M. Butterfly


David Henry Hwang

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M. Butterfly: Act 1, Scene 12 Summary & Analysis

The same day he receives Song’s heartbroken letter, Gallimard attends a party at the home of Monsieur Toulon, another French diplomat and Gallimard’s superior at the embassy. Toulon pulls Gallimard aside for a private conversation. He tells Gallimard that he always liked him because, although he was never a leader, he was always “tidy and efficient.” Toulon then reveals that the French government is changing its approach to diplomacy with China; after the embarrassment of losing their colonies in Indochina, officials have decided to devote more effort to gathering information about the Chinese people.
Toulon’s comments introduce the relationship between international political issues and the private dramas of ego, and self-presentation. Losing Indochina embarrasses France (or, rather, the people who represent France at the level of government), and Toulon makes it clear that the ego wounds those men suffer will influence major political decisions. Imperialism is a matter of pride and image as much as anything else, Toulon makes clear.
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Toulon reveals that Gallimard’s boss, Vice-Consul LeBon, will be transferred out of China as a result of this shift in the French government’s diplomatic priorities. Gallimard is certain that Toulon is planning to transfer him as well, and thinks this must be God’s way of punishing him for mistreating Song — taking away the woman he failed to appreciate. To his great surprise, however, Toulon announces that he wants Gallimard to take LeBon’s place as vice-consul. Rather than being transferred, Gallimard is being promoted.
Being transferred out of China would likely mean Gallimard would never see Song again. Along with the surprise of his promotion, this exchange also brings to light the surprising degree of affection Gallimard has developed for Song. He assumes his punishment is the pain of losing the woman he cares for, rather than the shame and stress of losing a prestigious job — this shows that he values Song more highly than his elite position.
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Toulon tells Gallimard that, had this shift happened a year earlier, he would have lost his job. The decision to promote him, Toulon says, is a result of a the unusual confidence and assertiveness Gallimard has displayed in recent months. He offers congratulations and walks offstage. Gallimard addresses his audience, telling them this was the night he realized that “God is a man.” God has always allowed men to dominate women, and has excused sins in men while doling out horrible punishments to women. Toulon’s admiration taught him that this was “the way of the world.”
Toulon credits Gallimard’s uncharacteristically masculine behavior with winning him the promotion to vice-consul, and in doing so draws a direct line between masculinity and authority. Gallimard has not talked much about God before this scene, so his sudden insistence that God is behind his triumph and wants him to succeed illustrates his new and growing conviction that male supremacy is the correct and natural order of the world.
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon