Gallimard, still in his cell, tells his audience he has become “the patron saint of the socially inept.” He calls the party guests foolish, and says the men should be begging to learn his secrets. This is because he has known the love of “the Perfect Woman.” Gallimard tells his audience that he spends his days in prison thinking about this woman, trying to imagine an alternate ending for their story: one where she returns to him, and where his audience comes not only to understand, but to envy him.
By declaring his male lover to be “the Perfect Woman,” Gallimard introduces complex questions about womanhood: not only what makes a woman perfect, but what a “woman” really is. These lines also introduce the centrality of narrative and imagination to Gallimard’s life. He believes that sharing his story will give him a chance to revise it in the most dramatic ways: to regain the love he has lost, and force those who mock him to feel as he does about the relationship.
Gallimard tells his audience 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 goes by the name Butterfly. Then, he introduces the opera’s hero: a sailor in the United States Navy named Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. Gallimard describes Pinkerton as a stupid, cowardly “wimp.” As the opera begins, he says, Pinkerton has just bought a house in Japan, and bought Cio-Cio-San as his wife — all for about sixty-six cents in US currency. As he speaks, Gallimard removes a navy cap from one of the crates in his cell and puts it on his head, becoming the character of Pinkerton. A man appears onstage to play the character of Sharpless, another American in Puccini’s opera. Stage directions note that Sharpless should be played by the same actor who plays Marc, a character audiences have not yet met.
Though Puccini’s heroine is the focus and namesake of the opera, the opening lines in Gallimard’s reenactment reveal his personal fascination with Pinkerton. Although he is clearly not designed to be a sympathetic character, Gallimard clearly feels some affinity with the “wimp” sailor — he demonstrates this when he puts on Pinkerton’s cap and assumes the role for himself in the reenactment. The deliberate use of people from Gallimard’s own life in the reenactment — his decision to introduce Marc as himself, for example, rather than bringing him on as an anonymous actor — shows how Gallimard feels his own life entangled with the story of Madame Butterfly.
Playing the roles of Pinkerton and Sharpless, Gallimard and Marc paraphrase a conversation from Puccini’s opera. While the opera is written in elegant, early twentieth-century Italian, the two men speak like crude, brutish modern Americans. Pinkerton refers to “impressing chicks,” hanging a disco ball in his traditional Japanese house, and buying Cio-Cio-San “nylons” as consolation when he returns home to St. Louis. Pinkerton tells Sharpless he is only marrying Cio-Cio-San temporarily, and has no plans to bring her along when he leaves Japan. Sharpless disapproves, but Pinkerton dismisses his concerns.
Gallimard paraphrases Pinkerton’s lines to highlight the sailor’s lack of sophistication and respect. Pinkerton does not appreciate his new wife or his beautiful Japanese home, but he admires cheap trinkets like nylons and disco balls. Pinkerton clearly does not consider Cio-Cio-San to be a human being worthy of moral consideration; he plans to abandon her without regard for how this might affect her life. For this reason, he exemplifies the dehumanizing forces of sexism and racism.
Gallimard, speaking as himself again, introduces the actor playing Sharpless as Marc, his friend from school. In Puccini’s opera, Gallimard notes, Sharpless provides a sensitive and level-headed contrast to Pinkerton’s narcissistic womanizing. In life, however, Gallimard claims his friendship with Marc had the opposite dynamic: that he was the gentle one while Marc was the “cad.”
Though Gallimard implicitly likens himself to Pinkerton by assuming his role, he does not want his audience to see him as crass and selfish in the way Pinkerton is. He introduces Marc as a foil, someone whose womanizing ways will make Gallimard look kind and sympathetic to his audience.