M. Butterfly

Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Analysis

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.
Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Theme Icon

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 often tries to coopt these interjections and force Song to tell events as he remembers them. He urges Song to leave Comrade Chin out of the story, and hides when Chin appears onstage; he tries to prolong the story of his loving reunion with Butterfly in Paris, and to stop Song from removing his Butterfly costume at the end of Act Two. He never succeeds in masking the truth, however. The characters Gallimard encounters on the stage are figments of his imagination, and their interactions happen almost entirely in Gallimard’s own or imagination, but he still cannot control any of them, and especially cannot control Song. This is a metaphor for the ways in which reality inevitably undermines the self-deceiving narratives human beings construct to comfort themselves.

During his court testimony, Song explains his belief that Gallimard never realized he was a man simply because Gallimard did not want to believe this was true. Song suggests men will always believe a person who tells them what they want to hear, even if the things that person is saying are absurd lies. Time and time again during their relationship, Gallimard accepts his lover’s suspicious “eccentricities” — like Song’s insistence on remaining totally clothed while they have sex — without question, and avoids situations that might force him to sacrifice his illusions. Recounting the night he ordered Butterfly to strip naked for him and then rescinded that order, Gallimard confesses his fear that he may have known the truth about Butterfly all along and simply shielded himself from confrontation of that truth in order to protect his own happiness.

After Gallimard finally sees Song naked — another imaginary sequence that mirrors the internal process of recognizing truth for the first time — he is forced confronts all that has happened to him, and processes his thoughts in a conversation with Song and in a monologue just before committing suicide. In both these moments of reflection, Gallimard suggests that the great pain and disappointment of his relationship with Song was not simply the fact that Song was a man — in fact, he tells Song multiple times that he would gladly take him back if Song would simply agree to inhabit the role of Butterfly again, suggesting Gallimard is not troubled by Song’s biological sex— but the fact that Song is an ordinary man. Butterfly, the fantasy he loved, was a product of Gallimard’s imagination who fulfilled his needs and desires as no living person could have. Confronting the fact that the person he adored was not a miracle of beauty and devotion, but an ordinary person with faults and secrets of his own, is more devastating to Gallimard than realizing he has been duped.

Though Song commits himself to deceiving Gallimard, his final exchange with Gallimard reveals how the character of Butterfly has also been an instrument of Song’s self-deception. Song comes to believe that Gallimard is fundamentally in love with the person who Song is—that Song and Gallimard share a love that transcends the “character” of Butterfly—and that Gallimard will continue to love Song even when Song reveals Butterfly to have been a fiction. When Gallimard elects instead to immerse himself in the world of fantasy — becoming Butterfly himself through the act of donning Song’s costume and committing ritual suicide — it is the ultimate gesture of rejection. He refuses to love Song, despite all they have shared, and confirms through that refusal that his love was always based in ideals rather than interactions, that he loved Butterfly the character and not Song the person. In the final lines of the play, when Song can be heard calling out “Butterfly? Butterfly?” while Gallimard lies dead in Butterfly costume, Song appears destitute in the same way Gallimard does at other points in the play. It becomes clear that, though Song believed himself to be in control of Gallimard, he was every bit as delusional in his assumptions about what they shared.

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Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception Quotes in M. Butterfly

Below you will find the important quotes in M. Butterfly related to the theme of Memory, Imagination, and Self-Deception.
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 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 2, Scene 6 Quotes

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 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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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

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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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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