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Stereotypes on Oriental Female in M Butterfly

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Stereotypes on Oriental Female in M Butterfly

The play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang is a play that was inspired by a newspaper story that was published in 1986. The story was a bout a former French diplomat and a Chines opera singer who turned out was a man and was spying on the Frenchman. Hwang borrowed the idea from the newspaper story and he deconstructed a play titled Madame Butterfly. In this play he wanted to break the stereotypes that had been held for so long by the westerns about the East especially on the Oriental (Asian) woman. The play generally breakdown both racist as well as clichés that the East-West have against each other which seems to reaffirm western male cultures ideas. The play revolves around two key characters, Gallimard acting as the French Diplomat and Song an opera singer who was Galllimard’s secret lover for close to 20 years. The scenario presented in the text where the western man believes his male lover is a woman is as a result of the stereotypes that Westerners have on Oriental female.

The first stereotype that is presented is the view that the westerners have on Eastern female. According to the westerners, an Oriental woman is a submissive woman and according to them it is the ideals that an Oriental woman has that makes him a perfect woman (Davis, pg. 53-64). Song who is the lover and is a representation of an Oriental woman had been portrayed as a meek and submissive which is why Gallimard is attracted to “her”. When discussing about the opera, Gallimard points out that Song did a good job. Song argues with Gallimard stating that the opera is only beautiful to the westerners like hi. Song asks Gallimard “it’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive oriental woman and the cruel white man” (Hwang, 17). From this statement we learn that Gallimard seems to be attracted to the play because of the submissive role that Song had played. However, Gallimard tries to be defensive because he does not want to be trapped in the western stereotypical mindset but clearly he is too deep into it.

The play portrays women as submissive and as creatures whom men have control over. Gallimard tells the audience a story of Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Pucini. In the Puccini’s opera the Lieutenant Pinkerton who is a United States Navy officer who bought conjugal rights of Cio-Cio-San a Japanese girl who was just 15 years old. Pinkerton paid 100 yen and married the girl and the contract had a provision that was convenient for him in that it could be annulled on a monthly notice. Cleary women are treated as mare properties that can be sold and left at any time if a western man feels that they have had enough. Later, Pinkerton lives Cio-Cio-San and goes to the United States to marry an American girl living San pregnant. The devalue that the westerners have on Oriental women is clearly seen by how Cio-Cio-San is treated (Wen, pg. 44).

Gallimard also believes that it is easier to bag an Oriental girl as compared to an American girl. From the text we learn that Gallimard was not even good looking. He was a clumsy man and he had pimples all over his face. Since high school he had never asked a girl out because he was afraid of rejection. Gallimard states ““Not like American girls. It’s true what they say about Oriental girls. They want to be treated bad” (Hwang, 6). In the example of Cio-Cio-San she cries and prays daily that his man returns but when he doesn’t he kills herself and Gillard thinks this a beautiful story of love. Song tells him that this scenario seems like one of his favorite fantasies involving an oriental woman who is submissive and the cruel white man.

Gallimard vies song in the lens of the western cultural myth of a weak, submissive, self-helpless meek Oriental woman. Song uses these stereotypes effectively to manipulate Gallimard. Western men including Gallimard will often find the Oriental woman both alluring and attractive. It may be because of their skin complexion or of their long hair. Song at first tries to point out to Gallimard how objectionable the stereotype that he has may be for an eastern woman. Gallimard may have longed for the love of an Oriental woman because she describes her wife as not submissive. She seems to care much about Gallimard but rather the status quo of her being a wife of a Diplomat. Gallimard wants this love from Song instead, as we see him asking her for honesty and if Song can become his butterfly and surrender to him just as Madame Butterfly surrendered to Pinkerton the Puccini opera. To Gallimard the ideals than Oriental woman has are better than of a western woman and it through Song’s submission and love that he will feel wanted. Ideally he is living in fantasy where he wants song to replicate his love towards him just as Cio-Cio-San.

Gallimard does not really love a particular woman instead he loves the portrayal of Asian women in the western stereotypes. Gallimard wants to test if Song will wait on him and he cuts contact hoping Song will wait for him just as Cio-Cio-San did. Song, however, already knows what Gallimard is expecting and she tells him that she will always be waiting for him. We can see Song delivering herself to him “Well, come. Strip me. Whatever happens, know that you have willed it. Our love, in your hands. I’m helpless before my man” as he wants Gallimard to see how submissive he is. This is all a play on Gallimard as Song already know the fantasy that Gallimard has on an ideal woman and he wants to teach him a lesson. She exploits the traits that are reinforced by the western stereotypes misleading Gallimard into thinking he is a woman (Kondo, pg. 5-29).

The play portrays the patriarchy in the Chinese culture and a difference in how westerners may be a little modern than the easterners. The role of a traditional woman in China is that of a submissive woman. Song actually admits to the patriarchy in their culture as she states “The Chinese men-they keep us down” (Hwang, 43). Song is trying to state that not only are they treated as inferior beings by the Chinese men but also the western men such as Gillard and Pinkerton are doing the same. Song complains of how women in Chinese society as regarded as inferior and are even denied access to education (Moy, pg. 58-56). The Chinese culture where a woman is placed at a position of subordination also reinforces the western beliefs that an Oriental woman is inferior and submissive. On modernity, we see American or Western women more modern than the Chinese women. Song states that she cannot allow a man to her house like the American girl because of their traditions.

Through the Oriental stereotype we see a shift in power from the hands of Gallimard to Song who does not realize that he is no longer in control of the situation. Song has played his card right that Gallimard is convinced that “she” is in love with him, however song is doing what Gallimard expects of him so that she can get the information as she is s spy. Song can be seen as a symbol of power and Gallimard who is the white man is an embodiment of lack of power. Song uses a line often used by western male on female to assert power “Your mouth says no but your eyes says yes”. This is a chauvinistic statement used by western men of females to try and prove that although a woman may be saying no, the cations they are depicting totally sends a different message. By the end of the play Song has total control of Gallimard that he ends up being the perfect woman that he had envisioned. The submissive woman who sacrificed everything for the white lover becomes the man and the man white man who thinks he has the power is blinded by the stereotypes and he becomes the sexual prey of an oriental. When Song lives for Paris, Gallimard now becomes the submissive one as he decides to live his wife so that he can go live with her.

In conclusion, the play depicts how the western stereotypes on Oriental women was used against them. The Chinese government knowing of how western men viewed Oriental women sends in a spy inform of a woman Song who successfully fools an ambassador for so long by portraying the traits (Gallimard) believed should be embodied by a true woman. Because of this deception, Gallimard commits treason and he eventually commits suicide learning that the woman he lost was actually a man.

Works Cited

Davis, Rocío G. “Desperately Seeking Stereotypes: David Henry Hwang and M. Butterfly.” Revista de Estudios Norteamericanos, 3, 53-64 (1994).

Hwang, David Henry. M. butterfly. Dramatists Play Service Inc, 1988.

Kondo, Dorinne K. “” M. Butterfly”: Orientalism, Gender, and a Critique of Essentialist Identity.” Cultural Critique 16 (1990): 5-29.

Moy, James S. “David Henry Hwang’s” M. Butterfly” and Philip Kan Gotanda’s” Yankee Dawg You Die”: Repositioning Chinese American Marginality on the American Stage.” Theatre Journal 42.1 (1990): 48-56.

Wen, Songfeng. “The Subversion of the Oriental Stereotype in M. Butterfly.” English Language and Literature Studies 3.2 (2013): 44.


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