What is the role of politics in M. Butterfly?

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Politics plays an important role in M. Butterfly in terms of ideology, nationalism, and war. The play also demonstrates the close links between personal and political concerns. The fundamental ideological opposition that influences the action is between communism and capitalism. The challenges of international relations between China and France are represented by Song and Gallimard. These two lines of conflict intersect in Song’s espionage, which is concerned with the Vietnam War of the 1960s.

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In many ways, M. Butterflyis a play about interpersonal relationships, as it focuses on the doomed love of René Gallimard for Song Liling . In other respects, however, politics dominates the entire play, because the characters’ behaviors are differently motivated by their political beliefs.

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Song’s motivation for deceiving Gallimard. Politics is also related to nationalism, as Song engages in illegal and clandestine activities on behalf her country, China. In contrast, Gallimard increasingly distances himself from nationalist allegiance, to the point of treason. Because much of the play occurs during the Vietnam War, the global politics of affiliation between old European colonial rule and new American control is an important concern.

Playwright David Henry Hwang explores the multiple contradictions that can arise when a person is blinded by love and desire. Gallimard outwardly supports the idea of European superiority, including that of its political system. His diplomatic involvement tends to be more pragmatic than sincere. By skillfully identifying and exploiting his weaknesses and Western assumptions about Asian women, Song turns him into a traitor and forces him to confront his own hypocrisy. Gallimard’s patriotism proves to be as fragile as the French hold on Indochina had been.

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