more cruelly he treats her. Few real women would act this way--hence the implausibility of Madame Butterfly--yet it is the masculine fantasy to have a woman who submits to these stereotypes, as the converse of such fantasies is the reinforcement of the cruel, dominant man as the Perfect Man. Here, Song reasons that men play the parts of women because they are not real women, but rather the fantasies of male composers and librettists, understood only by male actors who submit to the same stereotypes. Thus, Song, as a man, is perfectly cast for the role of the Perfect Woman. 

Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

I have a vision. Of the Orient. That, deep within its almond eyes, there are still women. Women willing to sacrifice themselves for the love of a man. Even a man whose love is completely without worth.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Gallimard continues to speak about his "vision of the Orient" as he transforms into Butterfly. In this quote, he tells the audience that he still envisions a "perfect Orient" in which men and women are in their traditional places, according to the sentiments put forth by Madame Butterfly

As previously stated, Gallimard now considers himself to be a woman, since his experience with Song has "feminized" him. In the fantasy world that he has chosen to live in, the men around Gallimard are woefully inadequate but desired by women, and the women choose to sacrifice their lives rather than sacrifice the illusions of their perfect men. Gallimard thus chooses a world in which illusions trump reality, and in which sexist and racist stereotypes are not the stuff of colonial politics but the fluff of dreams. This is the world that Gallimard wants to live in, and it is the world that will ultimately bring him to his death. 

The love of a Butterfly can withstand many things — unfaithfulness, loss, even abandonment. But how can it face the one sin that implies all others? The devastating knowledge that, underneath it all, the object of her love was nothing more, nothing less than … a man.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

Gallimard continues to soliloquize to the audience, wearing the Butterfly costume. In this quote, he posits that the most devastating thing a "Butterfly" can come to realize is that the person she loves is nothing more than a normal man.

In this quote, Gallimard finally admits that the person he deemed to be his Perfect Woman was really a normal, and rather sinister, man. Song used Gallimard for French political secrets, and in return, Gallimard believed he was reaping the rewards he always deserved as a Western man. Here, Gallimard posits that he believes one of the worst things a person can be is "nothing more, nothing less than...a man." Gallimard is coming to the realization that to be human is to err, and is to have wants and desires that are not fulfilled. Sometimes, a person is just a person--not someone to fulfill a destiny or a fantasy. Song was just a person, with faults and secrets like everyone else. Gallimard, too, is just a normal human being who has some successes and failures, but who lets his failures completely overcome him. He is nothing more or less than a man, a male human, just like Song. Neither of them are particularly special or star-crossed--they are just human. It is this lack of speciality in his life that emotionally and figuratively kills Gallimard. 

My name is Rene Gallimard — also known as Madame Butterfly.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

At the conclusion of the play, Gallimard is finally in full Madame Butterfly regalia. He is given a hara kiri knife by the dancers, and speaks this quote before plunging it into his body and killing himself. 

Onstage, Song is depicted in men's clothing, while Gallimard is dressed as Butterfly, completing the reversal--Song as Pinkerton, Gallimard as Butterfly. The only world in which Gallimard is happy is one in which he is special according to the tenants of his fantasy, where he loved and is loved purely to the point that he is willing to sacrifice his life for love. Deep down he knows that his fantasy has been an illusion, as has the last two decades of his life. Unable to bear the truth, he decides to fulfill his sacrifice and complete his transformation into Butterfly, performing the end of the opera--this time in reality, not fantasy, by killing himself in ritual Japanese fashion. The suicide is the one aspect of his life Gallimard realizes he has complete control over, and he seizes this control to overcome the manipulations and realities that he can no longer bear. 

Get the entire M. Butterfly LitChart as a printable PDF.
M butterfly.pdf.medium

Madame Butterfly Symbol Timeline in M. Butterfly

The timeline below shows where the symbol Madame Butterfly appears in M. Butterfly. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
...are replaced by European music: the famous “Love Duet” from Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated 1904 opera, Madame Butterfly . Gallimard approaches Song, who dances on and does not notice him. He says two... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...they cannot understand his story until they understand the story of his favorite opera: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly . He introduces the heroine of the opera, a Japanese woman named Cio-Cio-San, who also... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...— at the home of the German ambassador in Peking, singing the death scene from Madame Butterfly . (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
...still dressed in the wedding costume from the previous scene, sings the death scene from Madame Butterfly — rather than playing the character, she now plays herself, an actress performing for Western... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
...himself trying to answer Song’s accusatory comment, Song asks him to imagine his reaction if Madame Butterfly were about a “blonde homecoming queen” who falls in love with a “short Japanese businessman.”... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song tells Gallimard she will never perform Madame Butterfly again. She suggests that if he wants to see “real theatre,” he should attend a... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 7
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Helga says she is sorry to have missed Madame Butterfly that night, and expresses her appreciation for Puccini’s music. Gallimard tells her the Chinese hate... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 11
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
...Opera, and refrained from calling Song or writing to her. He recalls an image from Madame Butterfly , in which Cio-Cio-San worries that a white man who catches a butterfly will pierce... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Gallimard, in his cell again, reads from a review of Madame Butterfly . The reviewer writes that Pinkerton is obnoxious and deserves to be kicked, then adds... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...makes a few critical, but lighthearted, comments about the child’s looks. Song quotes lines from Madame Butterfly : “What baby, I wonder, was ever born in Japan … With azure eyes …... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 11
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Song appears onstage, wearing the wedding kimono from Madame Butterfly . Gallimard notices her, but is convinced for a moment that she is an illusion.... (full context)