Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1070
Gallimard is completely lovesick after the news that Song is pregnant. Song tries to explain to him why divorcing his wife and marrying her is not a viable option. During the conversation that ensues, Song continues to get the upper hand by emphasizing the meek qualities that reinforce the Oriental female stereotype. She is “not worthy.” Of course, she also doesn’t want him to do anything that would endanger his position in the embassy and thus her source of pertinent information.
The two continue to discuss the plans for the child, whom they assume will be a boy. Song insists on raising him in China. The conversation ends with an aside by Gallimard to the audience in which he admits that Song is, once again, completely in charge.
Scene 9 abruptly shifts ahead three years, to 1966. Gallimard explains how China has changed. Mao is old and contact with foreigners is frowned upon. Gallimard’s apartment has been confiscated by the Communist Party, and Toulon informs Gallimard that he will be sent back to France. Toulon blames Gallimard for faulty analysis of the situation in Vietnam because Gallimard’s predictions have not proved accurate. The Vietnamese have not rolled over for the U.S.A. like the meek Oriental stereotype.
Song’s fortunes are also changing for the worse. He is apprehended by party officials and made to renounce his “decadent profession,” of acting. In a moment of candor, he is forced to confess his homosexual affair, in graphic detail. Representing the People, Chin is disgusted. Song will be “rehabilitated” by doing manual labor for the People.
Scene 10 shifts to 1970; Song has been working for four years as a farmer. Chin visits him and is disgusted that Song still has not developed calluses on his hands. According to Chin, Song was a “homo” who lived off the People. Chin informs Song that he is being deported to the decadent West, France. Song is being kicked out of China without a cent. Not only that, but Song is to continue providing information. As Chin exclaims, Song is to “go to France and be a pervert for Chairman Mao!”
Back in Paris in scene 11, Helga comments to her husband about the student revolution of 1968, when the French students revolted. Helga is appalled that the students are shouting Maoist slogans at her in French. Gallimard points out that the situation is no better in China. There are riots in both countries.
Suddenly, Gallimard asks for a divorce and admits to having had a mistress for eight years in China. Helga is bitter and confused. She likes the “pretense” of their lives, although she realized that something was up.
Helga wishes unhappiness in life upon her husband. This wish turns out to be prophetic, for, once again, the action returns to Gallimard in his prison cell. He reminisces about having been loved by the perfect woman. Song appears as a figment of his imagination dressed as Butterfly. Gallimard argues with Song, pointing out that he didn’t have to take “her” in when she appeared, penniless, at his doorstep in France. As the act ends, Song is removing “her” makeup.
Time flies quickly in the second half of act two; the action shifts from Beijing to Paris over a seven-year period. Gallimard’s psychological make-up and life of fantasy has already been established. Thus, these scenes are perfunctory in terms of Gallimard’s development. Instead of simply revealing his tendency towards fantasy, the scenes tend to depict the way that historical events shaped the lives of the protagonists. The world events of the 1960’s eclipse the individual fates of Gallimard and Song. Communist sentiments are pervasive not only in Maoist China, but in France, which is experiencing the student rebellion of 1968. There is no escape for either Gallimard or Song.
Although the play is not directly historical, it is ironic that events in Vietnam play out in contradiction to Gallimard’s predictions. True to his preconceived notions, Gallimard had predicted that Vietnam would roll over when faced with the U.S. forces. The idea of the meek, submissive Chinese was every bit as wrong as the myth of the submissive Oriental female. Gallimard’s ideas do not conform to the reality around him, and even the prolonged war in Vietnam does not lead him to question his ideas.
After Gallimard is sent packing back to France, the People apprehend and denounce Song. The persecution of Song presents ample opportunity to infer Hwang’s attitude towards Maoist China. It does not seem fair that Song is persecuted for helping his own government. Act 2, scene 9 is a representation of a homophobic society persecuting one of its own despite years of successful espionage serving that very society. Song is scorned. His “full confession” under the constant goading of Chin leads to his blunt, graphic admission of sodomy. However, without the “crime,” the People would not have been privy to classified information. The persecution of Song illustrates the hypocrisy of societies which use sexual morality in a capricious manner to stigmatize individuals; Chin, whose character is an allegorical personification of the People, would have to have been as blind as Gallimard not to realize the details of the affair. However, she was more than willing to turn a blind eye so long as Song provided useful information.
Gallimard and Chin are not the only characters to remain willfully blind. Helga also refuses to face reality until Gallimard confesses and asks for a divorce. Helga’s response is in tune with the theme of characters that live in their own comfortable little worlds of fantasy in spite of the reality right in front of them. She retorts, “I knew that you were not everything that you pretended to be. But the pretense—going on your arm to the embassy ball, visiting your office and the guards saying, ‘Good morning, good morning, Madame Gallimard’—the pretense was very good indeed.” Ultimately, her flawed coping mechanisms are no different than her husband’s. Both prefer fantasy to reality.
As events gradually turn sour, the scene is set for the final confrontation, in which Gallimard must come to grips with reality. As Song’s motives and gender become more and more obvious, Gallimard becomes bitter and confrontational. Eventually, he will have to recast himself in the role of Butterfly, in order to escape into the refuge of his imaginary world.