In the play M. Butterfly, is Rene Gallimard a tragic hero or a delusional fool?

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According to the definition of a tragic hero, one must have a fatal flaw that brings about their destruction, and they must be able to elicit pity and sympathy from the audience. If your character is unsympathetic or if the character fails because of outside forces, they are not a...

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According to the definition of a tragic hero, one must have a fatal flaw that brings about their destruction, and they must be able to elicit pity and sympathy from the audience. If your character is unsympathetic or if the character fails because of outside forces, they are not a tragic hero. Rene Gallimard, although he does perform many foolish actions, seems to fit the archetype of tragic hero quite well.

Gallimard has a fatal flaw that messes up his circumstances throughout the story. His inability to properly judge other characters and interpret social scenes leads to some bumbling awkwardness and in the end leads to his downfall. He tries to take Song to be a submissive wife, assuming that Song will bow before him: a Westerner. In reality, Song is a strong man who has no such desires. This inability to understand the people around him brings about his tragic end.

Additionally, Gallimard's situation deteriorates over time, making him more and more miserable. As he becomes more miserable and disheartened, his character elicits more sympathy from the audience. This act of drawing out sympathy endears him to the audience, in spite of their knowledge of his downfall. This makes him a tragic figure in their eyes.

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The first point to make when answering questions of this type is that the question is based on a logical fallacy known as the false dilemma (sometimes called "black and white thinking"). It presents us with two alternatives and asks us to apply one of them to a character as though he must be one or the other, when it is perfectly possible that he, like most people, is neither. I do not think I am either a tragic hero or a delusional fool and probably neither do you. Paradoxically, of course, if you think you are a delusional fool, you have probably stopped being one.

With this caveat, however, there is no convincing case to be made for Gallimard as a tragic hero but there are reasons to consider him a delusional fool. The character of Gallimard is based at least partly on Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat who was seduced by a male Peking opera singer Boursicot believed to be female. However, David Henry Hwang changed several important details to make Gallimard a more pathetic and deluded figure. Chief among these was the gory and undignified manner of his death by seppuku. This demonstrates that he is unable to live with and never quite appreciates the nature of his delusion. Bernard Boursicot, at the time of writing, is still alive.

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In many ways, Rene Gallimard fits the definition of a tragic hero. Aristotle defined a tragic hero as someone who has a downfall because of a flaw, referred to as "hamartia" in Greek. As a result of watching the character's downfall, the audience experiences pity and fear, which leads to a sense of catharsis, or the release of emotion.

Rene Gallimard's flaw is his inability to read others. He believes Song is a submissive woman. Long used to be humiliated by women, Gallimard thinks he has found an Asian woman who will submit to him because he is from the West. Song is actually a man and is more powerful and dominant than Gallimard, who is blinded by his cultural superiority as a westerner. In watching Gallimard's downfall, the audience is provoked to feel pity and revulsion at the way in which Gallimard has been led astray by his biases about race and gender.

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Aristotle suggested that a tragic hero must be one that creates pity and fear in the audience. Specifically, the audience should pity a character who falls into misfortune that they do not deserve. They should also feel fear that a similar situation could occur in their own lives. In this sense, while he may be considered to be both delusional and foolish, Gallimard's character could certainly also be considered a tragic hero.

Gallimard's fortunes go from decent to bad to worse quite rapidly. He falls in love and has an affair with a man who is playing a female role in an opera. After finding out, his wife leaves him. As if things could not get any worse, Song, the opera singer, comes to France as a spy and resumes the affair, leading to Gallimard's conviction of treason.

Though the events may seem a bit over-the-top and at times darkly humorous, they still certainly evoke a sense of pity and fear, making Gallimard an arguably worthy tragic hero.

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Gallimard's character does not really fit into the classic definition of the tragic hero.  The classic tragic hero is one who comes from noble beginnings, is led astray by a tragic flaw in his/her character, and in the end realizes the error of his/her ways.  Gallimard does not come from noble beginnings--he is a French diplomat, but he fails to rise to the occasion to do good things in this position.  Gallimard himself admits that growing up he was not an impressive person, and he had trouble developing relationships with others.  Gallimard does suffer a tragic flaw:  his need for acceptance and power drive him to fall prey to the illusion that Song paints of being the perfect "Oriental" woman.  In the end, Gallimard understands that he has been used by Song to get information; however, he still feels that he has been betrayed and that he truly loved Song for the person whom he believed (s)he was.  Gallimard does not really see himself at fault in any way.  So Gallimard does not fit the definition of the tragic hero.

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