Act I, Scenes 7-13: Summary and Analysis

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

New Characters Ambassador Toulon: Gallimard’s boss at the Beijing embassy.

Summary Scene 7 opens with Gallimard and his wife discussing the arrogance of the Chinese in general and specifically Gallimard’s recollections of Song.. Helga points out the contradiction in this woman performing as a character she hates and believes false.

His curiosity piqued by his wife’s questions, Gallimard attends a Chinese opera in which Song is performing in scene 8. He is the only Westerner in the opera house, and Song addresses him derisively. The two exchange aggressive, straightforward dialogue. Gradually the conversation turns towards what white (imperialists) want. Before long, the two are outside Song’s flat. Song leaves Gallimard there, on the street. Gallimard is greatly impressed by his own suave behavior, but he does not realize that he is being duped.

Upon returning home in scene 9, Gallimard, for the first time in the marriage, lies to his wife about where he has been. After falling asleep, he dreams his childhood friend, Marc, goads Gallimard to cheat on his wife. Marc mentions stereotypical roles that Gallimard can play to insure success with his new lady friend. Suddenly, Song, too, appears in the dream. As Marc exclaims, Gallimard’s wait for an ideal woman will soon be over. A ringing phone interrupts Gallimard’s dream of Marc. Song has called at an inappropriate hour to invite Gallimard to another performance. Gallimard is hooked on her.

As Gallimard explains in scene 10, Gallimard and Song begin meeting. Gallimard is falling for his own stereotypical idealizations of the Asian woman: shy, demure, and passive . Gallimard describes Song in contradictory terms that confirm his own stereotype “she is outwardly bold and outspoken, yet her heart is shy and afraid. It is the Oriental in her at war with her Western education,” he says.

Gallimard finally gains entrance to Song’s apartment. Song pretends to be frail and shy. Gallimard completely falls for this routine. He enjoys playing the “foreign devil” the Pinkerton to Song’s Butterfly. He leaves the apartment aroused by the role-play.

By scene 11, Gallimard is behaving like Pinkerton from Puccini’s opera. He treats Song casually; he does not call her for five weeks. He feels the power of being a man for the first time in his life. This sharply contrasts with his previous experiences, as the reappearance of Mark reminds Gallimard. Marc retells of an incident where Marc had arranged for Gallimard to have a sexual experience with an aggressive (non-Eastern) woman. The woman was Gallimard’s first sexual experience and is described in a very unromantic manner.

Marc learns that Song has been writing Gallimard letters. In the letters, Song pines for Gallimard. One phrase in the latest letter --“I have already given you my shame”--finally gets Gallimard’s full attention. Gallimard enjoys feeling empowered. Once again, he is hooked.

Ambassador Toulon, Gallimard’s boss, reveals to Gallimard in scene 12 that he has noticed a change in Gallimard’s personality, in that Gallimard is more aggressive and masculine. Toulon is impressed and recommends that Gallimard be promoted to Vice Consul. At aged 39, Gallimard feels like he is finally figuring out the world. The implication is that his newfound success has a lot to do with rumors that he “gets along with the Chinese.” Scene 13 illustrates the new, confident, and demanding Gallimard. Emboldened by his recent career success and newfound feelings of masculine power, Gallimard knocks on Song’s door, unannounced, after an eight-week absence. He demands to know whether she is his “Butterfly,” and he openly identifies her as the Puccini heroine. He is Pinkerton and she is his Butterfly. Playing...

(This entire section contains 1447 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

along, Song confesses that she is indeed his “Butterfly.” The snare is set, and Gallimard professes his love. She resists his kisses, proclaiming she is a “modest Chinese girl.” Then she calls Gallimard over as he turns out the light.

Analysis After having met Song, or Butterfly, the play takes on a new dimension in which the power dynamics in the relationship between the two characters are established. Through his asides to the audience, Gallimard had previously laid the groundwork for the drama to mirror the action of Madame Butterfly. In the second half of act 1, the audience sees the relationship develop and the subsequent changes in Gallimard’s personality.

