Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1746
New Characters Judge: The man who oversees Gallimard’s trial.
Summary Song’s transformation, which began at the end of the last act, is complete. No longer the Butterfly, he is dressed in a well-cut suit and is in a Paris courthouse. It is now 1986, the year in which the French...
(The entire section contains 1746 words.)
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Judge: The man who oversees Gallimard’s trial.
Song’s transformation, which began at the end of the last act, is complete. No longer the Butterfly, he is dressed in a well-cut suit and is in a Paris courthouse. It is now 1986, the year in which the French espionage scandal mentioned in the playwright’s notes hit the press.
The audience is finally treated to Song’s interpretation of events; the action is no longer flashbacks in Gallimard’s mind, but actual courtroom testimony. Song tells the judge how he came to Paris, how Gallimard supported him and how he manipulated Gallimard to apply for positions where he would be handling sensitive material that would be useful to Comrade Chin. Song denies that Gallimard ever knew that he was passing along the material to the Chinese.
Finally, the judge asks what everyone wants to know: did Gallimard ever know that “she” was a man? The answer is not simple. Song speaks of details like Gallimard never seeing him naked, but fails to give a yes/no answer. Of course, this does not satisfy the judge. Song continues, explaining that he, Song, “did all the work.” Song goes on to explain the main reason his deceit worked: men simply believe what they want to. In this case, Gallimard wanted to believe the stereotypical ideal of the meek, submissive Oriental woman. Song complied and Gallimard was successfully duped. In his explanation, Song also points out the incongruity of the concept of masculinity and Oriental meekness; in the eyes of a Westerner, an Oriental can never be, “completely a man.”
Although still in the courtroom, the action that ensues in scene 2 is, once again, very subjective. It takes place largely through the eyes of Gallimard. The dialogue is the culminating confrontation between Gallimard and Song. It is rife with accusation, renunciation and psychological games. The mind games begin with Gallimard’s realization, after hearing Song testify, that his lover is little like the Butterfly of his imagination. Song is a common type, unworthy of Gallimard’s ideation.
Song brags about his great acting performance, i.e. tricking Gallimard. Song brings up old memories and dares to strip, like Gallimard once asked him to. After a brief heated exchange, Song strips on stage; he is clearly a man. Gallimard breaks into uncontrollable laughter as he is finally confronted with the inevitable truth of Song’s gender.
Ironically, this revelation leads to Gallimard wresting control from Song. Because Gallimard no longer believes in his imaginative Butterfly, Song loses his power over Gallimard. Song is helpless as Gallimard orders him out of his life. After physically removing Song from the stage (and, figuratively, his life), Gallimard chooses to return to his life of imagination. He is sorry--sorry like Madame Butterfly in Puccini’s opera when confronted with the truth that Pinkerton is a cad not worthy of her attention. Instead of identifying with Pinkerton, Gallimard now identifies with Butterfly.
The final scene of the play, scene 3, is meant to mirror the final suicide scene in the Puccini opera in which Cio-Cio-San commits suicide after realizing that her love has been in vain. Gallimard returns to his fantasy world and reenacts the end of the opera. Putting on a wig and kimono, Gallimard prepares to kill himself. He mentions the immortal line from Madame Butterfly, “Death with honor is better than life. . . life with dishonor.” He plunges a knife into himself with the appropriate music from the opera playing in the background.
Song reappears and recites the final words of Pinkerton in the opera, “Butterfly? Butterfly?” ending the play. The transformation is complete only when the Western (wo)man, Gallimard, dies while the Eastern man lives to observe the effects of his callous actions.
The courtroom scene, which is virtually the only scene without Gallimard, serves to clarify some of the major points concerning stereotypes and deception for the audience. For once we get Song’s opinion, without any sign that Gallimard’s subjectivity is intruding.
Song explains just how such an outrageous deception is possible. True to the themes of the play, the primary reasons are a man’s need to deceive himself and Western man’s false beliefs or stereotypical views of Orientals. As Song explains, “Okay, Rule One is: Men always believe what they want to hear.” His second reason involves the fact that to Westerners, all Orientals are feminine in nature. He sums up his duping of Gallimard as follows: “One, because when he finally met his fantasy woman, he wanted more than anything to believe that she was, in fact, a woman. And second, I am an Oriental. And being an Oriental, I could never be completely a man.” The fact that the judge does not comprehend this explanation only proves the point. As he pries for more factual information, i.e. whether Gallimard knew that Song was a man, Song admits, “I never asked.” Ultimately the realization of gender is unimportant to Gallimard.
