Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1580
Chin: This actor played the part of Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s assistant, in the portrayal of the opera, but now she appears as Song’s comrade and intermediary with China.
Renee: A young Western woman with whom Gallimard has a brief affair.
In his cell, Gallimard repeats and dismisses some perfunctory commentary on Puccini’s opera. In his opinion, very few men would pass up the opportunity to be a man like Pinkerton.
Scene 2 opens with a flashback to newfound domestic bliss. According to Gallimard, he and Song have set up a nice flat. During a glimpse of their domestic life, the audience sees how Song asks pointed questions to learn state secrets, such as “What’s happening in Vietnam?”
Gallimard’s attention abruptly shifts to the Beijing embassy in scene 3. Toulon and Gallimard discuss the situation Vietnam. Toulon lets slip that he knows Gallimard has a mistress. This impresses Toulon and confirms Gallimard’s expertise about the Chinese. Furthermore, Toulon assumes that the mistress is gorgeous. Gallimard gives advice based on secret intelligence. His advice, which ultimately proves wrong, is based on his stereotypes of Orientals. Gallimard suggests, “The Orientals simply want to be associated with whoever shows the most strength and power.”
Again, Gallimard makes the incorrect assumption that the Oriental will bow to superior power. His reason is clouded by the stereotypes like those in Madame Butterfly.
The next scene, scene 4, returns to Song and Chin. Back in the new flat that Gallimard has rented for himself and Song, Chin speaks with Song (Gallimard overlooks conversations he never initially saw; they are either for the benefit of the audience or subjective recreations of what occurred). The Party is anxious to know when the Americans will start bombing Vietnam. Chin is not impressed with Song or actors in general and is suspicious of the relationship with Gallimard. According to Chin, or the law of the Communist Party, “there is no homosexuality in China!” Nevertheless, she does not delve too deeply into the details of the affair and how Song manages to get information.
Finally, Gallimard lets the audience in on the details of affair, with rather blunt allusions to the sex. In addition to all the means of pleasure (excepting straightforward vaginal intercourse, which is conspicuous in its absence), Gallimard is taken with how well the “woman” listens.
Scene 5 includes surreal elements, as Song watches a conversation between Helga and Gallimard. Events could never have happened this way, but Gallimard blends the events in his mind. Helga enters. She has been to the doctor. It seems that Gallimard and his wife are having a difficult time trying to conceive a child. No problems have been identified for Helga, so she wants Gallimard to see the doctor to confirm whether he is the cause of their childlessness. Helga and Song both argue with Gallimard. Its point is to show how Song plays on the guilt of childlessness to win over Gallimard’s emotions to an even greater degree.
Gallimard attends a party at the Austrian embassy in scene 6. There he meets Renee, a young Western woman studying Chinese. Renee is very aggressive and asks bluntly whether Gallimard wants to “fool around.” Later, she behaves brashly (in a very un-Butterfly manner) commenting on Gallimard’s penis and speaking in a coarse, forward way. Gallimard categorizes her behavior as “unacceptable.” Nevertheless, he caries on an affair with her for several months, much to the distress of Song. This affair further parallels the roles played by Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San in Madame Butterfly.
Meanwhile, Gallimard learns that the U.S. is planning to let the Vietnamese stage a coup against President Diem. Toulon passes on word that Gallimard’s assessment of the situation needs to be correct; if not, Gallimard must absorb all the blame. The news distresses Gallimard, and he chooses to visit Song, rather than his new mistress, Renee.
In the apartment, Gallimard is perturbed and demands to see Song naked, an impossibility if the “deceit” is to continue. Song deftly diffuses the situation by proclaiming that she is pregnant. Gallimard is deeply touched and feels ashamed. Once more Song is firmly in charge.
At the opening of scene 7, Song asks Chin to provide a baby boy, in order to continue the deceit and convince Gallimard that Song has had his baby, keeping him tied to Song and giving information. Chin is, again, confused and horrified. As the scene disintegrates, Gallimard is back in prison overlooking the deception. Gallimard berates Chin for failing to continue his fantasy. Meanwhile, Song mocks Gallimard, calling him her “greatest acting challenge.”