As has been previously established, Gallimard is not at ease with the opposite sex. He is rather homely and has always lacked confidence. His ideas of courtship and relationship involve the improbable scenarios of the opera Madame Butterfly. Seen in this light, Gallimard’s escape into the fantasy world of an opera plot is an attempt at wish fulfillment. In his fantasy world, he can be Pinkerton. Although Gallimard intellectually knows that Pinkerton is nothing special, Gallimard remains envious at the power that Pinkerton holds over Cio-Cio-San, as well as his ability to pick up women wherever he may be in the world with veritable ease. Gallimard longs to experience this type of power.

His longing is so pervasive that he doesn’t see indications to the contrary. Even during the meeting in the Beijing opera house, when Song openly mocks Gallimard’s foolish acceptance of Western stereotypes, Gallimard remains set in his fantasy. Song criticizes Gallimard for failing to recognize his own flawed beliefs: “No you wouldn’t. You’re a Westerner. How can you objectively judge your own values?” Depending on the production, the audience may easily ascertain that Song, from the very beginning, is manipulating a socially inept man.

Gallimard falls completely under the influence of this manipulation. After all, he wants to live in the world of imagination, where he can be Pinkerton and have sexual power. Song’s ethnicity and role-playing make this possible. Almost immediately, Gallimard’s personality transforms. Like Pinkerton, Gallimard becomes more duplicitous and begins lying to his wife. He moves from bumbling oaf to being a ladies’ man. At the core of this transformation is the fallacy that Oriental woman revere Western men. Since Marc also adheres to this false belief, one can hypothesize that Hwang is making a statement about how easily Western men believe such tripe: “Ah yes. She cannot love you, it is taboo, but something deep inside her heart . . . she cannot help herself . . . she must surrender to you. It is her destiny.”

Considering Gallimard’s vulnerable mental state and his flawed outlook, he is an easy mark for Song. At first, Song doesn’t even have to play the stereotypical role, Gallimard is so willing to believe the stereotype that he discounts Song’s outward behavior and invents an inner sensitivity: “She is outwardly bold and outspoken, yet her heart is shy and afraid.” There is nothing in the play to back up this assertion. Gallimard has completely invented it so that reality can conform with his fancy. The audience soon discovers that Song is a spy working for the Chinese and is only too willing to exploit Gallimard’s naiveté. By the end of scene 10, Song has caught on and actively plays the submissive role. Gallimard is duped: “Did you hear the way she talked about Western woman? Much differently than the first night. She does—she feels inferior to them—and to me.”

Oblivious to reality, Gallimard becomes more and more like the materialistic and outwardly successful Pinkerton. He even stops lavishing Song with his attentions, an old ploy by men who want to gain the attention of women: ignore the ladies and they will come to you. Gallimard is finally figuring out how to possess a woman. His caddish behavior leads Song to contact him, making it seem as if “she” has relinquished power. Although Gallimard doesn’t realize it, Song is completely in charge. Gallimard may believe and even resemble Pinkerton, temporarily, but, in reality, he is not Pinkerton at all.

The flashback to the scene where Gallimard loses his virginity (act 1, scene two) is quite telling in that the power relationship is the reverse of what Gallimard desires. Because he is unattractive to women, Gallimard is set up with a sexually aggressive female friend of Marc’s. The incident is recalled as if she raped Gallimard: “My arms were pinned to the dirt.” Although he does not say so outright, Gallimard seems ashamed by the whole event. In his own value system, he may have felt as if he was the woman, giving in to a superior being. Longing to be the man or the superior in a relationship, Gallimard falls completely for Song’s letter in which “she” says, “I have already given you my shame.” Gallimard can feel like the hunter, the womanizer. He enjoys the role while it lasts.


Act I, Scenes 1-6: Summary and Analysis


Act II, scenes 1-7: Summary and Analysis