M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly Act 2, Scene 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is 1966. Gallimard explains to his audience how a series of influential events completely altered the life of Westerners in Asia. As Chairman Mao grew older, he tells them, the Chinese Communist Party came under new leadership, and the government grew even more extreme and violent. He and Song were enemies of the state, because his wealth and her opera fame both ran counter to the values of the Communist Party. At the same time, the American war in Vietnam emerged as a startling failure: millions of dollars were being spent to kill Vietnamese Communists, but there was no sign that the Vietnamese would relent in their resistance to American invasion.
The turmoil in Vietnam and China is evidence of increasing anti-Western sentiment among Asian people. Gallimard predicted that the Vietnamese would welcome domination by stronger Western powers, but the failure of American troops to win Vietnamese cooperation or overpower guerilla forces shows that he dramatically overestimated both the West’s appeal and its strength. The Cultural Revolution — an aggressive re-assertion of Communist values that began in the late 1960s and sought to cleanse China of the influence of Western capitalism and decadence — revealed hatred for the West and its values, which Gallimard and his peers never recognized.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Toulon appears onstage, and informs Gallimard he is being sent back to France because his poor predictions about the war in Vietnam are a sign of bad judgment. Gallimard tries to persuade Toulon to let him stay in China, insisting the situation in Vietnam will improve soon, but Toulon refuses to change his mind.
Gallimard clings to hope that the tide will turn in Vietnam, restoring him to a position of respect in the embassy, even when years of war have made it apparent that this will never happen. He deludes himself because the alternative is too deeply distressing to confront.
Themes
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Two dancers drag Song onto the stage and mime beating her. She is wearing male clothing, distinctly Chinese in style. Gallimard tells his audience that they said a hurried goodbye before he returned to France, but that he doesn’t want to talk about that parting. He leaves the stage. The dancers who beat Song mock the Chinese opera by caricaturing its characteristic acrobatics. Song kneels, watching them. Comrade Chin appears onstage holding a banner, which reads: “The Actor Renounces His Decadent Profession!”
The pantomime of the dancers communicates the hardship that Song endures as a result of the Cultural Revolution. As an actor, Song is an object of ridicule and target for abuse among the Communists who consider the arts unnecessary and immoral. The violence of the dancers suggests that Song does not renounce his life as an actor voluntarily, but must comply with Communist values under threat of physical harm.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Comrade Chin forces Song to respond to a series of humiliating questions. She claims that Song has been oppressing China’s poor farmers, scorning their labor while living in luxury. Song confesses that her — or rather, his — decadent lifestyle was possible because Song made himself “a plaything for the imperialist.” He admits to engaging in anal intercourse with one of China’s enemies — Gallimard — and says his “perversions” brought shame to China. When Chin asks what Song wants to do next, Song cries out three times: “I want to serve the people!” The dancers now display a banner that reads: “The Actor is Re-Habilitated!” Song remains kneeling before Chin while the dancers perform a victory dance to Chinese music.
This dialogue makes it clear that Song did not seduce Gallimard out of a simple desire to help China by stealing secrets. Song is a homosexual man; this combined with the fact of his affair with a hated Western government official (even if he was put up to that affair by the Chinese security state), makes him despicable in the eyes of the Communists. Although Song’s deception makes him seem like a staunch supporter of the Chinese government, in reality he is an outcast in his native society and doing what he must to survive. Renouncing his sexuality and profession is the only chance for Song to regain social acceptance and relief from the kind of physical abuse suggested by the “beating” he received from the dancers.
Themes
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
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