M. Butterfly


David Henry Hwang

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Themes and Colors
Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict Theme Icon
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon
Love and Cruelty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in M. Butterfly, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Orientalism, Imperialism, and Cultural Conflict

The events of M. Butterfly occur during a time of turmoil in Southeast Asia, as imperialist European nations that had established colonies throughout Southeast Asia were facing threats to their imperial control by native uprisings. As a French diplomat living in China in the 1960s, Gallimard lives in the shadow of the Indochina War. During this war, Vietnamese military forces under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh successfully fought for independence from the French, who…

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Femininity and Male Ego

In a theme intimately tied up with that of Orientalism, in which Europeans often fetishize Asian cultures as not just exotic and passive but feminine, M. Butterfly explores the impact of such misogynist fetishization. Song constructs his female persona — who, though Song continues to use his real name while masquerading as a woman, Gallimard comes to call “Butterfly,” after the heroine in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly— to conform perfectly to the chauvinistic ideals of…

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Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception

Gallimard presents his story to the audience as a memory, told from his prison cell — where he is sequestered following his very public conviction for treason — long after the affair with Song has ended. Song, in the form of a memory in Gallimard’s mind, enters at regular intervals through the play to tell his version of events, or add information to which Gallimard was not privy when the events themselves were happening. Gallimard…

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Love and Cruelty

Gallimard is powerfully in love with Song, and reveals that enduring love over and over again as he narrates the events of the play from his prison cell. However, despite his absolute devotion — which possesses him almost immediately after meeting Song (who appears to him as the feminine character he will come to call “Butterfly) and persists even after the truth of Song’s betrayal has been revealed — Gallimard often treats his lover…

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