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M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang. (+commentary)

41PI3+hHx6L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_

Title: M. Butterfly.
Author: David Henry Hwang.
Genre: Literature, plays, romance, race (+social criticism, cultural studies, racial studies).
Country: U.S.
Language: English
Publication Date: 1988.
Summary: Based upon a true story that stunned the world, the play opens in the cramped prison cell where diplomat Rene Gallimard is being held captive by the French government—and by his own illusions. In the darkness of his cell he recalls a time when desire seemed to give him wings. A tome when Song Liling, the beautiful Chinese diva, touched him with a love as vivid, as seductive—and as elusive—as a butterfly. How could he have known, then, that his ideal woman was, in fact, a spy for the Chinese government—and a man disguised as a woman? In a series of flashbacks, the diplomat relives the 20-year affair from the temptation to the seduction, from its consummation to the scandal that ultimately consumed them both. But, at the end, there can only be one answer: For whether or not Gallimard's passion was a flight of fancy, it has touched off the most vigorous emotions of his life. Only in real life can love be so unreal.

My rating: 9/10.
My review:


♥ GALLIMARD (Smiling): 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 know, and been loved by... the Perfect Woman.

Alone in this cell, I sit night after night, watching our story play through my head, always searching for a new ending, one which redeems my honor, where she returns at last to my arms. And I imagine you—my ideal audience—who come to understand and even, perhaps just a little, to envy me.

♥ GALLIMARD: 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, nor brave, nor powerful, yet somehow believe, like Pinkerton, that we deserve a Butterfly. She arrives with all her possessions in the folds of her sleeves, lays them all out, for her man to do with as he pleases. Even her life itself—she bows her head as she whispers that she's not even worth the hundred yen he paid for her. He's already given too much, when we know he's really had to give nothing at all.

♥ GALLIMARD: Hearing that brought me to the altar—

Helga exits.

GALLIMARD: —where I took a vow renouncing love. No fantasy woman would ever want me, so, yes, I would settle for a quick leap up the career ladder. Passion, I banish, and in its place—practicality!

But my vows had long since lost their charm by the time we arrived in China. The sad truth is that all men want a beautiful woman, and the uglier the man, the greater the want.

♥ GALLIMARD: No! I was about to say, it's the first time I've seen the beauty of the story.

SONG: Really?

GALLIMARD: Of her death. It's a... a pure sacrifice. He's unworthy, but what can she do? She loves him... so much. It's a very beautiful story.

SONG: Well, yes, to a Westerner.

GALLIMARD: Excuse me?

SONG: It's one of your favorite fantasies, isn't it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man.

GALLIMARD: Well, I didn't quite mean...

SONG: Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde homecoming queen fell 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.

♥ SONG: ...It stinks in here. Let's go.

GALLIMARD: These are the smells of your loyal fans.

SONG: I love them for being my fans, I hate the smell they leave behind. I too can distance myself from my people. (She looks around, then whispers in his ear) "Art for the masses" is a shitty excuse to keep artists poor.

♥ SONG: ...We have always held a certain fascination for you Caucasian men, have we not?

GALLIMARD: But... that fascination is imperialist, or so you tell me.

SONG: Do you believe everything I tell you? Yes. It is always imperialist. But sometimes... sometimes, it is also mutual.

♥ GALLIMARD: You were always the most popular guy in school.

MARC: Well, there's no guarantee of failure in life like happiness in high school.

♥ GALLIMARD: (To us): Just as I feared! God has seen my evil heart—

TOULON: But not you.

GALLIMARD (To us): —and he's taking her away just as... (To Toulon) Excuse me, sir?

TOULON: Scare you? I think I did. Cheer up, Gallimard. I want you to replace LeBon as vice-consul.

...GALLIMARD: Vice-consul? Impossible! As I stumbled out of the party, I saw it written across the sky. There is no God. Or, no—say that there is a God. But that God... understands. Of course! God who creates Eve to serve Adam, who blesses Solomon with his harem but ties Jezebel to a burning bed—that God is a man. And he understands! At age thirty-nine, I was suddenly initiated into the way of the world.

♥ GALLIMARD (To us): ...I was learning the benefits of being a man. We form our own clubs, sit behind thick doors, smoke—and celebrate the fact that we're still boys.

♥ CHIN: ...Comrade?

SONG: Yes?

CHIN: Don't forget: there is no homosexuality in China!

SONG: Yes, I've heard.

CHIN: Just checking. (She exits)

SONG (To us): What passes for a woman in modern China.

♥ GALLIMARD (To us): ...But mostly we would talk. About my life. Perhaps there is nothing more rare than to find a woman who passionately listens.

♥ RENEE: ... But, like, it just hangs there. This little... flap of flesh. And there's so much fuss that we make about it. Like, I think the reason we fight wars is because we wear clothes. Because no one knows—between the men, I mean—who has the bigger...weenie. So, if I'm a guy with a small one, I'm going to build a really big building or take over a really big piece of land or write a really long book so the other men don't know, right? But, see, it never really works, that's the problem. I mean, you conquer the country, or whatever, but you're still wearing clothes, so there's no way to prove absolutely whose is bigger or smaller. And that's what we call a civilized society. The whole world run by a bunch of men with pricks the size of pins.

♥ SONG: ... Now I see—we are always most revolted by the things hidden within us.

♥ GALLIMARD: 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.

♥ SONG: Sometimes, a counterrevolutionary act is necessary to counter a counterrevolutionary act.