Having firmly established the parallels to Madame Butterfly, Hwang must now convince the audience that such an obvious gender misidentification could occur. Although the play is based on a real incident, the utter improbability of this incident makes it stand out. How can one adequately explain it? In addition to illustrating how Gallimard becomes Pinkerton, Hwang also must explain, to a mature audience, how a man could have sexual relations with another man for twenty years while thinking that he was a she.
Thus far, Hwang has set the stage for misidentification based on Gallimard’s stereotypical beliefs. However, to reduce the play in this manner is to oversimplify it. After all, Gallimard’s education in basic anatomy must be woefully lacking, and he must truly want to be duped. All this considered, it is no surprise that critical analysis of the work often proposes Gallimard’s homosexuality. Perhaps Gallimard is simply a homosexual in an era when homosexuals were stigmatized. Perhaps he never consciously admits that he knows Song is a man, but subconsciously he knows all along. He may not want to admit to his own homosexuality even to himself. These ideas become more complicated when one considers the power dynamics of sex. Human sexuality is often broken down into dominant and submissive roles. In an interview published in “TDR: Drama Review,” Hwang points out that some cultures do not consider the dominant male in a male/male relationship to be homosexual (TDR: Drama Review, vol. 33, no. 3, p. 45). In such an interpretation, only Song is the submissive one.
Hwang’s script is very ambiguous about homosexuality. It is clearly a theme. However, the extent to which Gallimard acknowledges and accepts his own action of loving a man physically and mentally is up to each individual director and actor; various productions of M. Butterfly can be quite different in this respect. While Gallimard only faces the ultimate truth that Song is a man in act 3, Gallimard’s actions and descriptions of sex in act 2 can be interpreted as deliberate, blissful ignorance of his own homosexuality. As Gallimard states, “Did I not undress her because I knew, somewhere deep down, what I would find?” Gallimard may have concocted the entire Madame Butterfly scenario to cover up a homosexual tryst stigmatized by society at the time, both in China and France. In the end, it is Gallimard’s elaborate fabrications to hide the truth from himself that makes him the laughing stock of the world. If he were to simply admit to being a homosexual, there would be dramatic tension, no play.
Hwang’s mastery in creating scenes that take part in the mind of the protagonist cannot be overemphasized. Virtually the entire play takes place inside Gallimard’s mind. The events are his subjective view on what has taken place. The action is not objective reality. Often characters speak in the same scene when they never actually met in reality. There are also occasional asides spoken by actors to Gallimard or vice versa to remind the audience that Gallimard is reenacting the events, to the best of his ability. Act 2, scene 6 is a good example of this. Conversations between Gallimard and Helga and Gallimard and Song occur in the same scene, though Helga and Song never meet. This merging of events helps portray Gallimard’s mental state and the crisis he faces when confronted with his own possible sterility.
Finally, by the middle of act 2, Gallimard’s transformation into the caddish Pinkerton is complete, at least in Gallimard’s perception. Much like the thoroughly mediocre Pinkerton, Gallimard is now held in high esteem. His boss, Toulon, values his judgment. Also like Pinkerton, Gallimard has confidence with the ladies. His affair with Renee illustrates this neatly. Not only does Gallimard begin to treat Song like just another woman, but he carries on an affair with a woman whose name is suspiciously close to his own, thus keeping with the theme of doubles that runs throughout the play. Rene has sexual relations with Renee. Although Gallimard tells the story as if he is Pinkerton, the man about town successfully chasing women, the action tells quite a different story. As in the recollection when Gallimard loses his virginity, Gallimard is confronted with a sexually aggressive female--this time by a woman who practically shares his name. This dominant woman does the chasing, behaves and speaks bluntly, and behaves more like a man than a woman. Or, at least, more like a man than Gallimard’s conception of the ideal, submissive woman. Although Gallimard, ultimately, does not find this relationship “acceptable,” he never realizes that, in the scenes with Renee, she resembles Pinkerton and he, the conquest. Renee and Rene are mirror images of one another. Once again, Gallimard fails to cast himself in the submissive, female role despite Hwang’s implication that he is such.