M. Butterfly

Song Liling Character Analysis

A male, homosexual Chinese opera singer who masquerades as a woman to gain access to Gallimard, then exploits their intimacy to collect classified information for agents of the Chinese Communist Party. Tremendously perceptive and intelligent, Song develops a profound understanding of Gallimard’s psychology that allows him to deceive and manipulate Gallimard. Specifically, he understands Gallimard’s desire for a particular kind of woman: beautiful, submissive, and unquestionably devoted to him. He performs the role of that fantasy woman, and in doing so possesses Gallimard’s love completely. Song serves the Communist Party mostly out of necessity; as an actor and a homosexual man, he is considered criminal by the Party’s doctrine and needs to ingratiate himself with Communist officials to prevent devastating punishment for his “crimes.” However, he also resents Westerners for their systemic abuse of Asian nations and people, and has no regrets about undermining the work of Western governments.

Song Liling Quotes in M. Butterfly

The M. Butterfly quotes below are all either spoken by Song Liling or refer to Song Liling. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Plume edition of M. Butterfly published in 1989.
Act 1, Scene 3 Quotes

You see? They toast me. I’ve become patron saint of the socially inept. Can they really be so foolish? Men like that — they should be scratching at my door, begging to learn my secrets! For I, Rene Gallimard, you see, I have known, and been loved by … the Perfect Woman.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 6 Quotes

It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? the submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man … Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde homecoming queen feel in love with a short Japanese businessman? He treats her cruelly, then goes home for three years, during which time she prays to his picture and turns down marriage from a young Kennedy. Then, when she learns he has remarried, she kills herself. Now, I believe you would consider this girl to be a deranged idiot, correct? But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner — ah! — you find it beautiful.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 9 Quotes

It’s an old story. It’s in our blood. They fear us, Rene. Their women fear us. And their men — their men hate us. And you know something? They are all correct.

Related Characters: Marc (speaker), Rene Gallimard, Song Liling
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 10 Quotes

In my heart, I know she has … an interest in me. I suspect this is her way. She is outwardly bold and outspoken, yet her heart is shy and afraid. It is the Oriental in her at war with her Western education.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

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Please. Hard as I try to be modern, to speak like a man, to hold a Western woman’s strong face up to my own … in the end, I fail. A small, frightened heart beats too quickly and gives me away. Monsieur Gallimard, I’m a Chinese girl.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 11 Quotes

I stopped going to the opera, I didn’t phone or write her. I knew this little flower was waiting for me to call, and, as I wickedly refused to do so, I felt for the first time that rush of power — the absolute power of a man.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

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I am out of words. I can hide behind dignity no longer. What do you want? I have already given you my shame.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 1, Scene 13 Quotes

Are you my Butterfly?

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 6 Quotes

It was her tears and her silence that excited me, every time I visited Renee.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling, Renee
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

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No, Rene. Don’t couch your request in sweet words. Be yourself — a cad — and know that my love is enough, that I submit — submit to the worst you can give me … Well, come. Strip me. Whatever happens, know that you have willed it. Our love, in your hands. I’m helpless before my man.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Did I not undress her because I knew, somewhere deep down, what I would find? Perhaps. Happiness is so rare that our mind can turn somersaults to protect it.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 7 Quotes

Miss Chin? Why, in the Peking Opera, are women’s roles played by men? … Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Comrade Chin
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 2, Scene 11 Quotes

This is the ultimate cruelty, isn’t it? That I can talk and talk and to anyone listening, it’s only air — too rich a diet to be swallowed by a mundane world. Why can’t anyone understand? That in China, I once loved, and was loved by, the Perfect Woman.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling, Marc
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 1 Quotes

Okay, Rule One is: Men always believe what they want to hear. So a girl can tell the most obnoxious lies and the guys will believe them every time — “This is my first time” — “That’s the biggest I’ve ever seen” — or both, which, if you really think about it, is not possible in a single lifetime.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

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The West has sort of an international rape mentality toward the East … Basically, “Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes.” The West thinks of itself as masculine — big guns, big industry, big money — so the East is feminine — weak, delicate, poor … but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom — the feminine mystique. Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes. The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated — because a woman can’t think for herself.

Related Characters: Song Liling (speaker), Rene Gallimard
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

You, if anyone, should know — I am pure imagination.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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Act 3, Scene 3 Quotes

My mistakes were simple and absolute — the man I loved was a cad, a bounder. He deserved nothing but a kick in the behind and instead I gave him … all my love … Love warped my judgment, blinded my eyes, rearranged the very lines on my face … until I could look into the mirror and see nothing but … a woman.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

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The love of a Butterfly can withstand many things — unfaithfulness, loss, even abandonment. But how can it face the one sin that implies all others? The devastating knowledge that, underneath it all, the object of her love was nothing more, nothing less than … a man.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Song Liling
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:

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Song Liling Character Timeline in M. Butterfly

The timeline below shows where the character Song Liling appears in M. Butterfly. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Scene 1
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
...music of the kind that might be performed at the Peking Opera. This woman is Song Liling. As the dance continues, the music changes. The traditional Chinese song and instruments are... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
...to Puccini’s opera, now focusing on the heroine, whom he calls Butterfly rather than Cio-Cio-San. Song appears onstage in the Butterfly costume, dancing to the opera’s “Love Duet.” Gallimard imagines the... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Comrade Chin, still playing the role of Suzuki, helps Butterfly, played by Song, change into her wedding dress. At the same time, Gallimard’s wife, Helga, enters and begins... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Adjusting his tuxedo as Song finishes changing into her wedding dress, Gallimard tells the audience that his fidelity to Helga... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
...the home of the German ambassador to China. Chairs are gathered around a stage where Song, still dressed in the wedding costume from the previous scene, sings the death scene from... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song finishes the death scene. The diplomats applaud and flock to her with congratulations. Gallimard tells... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Song breaks away from the diplomats and introduces herself to Gallimard. He is shocked to find... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Gallimard rushes to justify his comment, saying Song has helped him see the beauty of Butterfly’s death: that, though Pinkerton is not worthy... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
While Gallimard stumbles over himself trying to answer Song’s accusatory comment, Song asks him to imagine his reaction if Madame Butterfly were about a... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 7
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Gallimard tells Helga about his conversation with Song, whom he calls “the Chinese equivalent of a diva.” Helga is surprised to learn that... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 8
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
...of the Peking Opera for four weeks after his conversation with Helga. He wondered how Song became so “proud” —which is to say, confident and forthcoming about her opinions. Though cowardice... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song freezes, holding a pose, in the middle of her dance. The two dancers leave the... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
When Gallimard objects, laughing, to Song’s analysis of Western values, Song tells him he is too close to his own culture... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
As she and Gallimard walk through the streets of Beijing, Song wishes aloud that there were a café where they could drink cappuccinos and listen to... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song says Caucasian men have always been fascinated with Asian women. Gallimard reminds her of the... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 9
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...is jubilant, toasting Gallimard with expensive wine and encouraging him to pursue an affair with Song. Gallimard balks at the idea, reminding Marc that he is a married man. Marc tells... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Gallimard insists a romance with Song is impossible because he is a foreigner. Marc tells Gallimard that the taboo nature of... (full context)
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song appears onstage, wearing a sheer robe. Marc says Gallimard has spent his entire life waiting... (full context)
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...black and a phone rings next to Gallimard’s bed. When the lights come on again, Song is sitting in a chair with the phone pressed to her ear, wearing a robe.... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 10
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Song realizes that Gallimard has not been served tea. She calls her servant, Shu-Fang, to bring... (full context)
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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,... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 11
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 12
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The same day he receives Song’s heartbroken letter, Gallimard attends a party at the home of Monsieur Toulon, another French diplomat... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 13
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Gallimard arrives at Song’s apartment, having just left Toulon’s party. Song seems angry, but Gallimard pays no attention as... (full context)
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Gallimard asks Song again whether she is his “Butterfly.” She tells him she doesn’t want to answer. Gallimard... (full context)
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Gallimard tells Song that she has changed his life, and that she is the reason for his promotion.... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
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The scene opens with Gallimard sitting on a couch with Song curled up at his feet. Gallimard explains to his audience how, shortly after beginning their... (full context)
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Song is telling Gallimard that Chinese men keep their women down, and that the Communist government... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
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Toulon appears onstage, and Gallimard goes to meet him. Toulon is not in Gallimard and Song’s apartment —the ensuing conversation takes place in the French embassy —but Song watches them from... (full context)
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Comrade Chin appears onstage. Gallimard, distressed, turns to Song — who has been sitting quietly onstage this whole time — and asks why Chin... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 4
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Song addresses the audience for the first time. She tells them the year is 1961, and... (full context)
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Chin remarks on Song’s ability to keep so much information in her head. Song reminds Chin that she is... (full context)
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Chin leaves the stage. Gallimard peers out from the wings, confirming that she is gone. Song assures him that she is, and invites him to continue telling the story “in your... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 5
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Gallimard begins the scene in his apartment with Song, his head in her lap. He explains how he and “Butterfly” passed three years of... (full context)
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Returning to Song, Gallimard complains about the humiliation of not being able to conceive a child with Helga.... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 6
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Renee walks offstage, leaving Gallimard behind. Song appears, shaking and distressed, in a different corner of the stage from Gallimard. Gallimard says... (full context)
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...he would never risk his own career by supporting Gallimard’s recommendations publicly. While they talk, Song dissolves into a fit in her corner of the stage. She throws a vase to... (full context)
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...he needed an outlet for his anger and humiliation, and so he went to see Song for the first time in weeks. (full context)
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Gallimard finds Song drunk and despairing. She says their problem is an old one: men grow tired of... (full context)
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Gallimard tries to comfort Song by telling her that his seeing her naked will remove the last barrier between them.... (full context)
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...the role of lecherous Pinkerton, abusing his loving Butterfly, made him sick. The confrontation with Song killed the last traces of Pinkerton in him, he says, and left behind a feeling... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 7
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The night after her dramatic conversation with Gallimard, Song paces their apartment while Comrade Chin reads from a notepad. Gallimard is watching their dialogue... (full context)
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Song, still recounting the events of the previous night, tells Comrade Chin about a revelation that... (full context)
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As Comrade Chin prepares to leave, Song asks why, in her opinion, the Peking Opera always casts men in women’s role. Chin... (full context)
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Comrade Chin leaves the stage, and Gallimard calls out to Song. He tells her that he would forgive all her betrayals, if she would return to... (full context)
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Song points to the audience and reminds Gallimard where he left off his story: he was... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
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Gallimard announces he will divorce his wife and live with Song, first in China and then in France. Song says she is ashamed by his generosity,... (full context)
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Song returns to the stage holding a bundle in her arms. Gallimard examines the baby and... (full context)
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Song tells Gallimard she has named the baby Peepee. Gallimard urges her to consider a different... (full context)
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Gallimard tells the audience that Song’s stubbornness — her insistence on staying in China, on the fringes of his life where... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 9
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...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... (full context)
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Two dancers drag Song onto the stage and mime beating her. She is wearing male clothing, distinctly Chinese in... (full context)
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Comrade Chin forces Song to respond to a series of humiliating questions. She claims that Song has been oppressing... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 10
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It is 1970, four years after Gallimard’s departure from China. Song is laboring on a commune in rural China, and has been for the past four... (full context)
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Comrade Chin tells Song he can serve the people of China, but that he will not be permitted to... (full context)
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Song insists Gallimard will never take him back, that he was only ever Gallimard’s “plaything” and... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 11
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...drinks. Gallimard begins to tell him about the magnificent life he had in China, where Song’s love made him feel special and exalted. He says life in the West is a... (full context)
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Song appears onstage, wearing the wedding kimono from Madame Butterfly. Gallimard notices her, but is convinced... (full context)
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Gallimard reaches to embrace Song, but she steps out of his reach. Song begins talking to the audience, but Gallimard... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 1
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Song’s makeup is gone. He takes off his wig and steps out of his kimono, under... (full context)
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As Song tells his story, the scene changes. The same actor who plays Toulon appears onstage, wearing... (full context)
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The judge asks Song whether Gallimard knew he was a man. Song answers that Gallimard never saw him completely... (full context)
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To his first claim, Song adds that Western men become “confused” when they come into contact with Asian people and... (full context)
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...judge, who does not understand how these comments relate to the success of the deception, Song offers a brief summary of his ideas: Gallimard convinced himself Song was a woman because... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
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Gallimard appears onstage, crawling toward the wig and kimono Song abandoned in the previous scene. Song is still on the witness stand. Gallimard tells the... (full context)
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Song calls out to Gallimard from the witness stand, addressing him as “white man.” The court... (full context)
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Song taunts Gallimard, flirting with him aggressively but leaving him unsure of whether that flirtation is... (full context)
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Song begins to remove his clothing. Gallimard, in shock and horror, asks what he is doing.... (full context)
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Gallimard insists he knows what Song is — a man — but Song says Gallimard doesn’t really believe that. He takes... (full context)
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Gallimard says Song was a fool to show him the truth, because all he loved was the lie... (full context)
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...difference between fantasy and reality, and that he has chosen to commit himself to fantasy. Song insists that he is Gallimard’s fantasy, but Gallimard scoffs at this, telling Song he is... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
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...fantasy world that gave birth to her. He picks up the kimono left behind by Song, and two dancers appear onstage. They help Gallimard apply makeup to his face while he... (full context)
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...the men do not deserve their devotion. Gallimard says he has known the truth about Song for a long time, and that he must now make a sacrifice for his mistake:... (full context)
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Gallimard says again that he loved Song — though he pretended this wasn’t the case —and that this love was the thing... (full context)
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Gallimard is now in full Butterfly costume, holding a hara-kiri knife like the one Song once used to perform the death scene from Puccini’s opera. He sits in the center... (full context)