M. Butterfly Essential Quotes by Theme: Stereotypes

David Henry Hwang

Essential Quotes by Theme: Stereotypes

Essential Passage 1: Act 1, Scene 3

The duet plays on the speakers. Gallimard, as Pinkerton, lip-syncs his lines from the opera.

GALLIMARD: To give a rough translation: “The whole world over, the Yankee travels, casting his anchor wherever he wants. Life’s not worth living unless he can win the hearts of the fairest maidens, then hotfoot it off the premises ASAP.” (He turns toward Marc) In the preceding scene, I played Pinkerton, the womanizing cad, and my friend Marc from school… (Marc bows grandly for our benefit) played Sharpless, the sensitive soul of reason. In life, however, our positions were usually—no, always—reversed.

Rene Gallimard is in prison awaiting trial for treason, stemming from his affair with a Chinese national, whom he did not realize was neither a spy nor a man. As a Frenchman in China, involved with a Chinese “woman,” Gallimard is victimized by his own, as well as others’, view of the stereotypes of the different nationalities. Gallimard has been acting out a scene from the opera Madame Butterfly, which centers on the relationship between an American man and a Chinese woman. Both are portrayed strongly according to their stereotypes, Gallimard relates. The American, “Yankee,” is portrayed as a vagabond and a womanizer. His main goal is conquest, in this case the conquest of as many women as possible, with no attachments. The American is presented as callous, unfeeling, manipulating, and untrustworthy, a typical representation of the view of Americans in many parts of the world. This opens the stage for further stereotypes, based both on nationality and on gender.

Essential Passage 2: Act 1, Scene 6

GALLIMARD: No! I was about to say, it’s the first time I’ve seen the beauty of the story.

SONG: Really?

GALLIMARD: Of her death. It’s a …a pure sacrifice. He’s unworthy, but what can she do? She loves him…so much. It’s a very beautiful story.

SONG: Well, yes, to a Westerner.

GALLIMARD: Excuse me?

SONG: It’s one of your favorite fantasies, isn’t it? The submissive Oriental woman and the cruel white man.

GALLIMARD: Well, I didn’t quite mean…

SONG: Consider it this way: what would you say if a blonde homecoming queen fell in love with a short Japanese business man? He treats her cruelly, then goes home for three years, during which time she prays to his picture and turns down marriage from a young Kennedy. Then, when she learns he has remarried, she kills herself. Now, I believe you would consider this girl to be a deranged idiot, correct? But because it’s an Oriental who kills herself for a Westerner—ah!—you find it beautiful.

Rene Gallimard has attended a party at the home of the German ambassador, where he first heard Song perform an aria from the opera Madame Butterfly. He is very moved by the story of the love between an American naval officer and a Japanese woman. In the end, the American man betrays the Japanese woman and she commits suicide. Song, however, is not impressed with the romance of the story, pointing out to Gallimard that is based on pure racist and gender stereotypes. She reverses the genders and demonstrates to Gallimard the difference in one’s attitude, to think that an American woman would fall in love with and kill herself for a Japanese man. However, because the opera speaks of an Asian woman, the impression on Westerners is that this is more appropriate, because of their prejudiced views of the submissiveness of Asian women. This scene foreshadows the conclusion of the play when Gallimard, a European male, kills...

(The entire section is 1581 words.)