Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1448
Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 1
GALLIMARD: …But, to be honest, I’m not treated like an ordinary prisoner. Why? Because I’m a celebrity. You see, I make people laugh.
I never dreamed this day would arrive. I’ve never been considered witty or clever. In fact, as a young boy, in an informal poll among my grammar school classmates, I was voted “least likely to be invited to a party.” It’s a title I managed to hold onto for many years. Despite some stiff competition.
But now, how the tables turn! Look at me: the life of every social function in Paris. Paris? Why be modest? My fame has spread to Amsterdam, London, New York. Listen to them! In the world’s smartest parlors. I’m the one who lifts their spirits!
Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat to Communist China, has been charged with treason. The play opens with Gallimard in his prison cell, explaining (and justifying) himself to the audience. With ironic cheer about his surroundings, he extols the “luxury” of French prisons. Yet he himself, he states, is more than just a prisoner as are the other inmates. He claims he is a “celebrity.” The fact that his crime involves complicity with a Communist agent who was his lover for more than twenty years, without his knowing either that the agent was a spy and not a woman, has made him a laughingstock. It is this that has made him a “celebrity.” He pretends to glory in it. As a school boy he had been unpopular and shunned. He now sees that, if he is not famous, at least he is infamous and the subject of much attention. He tries to convince the audience that he is happy with the “fame” he has earned. Yet it is all bluff.
Essential Passage 2: Act 1, Scene 9
GALLIMARD: You embarrass me. She…there’s no reason to think she likes me.
MARC: “Sometimes, it is mutual”?
MARC: “Mutual”? “Mutual”? What does that mean?
GALLIMARD: You heard!
MARC: It means the money is in the bank, you only have to write the check!
GALLIMARD: I am a married man!
MARCH: And an excellent one too. I cheated after…six months. Then again and again, until now—three hundred girls in twelve years.
GALLIMARD: I don’t think we should hold that up as a model.
MARC: Of course not! My life—it is disgusting! Phooey! Phooey! But, you—you are a model husband.
Gallimard has met Song Liling, a Chinese opera singer at a performance. Song has approached Gallimard and seemingly expresses an interest in him. Gallimard has paradoxical reactions to this situation. First of all, as a married man, he needs to resist the attentions of another woman, but he finds Song fascinating. Secondly, he has never felt comfortable around the opposite sex, nor has been especially attracting of them, so he is flattered that this beautiful woman is interested in him. His school friend, Marc, appears, who functions almost like the devil on his shoulder. Marc has known of Gallimard’s discomfort around women, so he almost taunts him with this potential conquest. He encourages Gallimard to realize that yes indeed this woman is interested in him. Marc blatantly goads him into proceeding into a relationship with Song, despite his being married. Marc gives himself as an example of a “liberated” married man. Marc laughs off Gallimard’s protest that Marc himself is not to be used as a model husband. He points out the fallacy of Gallimard’s being so, when he married, not for love, but for position. Marc’s words will eventually strike home, and Gallimard will begin his decades-long affair with Song.
Essential Passage 3: Act 3, Scene 3
GALLIMARD: Death honor is better than life…life with dishonor. (He sets himself center stage, in a seppuku position) The love of a Butterfly can withstand many things—unfaithfulness, loss, even abandonment. But how can it face the one sin that implies all 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.
Gallimard has come to realize that his love for Song has been false. Mirroring the plot of the opera Madame Butterfly, he can no longer live if his love has been in vain. Gallimard quotes from the opera as commits suicide. He dresses himself as a Chinese woman, thus taking on the role of Madame Butterfly, the role that Song had portrayed when they first met many years before. Choosing a Japanese, rather than a specifically Chinese, method of suicide, Gallimard reinforces the betrayal he has felt and that has affected him to the ultimate depths. Seppuku was reserved for samurai when they have lost honor. It is by this method of suicide that honor can be regained by acknowledging dishonor. Thus, though the title has implied that Song is “M. Butterfly”, it is in fact Gallimard himself who personifies that role. Song himself, seeing Gallimard’s death, calls out the closing lines of the opera, “Butterfly? Butterfly?” The man of dishonor has survived.
Analysis of Essential Passages
Rene Gallimard fits the characteristics of the classical tragic hero, but perhaps a low-level one. He does not begin at a strong, high position as such, but is hampered from rising to greater hits by the fatal flaws that eventual cause his downfall: insecurity and self-deception. The heights from which he falls are generated more by his own mind than in actuality. However, his fall is caused, not so much by others as it is by his own insecurity, which makes him vulnerable to manipulation.
This insecurity also plays a role in is search for a self-identification that he did not have, leading him to be deceived by someone whose own identity was false.
Gallimard began life with no clear identity. As is revealed through his conversations with Marc, his school mate, Gallimard always had difficulty dealing with other people, especially the opposite sex. Marc tries to give him an identity mirroring his own, which turns out to be just as false as Song’s. As much as Marc tries to manufacture him into something new, Gallimard is not a womanizer, a great lover, or even a model husband. He has failed in each of these categories, and his only “comfort” is that now, as traitor to his country in such a manner as to make him a laughingstock, he has achieved notoriety, which is a poor substitute for popularity.
Gallimard’s sense of identity, of fulfillment, is found in his love for Song, with whom he has an affair for over twenty years. Through all this time, his self-delusion prevents him from seeing the truth, either about himself or about Song. Whatever hints may have fallen over the two decades of their relationship (and surely there must have been many), Gallimard believes only in his ideal woman in the person of Song.
It is when it is finally revealed that Song is not all that Gallimard thought she (he) was, that Gallimard suffers his tragic fall. Not only was he wrong about his lover, but he was wrong about himself. The low opinions held by his school mates are justified after all. His life, like his love, has been a fraud. By Song’s deception, and thus a rejection of his love, Gallimard has faced complete dishonor. In the Western culture, there is no legitimate way for a man to gain back his honor. Thus Gallimard turns to the Japanese culture, deciding to take his life by seppuku (ritual suicide). His honor is found in admitting that he does not have the right to remain in this life. Quoting the closing scene from the opera, Madame Butterfly, Gallimard reveals that he himself is the Butterfly. The ambiguous title, M. Butterfly, the “M.” being the French abbreviation for the title “Monsieur,” falls on him. This ending is ironic in that the audience members familiar with the opera as well as the true identity of Song, expect the title to refer to Song, whose role as Madame Butterfly dressed as a woman hides his identity as a man (“monsieur”). Yet it is instead Gallimard who fills the role, taking on himself the garb of a woman just as Song did. But where Song used this costume for dishonorable purposes in deceiving Gallimard, Gallimard uses it to identify himself as one who “loved not wisely, but too well.”
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