(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Two perspectives on modern Chinese American identity clash on a New York City corner when Benjamin, a Caucasian Asian American, and Ronnie, a fully assimilated street musician of Asian ancestry, debate ethnic identity. The charm of this two-person play is that each character is equally likable (and at times equally annoying); their arguments, though oppositional, equally viable; and, in the end, no single viewpoint is privileged. Their debate about how best to represent oneself as an Asian American ends not in a victory but in a draw.

Benjamin Wong is blue eyed and blond haired. His midwestern drawl is the sound of a Kansas childhood, and his ethnic pride rants reflect his liberal education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he majored in Asian American studies. Benjamin’s last name and his ethnic identity are products of his adoption as an infant into an Asian American family. Benjamin’s visit to New York City, his first, is a pilgrimage to pay homage to his recently deceased father. He wants to visit his father’s birth house in Chinatown, but first he needs directions, which he hopes to wrestle from Ronnie, who, Asian in appearance, looks like he might know.

Ronnie is a violinist of credible ability whose range covers classical to jazz, but not the country-western that is music to Benjamin’s ears. When Benjamin mistakenly identifies Ronnie’s instrument as a fiddle, tempers flare. Ronnie’s hurled invective “hick” is misplaced, however, as Benjamin points out, “you can’t judge my race by my genetic heritage alone.” Asian in skin tone and facial features, Ronnie knows little about the history of his culture, and it is a lesson in injustices...

(The entire section is 696 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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Davis, Rocio G. “’Just a Man’: Subverting Stereotypes in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.” Hitting Critical Mass: A Journal of Asian American Cultural Criticism 6, no. 2 (Spring, 2000): 59-74.

Henry, William A. “When East and West Collide.” Time 124 (August 14, 1984): 62-64.

Hwang, David Henry. “The Demon in David Henry Hwang.” Interview by Misha Berson. American Theatre 15, no. 4 (April, 1998): 14-18.

Hwang, David Henry. “Evolving a Multicultural Tradition.” MELUS 16 (Fall, 1989/1990): 16-19.

Kim, Elaine H. “Defining Asian American Realities Through Literature.” Cultural Critique 6 (Spring, 1987): 87-111.

Kondo, Dorinne K. About Face. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Kondo, Dorinne K. “M. Butterfly: Orientalism, Gender, and a Critique of Essentialist Identity.” Cultural Critique 12 (Fall, 1990): 5-29.

Marx, Robert. “Hwang’s World.” Opera News 57 (October, 1992): 14-17.

Moy, James S. Marginal Sights: Staging the Chinese in America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1993.

Shin, Andrew. “Projected Bodies in David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly and Golden Child.” MELUS 27, no. 1 (Spring, 2002): 177-197.

Shinikawa, Karen. “Who’s to Say? Or, Making Space for Gender and Ethnicity in M. Butterfly.” Theatre Journal 45 (October, 1993): 349-362.

Skloot, Robert. “Breaking the Butterfly: The Politics of David Henry Hwang.” Modern Drama 33 (March, 1990): 59-66.

Smith, Dinitia. “Face Values: The Sexual and Racial Obsessions of Playwright David Henry Hwang.” New York 26 (January 11, 1993): 40-45.

Street, Douglas. David Henry Hwang. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1989.