♥ SONG: Miss Chin? Why, in the Peking Opera, are women's roles played by men?

CHIN: I don't know. Maybe, a reactionary remnant of male—

SONG: No. (Beat) Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.

♥ SONG: ... You're here in prison, rotting in a cell. And I'm on a plane, winging my way back to China. Your President pardoned me of our treason, you know.

GALLIMARD: Yes, I read about that.

SONG: Must make you feel... lower than shit.

GALLIMARD: But don't you, even a little bit, wish you were here with me?

SONG: I'm an artist, Rene. You were my greatest... acting challenge. (She laughs) It doesn't matter how rotten I answer, does it? You still adore me. That's why I love you, Rene.

♥ GALLIMARD: You're crazy.

SONG: I'm happy. Which often looks like crazy.

♥ SONG: Rene, we Chinese are realists. We understand rice, gold, and guns. You are a diplomat. Your career is skyrocketing. Now, what would happen if you divorced your wife to marry a Communist Chinese actress?

GALLIMARD: That's not being realistic. That's defeating yourself before you begin.

SONG: We must conserve our strength for the battles we can win.

GALLIMARD: That sounds like a fortune cookie!

SONG: Where do you think fortune cookies come from?

♥ GALLIMARD (To us): 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, very simply, the Perfect Woman.

♥ GALLIMARD: So... please... don't change.

SONG: You know I have to. You know I will. And anyway, what difference does it make? No matter what your eyes tell you, you can't ignore the truth. You already know too much.

♥ SONG: ... Well, Your Honor, it was my job to make him think I was a woman. See, my mother was a prostitute along the Bundt before the Revolution. And, uh, I think it's fair to say she learned a few things about Western men. So I borrowed her knowledge. In service to my country.

JUDGE: Would you care to enlighten the court with this secret knowledge? I'm sure we're all very curious.

SONG: I'm sure you are. (Pause) 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.

... Rule Two: As soon as a Western man comes into contact with the East—he's already confused. The West has sort of an international rape mentality towards the East. Do you know rape mentality?

JUDGE: Give us your definition, please.

SONG: 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.

JUDGE: What does this have to do with my question?

SONG: You expect Oriental countries to submit to your guns, and you expect Oriental women to be submissive to your men. That's why you say they make the best wives.

JUDGE: But why would that make it possible for you to fool Monsieur Gallimard? Please—get to the point.

SONG: One, because when he finally met his fantasy woman, he wanted more than anything to believe that she was, in fact, a woman. And second, I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man.

♥ SONG: ... And what's the shame? In pride? You think I could've pulled this off if I wasn't already full of pride when we met? No, not just pride. Arrogance. It takes arrogance, really—to believe you can will, with your eyes and your lips, the destiny of another.

♥ SONG: ... Come here, my little one.

GALLIMARD: I'm not your little one!

SONG: My mistake. It's I who am your little on, right?

GALLIMARD: Yes, I—

SONG: So come get your little one. If you like. I may even let you strip me.

GALLIMARD: I mean, you were! Before... but not like this!

SONG: I was? Then perhaps I still am. If you look hard enough.

♥ SONG: Now—close your eyes.

Song covers Gallimard's eyes with one hand. With the other, Song draws Gallimard's hand up to his face. Gallimard, like a blind man, lets his hands run over Song's face.

GALLIMARD: This skin, I remember. The curve of her face, the softness of her cheek, her hair against the back of my hand...

SONG: I'm your Butterfly. Under the robes, beneath everything, it was always me. Now, open your eyes and admit it—you adore me. (He removes his hand from Gallimard's eyes)

GALLIMARD: You, who knew every inch of my desires—how could you, of all people, have made such a mistake?

SONG: What?

GALLIMARD: You showed me your true self. When all I loved was the lie. A perfect lie, which you let fall to the ground—and now, it's old and soiled.

SONG: So—you never really loved me? Only when I was playing a part?

GALLIMARD: I'm a man who loved a woman created by a man. Everything else—simply falls short.

♥ GALLIMARD: ... (He sets himself center stage, in a seppuku position) 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. (He sets the tip of the knife against his body) It is 19__. And I have found her at last. In a prison outskirts of Paris. My name is Rene Gallimard—also known as Madame Butterfly.

————————————————————————————————————————

M. Butterfly has sometimes been regarded as an anti-American play, a diatribe against the stereotyping of the East by the West, of women by men. Quite to the contrary, I consider it a plea to all sides to cut through our respective layers of cultural and sexual misperception, to deal with one another truthfully for our mutual good, from the common and equal ground we share as human beings.

For the myths of the East, the myths of the West, the myths of the men, and the myths of women—these have so saturated our consciousness that truthful contact between nations and lovers can only be the result of heroic effort. Those who prefer to bypass the work involved will remain in a world of surfaces, misperceptions running rampant. This is, to me, the convenient world in which the French diplomat and the Chinese spy lived. This is why, after twenty years, he had learned nothing at all about his lover, not even the truth of his sex.

~~From the Afterword.
Tags: 1940s in fiction, 1960s in fiction, 1970s in fiction, 1980s - fiction, 1980s - plays, 20th century - fiction, 20th century - plays, acting (theatre) (fiction), american - fiction, american - plays, chinese - fiction, chinese - plays, cultural studies, cultural studies (fiction), essays, fiction, fiction based on real events, homosexuality, homosexuality (fiction), immigration (fiction), literature, my favourite books, non-fiction in quote, plays, politics (fiction), race, race (fiction), romance, sexuality, sexuality (fiction)
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