M. Butterfly

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.
Femininity and Male Ego Theme Icon

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 femininity Gallimard has inherited from Western culture. As Butterfly, Song sits at Gallimard’s feet when they talk, offers exaggerated praise for his intellect and influence, and agrees to submit to his will even when she claims it violates her ethical code and makes her unhappy. In all their most intimate moments, Butterfly presents herself as being highly vulnerable: sexually inexperienced, protective of her modesty, and desperate for Gallimard’s affection.

In these ways, Song feeds Gallimard’s ego and makes him feel invincible. The life-altering power of this feeling — completely new to Gallimard, who before meeting Butterfly is passive and mild-mannered — becomes evidence on the night he declares his love for her, when Gallimard credits Butterfly with helping him win the major promotion just awarded to him at work. The unflagging and totally undeserved devotion she expresses in her pleas to see him, and the feeling of power her desperation gives him inspire an “aggressive” confidence in shy, awkward Gallimard that wins him the respect of his colleagues and soon prompts Toulon to promote him to a position of leadership and influence. Because Butterfly seems so weak and harmless, and Gallimard feels so powerful in her presence, it is easy for Song to coax military secrets out of him—secrets Song then passes along to the Chinese government.

The ethnic stereotypes that influence Gallimard in his diplomatic interactions with the Chinese are intimately connected with other destructive stereotypes about women. Gallimard and his European compatriots — most notably his friend Marc — treat women as objects who exist for the pleasure of men. To justify treating Butterfly this way, Gallimard convinces himself that all women want to be dominated by someone stronger, and that male supremacy is the natural order of the world. As Song points out during his court testimony, this sexist assumption is identical to the stereotypes Westerners use to justify their exploitation of Asian countries. He suggests men like Gallimard imagine interactions between the West and East in the same way they imagine interactions between men and women: as a meeting between a strong force that wants to exert power, and a weak one that wants to be controlled. Westerners see all Asian people as feminine — which is to say, passive and easily dominated — regardless of their actual sex or gender. Because of this, Song argues, it was impossible for Gallimard truly to believe he, Song, was a man.

Following the reenactment of his court testimony, Song shows Gallimard his naked body for the first time. Song, who in the course of his false relationship to Gallimard has come to love him, believes this will force Gallimard to accept that love, to embrace Song as the person he is and their homosexual intimacy as a replacement for the intimacy Gallimard shared with Butterfly. But the opposite occurs: Gallimard drives Song from the stage and commits himself more passionately than ever to the fantasy of Butterfly, adopting her identity himself and then committing suicide. This act, in which Gallimard “protects” both Butterfly and himself from reality, illustrates the intensity of his commitment, both to his ideals of womanhood and to his own ego. Gallimard would rather reject reality altogether than admit it was unrealistic to believe an actual woman would ever idolize him as Butterfly did.

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Femininity and Male Ego Quotes in M. Butterfly

Below you will find the important quotes in M. Butterfly related to the theme of Femininity and Male Ego.
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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It’s true what they say about Oriental girls. They want to be treated bad!

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

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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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The sad truth is that all men want a beautiful woman, and the uglier the man, the greater the want.

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Helga
Page Number: 14
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

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 2, Scene 6 Quotes

Renee was picture perfect. With a body like those girls in the magazines. If I put a tissue paper over my eyes, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. And it was exciting to be with someone who wasn’t afraid to be seen completely naked. But is it possible for a woman to be too uninhibited, too willing, so as to seem almost too … masculine?

Related Characters: Rene Gallimard (speaker), Renee
Page Number: 54
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 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 3 Quotes

There is a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in chong sams and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect women. Who take whatever punishment we give them, and bounce back, strengthened by love, unconditionally. It is a vision that has become my life.

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

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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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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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