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Parody and Parallelism between Madame Butterfly and M. Butterfly

Уou may have a picture of an Asian woman who is feminine and gentle, is wearing a kimono inside a Japanese room, and is looking forward to her husband’s return. Madame Butterfly almost becomes this cultural stereotype of Asian women. Because of Madame Butterfly‘s popularity, different imitations came forth from this opera. One of these imitations is M. Butterfly written by David Henry Hwang. In M. Butterfly, the author skillfully borrows and imitates the structure of Madame Butterfly.

Through the stereotype of oriental women that Madame Butterfly has established, Hwang successfully creates a parallel but different story about the love between a Westerner and an Asian. Since M. Butterfly is a parody of Madame Butterfly, they have apparent similarities. Obviously, the name of M. Butterfly is an abbreviated replication of Madame Butterfly. Hwang uses the letter “M” to replace “Madame”. M can be an acronym for mister or miss, which refers to the sex of the main character as it changes from a female to an unidentified sex.

In fact, the “M butterfly “in this play is not Song but it is Gallimard. This shall be discussed more thoroughly in the next paragraph. On the other hand, the framework of these two plays is also similar for both have three acts. These two stories ended with the suicide of “Butterfly”. Furthermore, both “Butterflies” have one son. Likewise, both of the male main characters have a wife in their home country. Last but not the least, the settings of these two plays is set during periods of war. Hwang creates these settings because he wants his play to be more alike to the original Madame Butterfly.

Indeed, these settings are more impressive to the audience who are used to watch Madame Butterfly. This can stimulate them to make a connection and a comparison between these two plays. According to the after word, “I told Stuart Ostrow,… that I envisioned the story as a musical. I remember going so far as to speculate that it could be some ‘great Madame Butterfly-like tragedy. ” (p. 95) Most probably, Hwang intends to use the same framework and background of Madame Butterfly to create a similar story with a dissimilar message.

Moreover, there is a parallel setting in these two plays. In essence, these two stories are comparable. Madame Butterfly is about the love between a Japanese geisha and a Lieutenant from the United States while M. butterfly is about the love between a French diplomat and a Chinese spy, who pretends to be a geisha. The flow of these two plays is almost the same because both start with the adoration of a western man for an oriental geisha. Then, they fall in love and the butterflies are finally betrayed by their lovers. Thus, they end their lives.

Both plays are tragic stories. Can you imagine that you are fully in love with someone, but you finally discover that your lover has cheated on you since the day you first met? It is really horrible. When watching these scenes, the audience will involuntarily feel pity for these poor women. However, what will you think if I tell you that butterfly is a man? For those who have watched Madame Butterfly, they may be taken aback when they are finally told that the oriental woman in M. Butterfly is not the butterfly.

Butterfly, the identity of the butterfly is totally different from the one in Madame Butterfly. In the story, the butterfly is not Song, the Asian woman but it is Gallimard, the French. Gallimard is attracted to his vision of a stereotypical oriental woman and to his “perfect image” of a woman. When he knows that his “ideal wife” is actually a man, he becomes psychopathic and he can no longer identify the roles between him and Song. He believes that if Song is the man, then he will be the woman. He thinks that he is the real “Madame Butterfly” and not Song.

Finally, he wears the customs of “Madame Butterfly” and ends his life like “Madame Butterfly”. Hwang also said in the after word that, “The Frenchman fantasizes that he is Pinkerton and his lover is Butterfly. But by the end of the play, he realizes that it is he, who has been a butterfly, and that the Frenchman has been duped by love; the Chinese spy, who exploited that love, is therefore the real Pinkerton” (p. 95). Although the stories of these two plays are similar structurally, the results are totally different. Madame Butterfly portrays the poor life of a Japanese geisha.

The whole play is about how much she sacrifices for his foreign husband and how bad her husband is. Meanwhile, M. Butterfly is just imitative of Madame Butterfly. However, the hidden message of this play is actually a complaint of the stereotyping of oriental women by ignorant westerners. The movement of these two plays is parallel, but the meanings are poles apart. Aside from providing the framework for M. Butterfly, Madame Butterfly in this play represents an introduction of the stereotype of oriental women from a westerner’s point of view.

First, the story starts with an opera of Madame Butterfly. Gallimard is attracted to the actor of Madame Butterfly, Song. The role of Madame Butterfly is significant in the whole play. Because of this role, Gallimard gets an impression that Song is a traditionally feminine oriental woman. This impression makes him misunderstand oriental women and causes him to destroy himself at the end of the play. On the other hand, Song utilizes the misconception of Gallimard to play an incredible trick.

Since he knows that Gallimard is addicted to the vision of “Madame Butterfly”, he pretends to be the ideal woman Gallimard likes in order to escape from his suspicion. From Madame Butterfly, Hwang brings us the topics about misunderstanding and stereotyping different cultures, obsessive sexuality and the imagination of love from Gallimard’s stereotyping of oriental women and his “perfect image” of a woman. In the last act, the author directly tells us that the woman Gallimard loves is not Song but it is the vision of his butterfly.

Song says so and Gallimard agrees. This play starts with Madame Butterfly and ends with Madame Butterfly. Therefore, we can say that everything in this play is connected to Madame Butterfly. In the after word in M. Butterfly, Hwang says that, “I knew Butterfly only as a cultural stereotype; speaking of an Asian woman, we would sometimes say, ‘she’s pulling a Butterfly,’ which meant playing the submissive Oriental number. ” (p. 95) Indeed, there is an equal sign between the word “Butterfly” and oriental women in the view point of westerners.

Perhaps some westerners may still believe that all oriental women are similar to the traditional Madame Butterfly up to this moment. However, I could say firmly that modern oriental women are no longer the type who sacrifices themselves to men blindly. If you are still having that stereotype of oriental women, I am pretty sure you will get into trouble. The story of M. Butterfly is a good example of misunderstanding oriental women for the ideal Madame Butterfly only exists in fantasies.

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