M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly Act 1, Scene 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the wake of his surprising experience at Song’s apartment, Gallimard tells his audience, he devised an experiment: he worked late hours instead of going to the Peking 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 its hearts with a needle and leave it to die in agony. Gallimard says he wondered whether he had the power to make Song suffer in the same way. Knowing she was waiting for him to call, he says, and that he was refusing her that pleasure, gave him his first taste of what he calls “the absolute power of a man.”
Gallimard has already drawn connections between masculinity and domination — using the bodies of women in pornographic magazines was his initiation into the world of adult men — but he now ties masculinity more explicitly to suffering. Rather than simply controlling Song, he needs to assert his masculinity further by causing her pain. Though Gallimard is only interested in causing Song emotional pain, the image of the Butterfly on the needle evokes the physical violence often associated with masculinity.
Themes
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Marc, dressed as a bureaucrat, appears onstage next to Gallimard. He is holding a stack of papers, which he hands one-by-one to Gallimard, who peruses and stamps them, pantomiming office work. Marc catches Gallimard’s attention. It is clear that he is not really in the office, but is rather a figment of Gallimard’s imagination — a memory who continues to influence Gallimard’s behavior. Gallimard says that he hears Marc’s voice everywhere.
Marc acts as the voice of a patriarchal society, coaching Gallimard as he learns to act in conventionally masculine ways. The fact that he exists entirely in Gallimard’s head—since the entire play in fact occurs in Gallimard’s mind in his prison cell — shows he has harbored these beliefs for a long time, despite never acting on them. He does not need the influence of a chauvinist to convince him to behave the way he does.
Themes
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Marc asks whether Gallimard remembers a girl named Isabelle. It turns out that this girl was Gallimard’s first sexual partner, and that Marc — who, it seems, was having sex with Isabelle himself during this period — arranged an encounter between her and Gallimard one night when they were still in high school. Gallimard remembers Isabelle’s rough, dominant sexual style: she assumed the superior position, and screamed for no apparent reason throughout their encounter. On the whole, Gallimard remembers the experience as being underwhelming, and Marc admits that Isabelle was “kind of a lousy lay.” Still, Gallimard thanks Marc for arranging it.
Gallimard’s first sexual experience was disappointing because of Isabelle’s antics — the unnecessary, ridiculous screaming — but also because their exchanged lacked intimacy, pleasure, or mutual consideration. Further, he lacked any sort of power, with Isabelle clearly the more dominant. Gallimard is grateful not to have been left behind by his more sexually experienced friends, but what he craved from women was clearly more emotional than physical, and connected to some kind of self-affirmation for him
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Gallimard explains how, after he had been absent from the opera for six weeks, he began to receive letters from Song. In her first letter, she asks him to come back to the opera and jokes that her audience misses their “foreign devil.” Gallimard dismisses the letter as being too “dignified,” and does not answer. In her second letter, Song seems hurt and vulnerable; still Gallimard ignores her, because he does not like that she refers to him as her “friend” in the letter. In her third, after Gallimard has been absent from the opera for seven weeks, Song upbraids him for his rudeness and tells him she will have him turned away at the door if he tries to attend the opera. Gallimard does nothing.
Gallimard is clearly looking for something very specific in Song’s reaction to his absence. He wants her to feel and think a certain way, not only about him, but about herself: to call him something more charged than a friend, and to desire his approval enough to appear humble rather than dignified. Gallimard is using negative reinforcement—his silence and implicit rejection — to groom Song into his perfect woman. (Of course, at the same time Song is in fact grooming Gallimard by playing this role that Gallimard wants)
Themes
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
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After eight weeks of silence and absence, Gallimard receives a seemingly heartbroken letter from Song. In the letter, she writes: “I can hide behind dignity no longer. What do you want? I have already given you my shame.” Gallimard sees that his experiment has been a success — like the butterfly Cio-Cio-San imagines, Song is totally at his mercy — but he feels tremendously guilty for tormenting her. He feels certain that God will punish him for abusing his male power, and senses that the punishment will happen that very night.
Gallimard has big ideas about harnessing “the absolute power of a man,” but he still believes in basic moral codes and consequences — unlike Marc, who encourages him to act with impunity wherever women are concerned. When Song says that she has given Gallimard her “shame,” she speaks to an idea that her longing for Gallimard is stronger than her self-respect, which is exactly what Gallimard wants.
Themes
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon