M. Butterfly

Madame Butterfly Symbol Analysis

Madame Butterfly Symbol Icon
Madame Butterfly, Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated 1904 opera, tells the story of a disastrous marriage between a beautiful, vulnerable Japanese woman named Cio-Cio-San —also called Butterfly —and a callow American sailor named Benjamin Pinkerton. Madame Butterfly is Gallimard’s favorite opera, not only because he finds the tragic story profoundly compelling, but because the opera is inextricably intertwined with his relationship with Song. He sees Song for the first time playing the role of Cio-Cio-San, calls her by the pet name “Butterfly,” and speaks to her in their most intimate moments using lines from the opera. Madame Butterfly becomes a shared language for Song and Gallimard. Song understands that Cio-Cio-San’s gentleness and devotion to her husband represents a feminine ideal to Gallimard, and the two of them build their relationship around a mutual commitment to that ideal. However, as the narrative progresses and it becomes increasingly clear that the relationship between Song and Gallimard is founded on self-serving lies rather than sincere love, the centrality of the opera to their story becomes less romantic and more tragic. Like Madame Butterfly, the relationship Gallimard cherishes is only a story — it does not reflect reality. That he continues to return to the language and imagery of the opera regardless of this fact reveals Gallimard’s enduring commitment to the fantasy he and Song have constructed together.

Madame Butterfly Quotes in M. Butterfly

The M. Butterfly quotes below all refer to the symbol of Madame Butterfly. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of M. Butterfly published in 1989.
Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

But as she glides past him, beautiful, laughing softly behind her fan, don’t we who are men sigh with hope? We, who are not handsome, not brave, nor powerful, yet somehow believe, like Pinkerton, that we deserve a Butterfly.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 10
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 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 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 3, Scene 3 Quotes

I have a vision. Of the Orient. That, deep within its almond eyes, there are still women. Women willing to sacrifice themselves for the love of a man. Even a man whose love is completely without worth.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
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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My name is Rene Gallimard — also known as Madame Butterfly.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Related Symbols: Madame Butterfly
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

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Madame Butterfly Symbol Timeline in M. Butterfly

The timeline below shows where the symbol Madame Butterfly 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
...are replaced by European music: the famous “Love Duet” from Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated 1904 opera, Madame Butterfly . Gallimard approaches Song, who dances on and does not notice him. He says two... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 3
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 5
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...— at the home of the German ambassador in Peking, singing the death scene from Madame Butterfly . (full context)
Act 1, Scene 6
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
...still dressed in the wedding costume from the previous scene, sings the death scene from Madame Butterfly — rather than playing the character, she now plays herself, an actress performing for Western... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
...himself trying to answer Song’s accusatory comment, Song asks him to imagine his reaction if Madame Butterfly were about a “blonde homecoming queen” who falls in love with a “short Japanese businessman.”... (full context)
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Song tells Gallimard she will never perform Madame Butterfly again. She suggests that if he wants to see “real theatre,” he should attend a... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 7
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Helga says she is sorry to have missed Madame Butterfly that night, and expresses her appreciation for Puccini’s music. Gallimard tells her the Chinese hate... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 11
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 1
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
Gallimard, in his cell again, reads from a review of Madame Butterfly . The reviewer writes that Pinkerton is obnoxious and deserves to be kicked, then adds... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 8
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
...makes a few critical, but lighthearted, comments about the child’s looks. Song quotes lines from Madame Butterfly : “What baby, I wonder, was ever born in Japan … With azure eyes …... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 11
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Song appears onstage, wearing the wedding kimono from Madame Butterfly . Gallimard notices her, but is convinced for a moment that she is an illusion.... (full context)