The Men of Wo-men

I was watching an interview with David Henry Hwang in which he was describing his influence in writing M. Butterfly. He was elaborating on this notion, or perception rather, of weakness in the east when compared to the west and how it almost parallels the relationship between men and women in this male-dominant world. What I found most intriguing in his interview was the following statement:

“In some sense the idea of how men fall in love with women has a lot to do with looks, with artifices, with the women fitting into a notion of what women are supposed to be, which was invented by men.”

It took me directly to Song’s statement that “only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.” Women are “supposed” to be beautiful, “supposed” to be submissive, and “supposed” to the weaker creature. Notice the concept of assumption which society so deeply embeds in our actions. Have men taught us to deceive ourselves or does the male perception of women not infringe our self-perception and contact with the world?

If you get the chance, I highly recommend your watch his video (and preferably after you finish the play since there may be a few spoilers). The author delved into so many of the themes we discussed last class in part II.




The idea of silence, which has also been seen in some of our previous books like Heart of Darkness, comes up often in the play with the use of pauses. There are many of these pauses in the dialogue throughout the scenes. Although we truly do not know what the character is thinking during the pause, it does show that they are in some way collecting their thoughts or rethinking what they were about to say aloud. The pauses in the play also represent somewhat of a barrier/disconnection between the other characters and the character who initiated the silence, since they are thinking/feeling things that others cannot hear. This idea of silence also makes me think of the importance of voice in the play. When I think of voice, I immediately think of Song. Out of all the characters in the play she seems to have one of the strongest voices, despite the typical idea of women being inferior. She always speaks her mind and is unafraid of opposing other people’s ideas. Song definitely makes herself noticed and heard.

– McClain

Miss Saigon

Where else does the Asian Gal with the White Guy trope appear besides the operatic and thespian worlds, which we’ve already talked about? Broadway. In fact Miss Saigon, a Broadway musical written by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil in 1975 set in the Vietnam War, was based upon the story of Madama Butterfly.

Each principal principal role of Madama Butterfly has an expy in Miss Saigon. Saigon‘s Kim, a seventeen year old Vietnamese Ingénueish hooker is the equivalent to Butterfly‘s Japanese Ingénue, Cio-Cio San. Pinkerton is Chris, a US marine. Goro, the matchmaker who sets up Pinkerton’s marriage to Cio-Cio San who hasn’t really been mentioned during M. Butterfly‘s Madame Butterfly moments, is John, Chris’s marine buddy who also sets up a marriage between his friend and Asian lover. Ellen, Chris’s wife after he leaves Kim to escape the Vietcong approaching Saigon, similar to to Pinkeron taking on a new wife during his own long absence, is Kate, Pinkerton’s new wife. Thuy takes on a dual role, being Bonze’s and Prince Yamadori’s expy. Like Bonze, Cio-Cio San’s uncle, Thuy heavily discourages the marriage, and similar to Prince Yamadori, a wealthy man who pursues Cio-Cio San, Thuy purues Kim, though he’s engaged to her years earlier. (childhood!) And finally, probably most crucial character in both plots, Tam, Kim and Chris’s son, is Dolore (“Sorrow”), Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton’s child.


Florence + the Machine – Blinding

As we realized in the last act and as I have noticed in the second act, Gallimard is blind to his relationship with Song. He both is blind to his actual feelings for him/her and physically is blind to her gender.  Looking through my itunes, I noticed the song “Blinding” by Florence and the Machine describes blindness as a “dream state” which I believe accurately depicts Guillmard’s feelings for song; because he is not honest with his own emotions he creates his own blindness.  In general though, I think the lyrics to “Blinding” by Florence and the machine have some parallels to M.Butterfly.



Do we have the controversy wrong?

As previously mentioned, there is much debate over whether Bouriscot knew that Shi Pei Pu was a man and was attracted to men.  He even acknowledged his early feelings for men in some of his writings.  He also revealed that he had only had sexual relations with men while he was at school.

There is also debate as to whether Shi Pei Pu was masquerading as a man as part of an espionage mission or if he simply identitified as a woman.  I think that this is where the idea of sex vs. gender is critical to understanding Shi Pei Pu’s gender identification.  Shi Pei Pu’s sex is what ze was biologically.  Ze’s gender was how ze identified: as a woman, as a man, or something other than that.  Thus it is possible that Shi Pei Pu was a transvestite or transgender and really identified as a woman.  Some members of the transgender* even hail this play as a transgender work.


