Identity and Self-Definition

Identity and self-definition are the essential themes of Yellow Face. From the start, DHH questions who he is as a playwright, a community member, and a man. By the end, he does not come to any definitive answers. Along the way, DHH explores what these constructs mean in the reality of his life. DHH has received much fame from the production of M. Butterfly, and he has a difficult time coming to terms with the epic failure of his play Face Value. Rather than take a humble standpoint, DHH allows his arrogance to consume him, and he tries to cover up the mistakes of the play. His notion of fame also stands in the way of any genuine support of Asian American causes: he is a strong supporter for the ban on Pryce, but he drops the issue once the media influences the Actors’ Equity Association to lift the ban. DHH decides that his time and energy are better spent on other things. DHH uses his Asian American identity when he sees fit and abandons it when it becomes an inconvenience. He is angry with Marcus Gee for not admitting to the public that his identity is a sham, but DHH is not willing to risk the downfall of his own career by voicing to the media that he is the one who created the lie about Marcus Gee. DHH’s conflict forces him to consider the importance of the defining characteristics of his identity.

Stereotypes and the Meaning of Race

In Yellow Face, Hwang examines the role of race in American culture and questions whether it is actually important. The situation regarding Jonathan Pryce’s portrayal of a Eurasian character in Miss Saigon through the use of face painting and eye prostheses prompts critical debate over the importance of representation and the appropriateness of masking features to achieve a particular look on stage. DHH draws a parallel between Pryce’s performance and the controversial use of black face in early minstrel shows. The comparison implicitly suggests that Pryce’s performance is nothing more than a degrading caricature meant to stereotype Asian Americans. However, DHH’s views are challenged by his own father, who is caught in the American Dream and only sees the...

(The entire section is 913 words.)