In the final two scenes, all the misconceptions are laid bare. Indeed, things are not as they seem—in fact, they are the opposite. In the original opera, Cio-Cio-San mistakenly believes that Pinkerton is a figure worthy of her love. This is based on her false assumption that Western men are exalted (or, one might argue, the false Western assumption that Eastern women believe this). In the end, she realizes that Pinkerton is just a typical man; he is nothing special.
Likewise, for over twenty years Gallimard has believed that Song was a worthy recipient of his love. However, Song’s courtroom dialogue and attire is too coarse and common for Gallimard. Gallimard, in an aside to the audience, states, “What strikes me especially is how shallow he is, how glib and obsequious . . . completely . . . without substance! The type that prowls around discos with a gold medallion stinking of garlic. So little like my Butterfly.”. Thus, even before Song strips, revealing the final truth, Gallimard is already coming to grips with the fact that Gallimard is a man. In this sense the play is wonderfully ambiguous because one can stress the revelation of Song’s gender as the cathartic moment, based on Gallimard’s lines, but the lines also reveal a deeper reason for disappointment. Homosexuality is a theme, but a minor one. The lines where Gallimard admits to loving another man clearly show that he, Gallimard, is ultimately distraught for another reason.
Gallimard is not upset about having been duped into a homosexual affair (there are many who would argue that he certainly, at least subconsciously, knows that he is gay all along). Rather, he is upset because the recipient of his love and affection ultimately, proves to be unworthy, just a man. In his last lines of the play, Gallimard ties together all the loose ends in his own story, which allows him to adhere to his world of fantasy where life mirrors Madame Butterfly:
The love of a Butterfly can withstand many things—unfaithfulness, loss, even abandonment. But how can it face the one sin that implies the others? The devastating knowledge that, underneath it all, the object of her love was nothing more, nothing less than . . . a man. (He sets the tip of the knife against his body) It is 19_ _. And I have found her at last. In a prison on the outskirts of Paris. My name is Rene Gallimard—also known as Madame Butterfly.
Notice that although the words are slightly ambiguous, Gallimard expresses no direct regret that the affair was with a man, i.e. a homosexual affair; Gallimard’s acknowledging and coming to terms with his sexual orientation is a minor theme. Rather, the regret is that Song is just a man, a common person (Pinkerton), unworthy of the depth with which a woman like Butterfly loves.
In order for Gallimard to remain ensconced in his world of fantasy—most of the characters in this play live in a world of illusion—he needs to bring the current revelations into the roles he has cast in Madame Butterfly. Luckily, the revelation that Song is unworthy fits right into the original script, or libretto. Gallimard finally understands that he is not a Pinkerton, but a Butterfly, a (wo)man who has lavished her love dishonorably. The inevitable result is Gallimard’s suicide mirroring the one in the opera.
While the play is largely meant to parallel Madame Butterfly, there are some key differences between the two. The most obvious is Pinkerton. In the final scene of the opera, Pinkerton is a coward and non-confrontational. He rationalizes what he has done and tries to fob off the errand of revealing the truth to Sharpless. In his final lines, he assumes that Cio-Cio-San’s grief will pass. Puccini’s Pinkerton is ultimately much less complex than Hwang’s Song.
Song, unlike the Pinkerton of the opera, is acutely aware of what he has lost. For Pinkerton, Cio-Cio-San was just another fling. For Song, duping Gallimard presented the role of a lifetime; it was a huge challenge, an artistic creation sui generis. In the end, Song destroys his own life by revealing that he is just a man. With that revelation comes the end of his role, the end of his being able to convince himself that he unique, a great actor. Song, like Gallimard, has been living in a world of fantasy.
The power dynamic shifts immediately after Song strips. He no longer has any power over Gallimard. Ironically, the realization with which Song is confronted can be viewed as just as harsh as Gallimard’s. “Wait. I’m not ‘just a man,’” argues Song in vain. While Gallimard is devastated by the realization that Song is “just a man,” so is Song, shattered by the realization that he is just a man and no longer a great actor. Song’s demise is quite sad and adds a whole new depth to the closing lines of the play, “Butterfly? Butterfly?”
It is interesting to note that Hwang changed the punctuation of the final line, rendering it a question rather than an exclamation. While the original Pinkerton repeats the name in an effort to ward off tragedy (suicide), Song utters it like a question. The implication is that he is longing for something that he has inevitably lost. Yes, Song is Pinkerton, but what an empty role that is--especially when it is no longer a role at all.