Being Blinded


I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the conversation we had yesterday about the idea of being “blind”. I still don’t understand how Gallimard could not have known that Song was a man, but the conversation really helped me out. Song was creative of the way that she “blinded” Gallimard. As we talked about yesterday, he/she gave Gallimard everything he wanted. She/he was his perfect girl. There also was the part in the book the Ms. Stevenson brought up about how Song turned off the light, and that was actually blinding him but that’s beside the point. The point is that I feel that this “blindness” that Gallimard experienced created by Song proves that he actually loved him/her. We all have heard people say, “true love is blinding”, and well at least I hope you have. And its true, we see it will Gallimard. We all know when you take away one of the 5 senses, all your other sense are enhanced and your more in tuned with your body and feelings. So with “blinding” Gallimard, Song in a way enhanced his emotion, which helped Song get Gallimard to fall in love with her/him. Which could also be another reason why Galllimard didn’t notice that Song was a man. 

~Nat ❤ 

P.S. I hope you guys noticed that the picture is black and white and how that demonstrates Gallimard’s blindness 

Reading vs. Seeing

This is a video of Act I, Scene Six, in the original production of “M. Butterfly.” In it, Song, played by B.D. Wong, has just finished her tribute to the opera “Madama Butterfly” by singing the “Death Scene.” Gallimard (John Lithgow) is transfixed by her perfomance as we have read in the play. But besides this background context, I chose this video because I think it is important to see how lines in a play are delivered. Just reading, a person can assume multiple meanings of one phrase, but in a live production, one can see the choices an actor makes-one of the many reasons I love theater.

Reading the scene, we already got a sense of Song’s character, very blunt, some even said sassy. Wong further supports the character traits in his deliverance of her speech. However, when I first read the play, I didn’t get that sense of sarcasm, but of tragedy especially with the quote “I will never do ‘Butterfly’ again…” I immediately looked up the scene and saw how funny it was prortrayed to be.

Actors can deliver things differently, and that is a common theme in the play as well: one might see one thing, but the intention is different. It is all about perception.


Farewell My Concubine


M. Butterfly is a story that, for me, strongly resonates with the story in Farewell My Concubine, which was originally a play (like M. Butterfly) and was adapted into a novel, with then a film based off the novel (I’ve read/watched them all and it’s really excellent). First off, the play’s plotline is very different from the novel and film yet they both reference the play as a sort of foundation for the events to come just as M. Butterfly utilizes the Madame Butterfly. In all three platforms, the story is told in a nonlinear form (in the film too) where it begins with the end and weaves the stories in and out contrasting the change and evolution of the characters directly. 

Both M. Butterfly and Farewell My Concubine deal with the Chinese Opera (Peking Opera specifically) but Farewell My Concubine is a far more graphic, and brutal look into the work, and history of the Opera. One of the strongest correlations is that, just as we mentioned, there was no such thing as female actors in China back then so in Farewell My Concubine one of the two main characters was selected and groomed since a very early age to become a “woman” for the stage. He begins to confuse his own identity and it is strongly suggested he is gay and has affections for his stage partner (who is a man and plays a man) who seemingly doesn’t reciprocate. The idea of sexual identity, and nature v. nurture in situations like these may be present in M. Butterfly as well. 

It’s really difficult to capture the complex emotional subtleties of this story but I would highly highly recommend the film to anyone (which I feel is more accessible + it was nominated for several Oscars and won the Cannes Palms d’Or!) 

M. Butterfly is told from a Westerner’s point of view whereas Farewell My Concubine is an arguably more culturally authentic viewpoint (albeit they don’t deal with entirely the same issues but both plays echo very similar themes and struggles)

The clip above is the trailer.






This is the trailer to M Butterfly.  If you watch the entire trailer without knowing what happens in the play, it is really confusing.  I think that the creators of the movie were trying to keep the plot a secret and could not give too much away in the preview.  I really liked the quote, “nothing blinds a man to reality like perfect love.” Gallimard is so set on finding his “butterfly,” that he is blinded by all of the signs that point to Song’s gender.