Why is Rene Gallimard an unsympathetic or sympathetic character in M.Butterfly? I am referring to the audience being able to sympathize with him or not being able to sympathize with him. What qualities or actions make him either symathetic or unsympathetic?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Gallimard has both sympathetic and unsympathetic elements. He commands the sympathy of the audience because he has grown up, by his own admission, "the least likely to be invited to a party" (Act I, Scene I). He knows that he has never been considered smart or clever, and he is...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Gallimard has both sympathetic and unsympathetic elements. He commands the sympathy of the audience because he has grown up, by his own admission, "the least likely to be invited to a party" (Act I, Scene I). He knows that he has never been considered smart or clever, and he is now jailed in a cell that is four-and-a-half by five meters. The partygoers in Act I, Scene II refer to him as not very handsome, and the woman in that scene says that she feels pity for him. He is clearly a sad character who has long wanted to prove his worth.

On the other hand, Gallimard has been infected with the poison of colonialism, which makes him willing to exploit Song. As he says in Act I, Scene III, "the Yankee travels, casting his anchor wherever he wants." In the part of Pinkerton from Madama Butterfly (the opera by Puccini), he relishes exploiting the lands his nation conquers and also feels that he has the right to conquer its women too. Therefore, Gallimard is both perpetrator and victim in this play, and he is deserving of sympathy in some ways—but not deserving in others.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Rene Gallimard is difficult to categorize in such a polarized way; there are aspects of his character that are very sympathetic and other aspects that are completely repugnant. This complexity, however, is what makes dramas like David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly so compelling. Few individuals in literature are completely straightforward, just as in life.

One of Gallimard's most sympathetic features is his devotion to the opera singer Song Lilang. He even goes to prison for Song after having leaked sensitive information of Song's espionage efforts for the Chinese government. The pathos of his attachment to Song is further emphasized when he dresses himself as Madame Butterfly, Song's character in the opera Madame Butterfly, and kills himself, having learned Song's true identity as a man.

Ironically, one of Gallimard's most repellent characteristics is his ability to conjure Song into the Asian woman of his fantasies in the first place—an ability that can be argued as the catalyst for Gallimard's own downfall. Gallimard falls under Song's spell because he is vulnerable to the docile Asian female image Song puts forward. He sees himself as a white Western man deserving of a 'butterfly' like Song, simply because he is white and Western.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The main trait that makes Gallimard unsympathetic is his racism and his complete adherence to Western stereotypes about the weakness and passivity of the East and its people. Gallimard cannot conceive that eastern populations can rebel to the power of the West. This is clearly shown in his attitude towards Song (whom he thinks to dominate, but who ultimately dominates him, forcing him to pass important military secrets to her) as well as his opinions about the Vietnam War. In addition to racism, Gallimard's sexism also makes him unaware that Song is actually a man.

Yet, the audience cannot feel completely unsympathetic toward Gallimard as the play operates a complete deconstruction of his racism and sexism that puts him in the position of the "exploited and weak oriental". Gallimard is so blinded by his own racial and gender bias that he fails to see how Song is exploiting him. In the final scenes, Gallimard dresses as Song and commits suicide, in an event that also recalls and subverts the ending of Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly which Hwang takes as a target for its stereotyping of the East. In addition, Gallimard's love for Song, which is initially based on a violent and cruel behavior that makes him feel manly, gradually becomes more genuine.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team