M. Butterfly


David Henry Hwang

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M. Butterfly: Act 1, Scene 10 Summary & Analysis

As the scene opens, Gallimard recounts how he went to the Peking Opera every week for fifteen weeks in a row following that first encounter with Song. After each performance, he says, she would indulge him in fifteen or twenty minutes of conversation — but never anything more. Still, he felt confident that she had a special interest in him, and believed her boldness was just a mask for the characteristic “Oriental” shyness in her heart.
Gallimard constructs his idea of Song based, not on the evidence of her actions, but on his preconceived notions about how Asian women — and Song in particular, around whom he has built so many expectations — should feel in the presence of white men. Convinced he is entitled to Song’s love, he is prepared to believe she loves him regardless of evidence.
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
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On this night, Gallimard has finally been invited to Song’s apartment. Waiting for Song to change her clothes, he picked up a framed photograph. Song appears behind him, dressed in a European-style evening gown from the 1920s. She tells him the man in the photograph was her father, who died before the Communists came to power. She adds that the timing of his death was good because, during the Revolution, Communists forced men like him to kneel on broken glass. He would have deserved such a punishment, she says, but it would have pained her to see him that way nonetheless.
Song’s comments about her father allude to their difficult relationship and her fraught personal history. She refers to the troubles of the Communist Revolution, offering a glimpse into the hardship she suffered during that time, and when she remarks that her father would have deserved the punishment of the Communists, she hints that he was not a good person. Her emotional fragility comes out in these remarks as never before.
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Song realizes that Gallimard has not been served tea. She calls her servant, Shu-Fang, to bring some out, apologizing unnecessarily profusely for the oversight. Song seems disoriented: she apologizes over and over, giggles inexplicably, and calls herself “silly.” All this makes Gallimard laugh, and he scolds Song gently for acting so strangely. When the tea arrives, Song tells Shu-Fang that she will pour it herself. She admits to Gallimard that she is somewhat afraid of the scandal that could arise from her entertaining him in her home.
While Song has always been cool and collected — in command of herself and the situation — in their previous meetings, she now seems just as nervous and flustered as Gallimard was during their first conversation. This gives Gallimard control over their dynamic, which he has never had before. His laughter and mild scolding show that he is at ease in Song’s home, that he enjoys this feeling of power.
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Gallimard does not understand how his presence in Song’s parlor, which would bother nobody in France, could cause a scandal in China. The difference, Song says, is that France is a modern country, ahead of the rest of the world, while China is stuck two thousands years in the past. Even pouring tea for Gallimard, she insists, has “implications.”
Song criticizes China in the same terms Gallimard used in his conversation with Helga. She depicts Chinese society as being stifling and regressive, while subtly praising France for its progressive ideas. This cements her long transition from the rabid anti-imperialist to a woman who admires and envies the European lifestyle.
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
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When Gallimard compliments her evening gown, Song gets flustered. She tells Gallimard she is not herself. Though she tries to behave like a modern Western woman, Song confesses, she is just a timid, modest Chinese girl in her heart. She tells Gallimard she has never invited a man into her home before, and begs him to leave her until she can compose herself.
When Song confesses that her boldness has been an act — that her natural inclination is to be modest and timid — she confirms all Gallimard’s suspicions about her secret “Oriental” nature. Although she can disguise the influence of her race and culture, her confession seems to suggest, her personality has been pre-determined by these forces, and she cannot escape their influence.
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
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Before he leaves, Gallimard tells Song that he likes her just as she is at that moment. To his audience, he notes how Song’s way of talking about Western women has changed — whereas she once seemed dismissive of them, she now seems to feel inferior to both those women and Gallimard himself.
When Gallimard tells Song he likes her the way she is, he implies that he prefers this shy nervousness to the confident, sensual behavior Song usually displays. He would rather be with (and dominate) a meek girl than a self-possessed adult woman.
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon