David Henry Hwang Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What various images of Asianness are presented in David Henry Hwang’s plays?

How does Hwang use the myth of the butterfly to dismantle a centuries-old belief in Asian submissiveness to Western dominance?

Consider how M. Butterfly deconstructs the sexual mythology of Orientalism.

Hwang suggests that gender, race, and nationality are constructed, not innate, identities. Discuss scenes from his plays that support this position.

Examine the role that music, from pop to opera, plays in Hwang’s works.

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

David Henry Hwang has written a number of screenplays, including M. Butterfly (1993), Golden Gate (1994), and Possession (2001). He has also written for television with scripts that include My American Son (1987) and The Lost Empire (2001).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

David Henry Hwang is the first Asian American playwright to bring specifically Asian and American themes to Broadway and Off-Broadway theater. His plays explore issues of ethnic identity, gender, and imperialism, with often stunning theatrical flair. Within the first decade of his career as a playwright, he staged six major productions in New York and abroad, garnering four Off-Broadway “Best Play” nominations and awards. M. Butterfly, his first Broadway play, won both the New York Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award for Best Play as well as a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Golden Child was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 1998 and earned an Obie Award for Playwriting in 1997.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bernstein, Richard. “France Jails Two in Odd Case of Espionage.” The New York Times, May 11, 1986, p. K7. The original news account on which M. Butterfly is based. It recounts the sentencing for espionage of Bernard Bouriscot, a forty-one-year-old French diplomat, and Chinese opera singer Shi Peipeu. During their twenty-year relationship, Bouriscot mistakenly believed Peipeu was a woman. He also believed they had a son, Shi Dudu.

Chen, Tina. “Betrayed into Motion: The Seduction of Narrative Desire in M. Butterfly.” Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism 1, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 129-154. Analyzes M. Butterfly as postmodern drama, focusing on its relationship with the audience.

Gerard, Jeremy. “David Hwang: Riding on the Hyphen.” The New York Times Magazine, March 13, 1988, pp. 44, 88-89. This biographical profile, preceding the Broadway debut of M. Butterfly, focuses on Hwang’s crossover from ethnic to mainstream commercial theater with a play that violates conventions of commercial theater in its treatment of sexism, racism, and imperialism, plus its inclusion of Chinese opera, its scandalous plot, and its brief nudity. Hwang comments on the self-doubt that accompanied his sudden fame.

Hwang, David Henry. “The Demon in David Henry Hwang.” Interview by Misha Berson. American Theatre 15, no. 4 (April, 1998): 14-18. In this interview, Hwang comments on his theatrical successes and failures, explains the impact of his family’s religious fundamentalism on his work, and reveals the reactions of some Asians and Asian Americans to their stage counterparts.

Hwang, David Henry. “Interview with Marty Moss-Coane. Edited with an Introduction by John Timpane.” In Speaking on...

(The entire section is 794 words.)