West and East, Male and Female

Gender and race play a large role in the development of identity in M. Butterfly. International power relations are shown throughout the novel and they help interlace notions of geography into the concept of identity. Hwang draws out the West and East male/female positions through the relationship between Gallimard and Song as well as through Gallimard’s job in power relations. Gallimard has an ignorant concept of identity brought with him from the West in the form of stereotypes about the people of the East. This is solely to Song’s benefit because it means that she is able to play on these stereotypes to convince Gallimard of his gender as a female. Because Song plays the role of the feminine East that Gallimard has grown up believing, it is impossible for Gallimard to see Song for who he really is.

To Gallimard, the East and West are complete opposites, West being strong and educated while the East is submissive and naïve. Gallimard has always struggled with his masculinity and seems to have had a hard time with girls when he was younger. He was never able to live up to the expectations and “be a man” and instead shows a compassionate respect for women that his friends seem to lack. When Marc, his friend, tells him about a party he is throwing with tons of girls, Gallimard shows some apprehension: “I’m afraid they will say no – the girls. So I never ask”. To define his masculine “power” that Gallimard may feel he is lacking in, he must compare it to the completely opposite feminine weakness that he believes defines the East. Gallimard obtains his power he lacks through his relationship with Liling, he felt “for the first time that rush of power–the absolute power of a man”. Somehow this power translates into him focusing ferociously on his work in politics, especially while he is ignoring Song just to feel more of his power exerted over her. All this hard work pays off, and in addition to feeling the “power of a man” in his relationship with Song, he is promoted to a higher position in the power relations between the East and the West. However, since the power he feels over Song is actually built of a false foundation and the power role is actually switched, the political decisions he makes always fall through because they are based on this lie. His view of oriental women and in turn the East itself gets narrower and narrower throughout the book as Song feeds his false perceptions.

To show how much Gallimard’s idea of the perfect woman has skewed we can contrast Gallimard and Song’s relationship with that of Gallimard and Renee. For Gallimard, his relationship with Renee was the mirror of his with Song. Renee “was picture perfect” with a feminine body that Song could not have. However Renee’s attitude towards sex was, in Gallimard’s opinion, “too uninhibited, too willing, so as to seem almost too…masculine?”. This starkly contrasts the relationship with Song which although Gallimard cannot take full advantage off the body of Song, he can feed off the emasculated demeanor that Song puts on.  I also found it very interesting that Renee has the same name as Gallimard, which pointed out that their relationship could be manifestation of the inner conflict going on in Gallimard. The relationship switches the role that Gallimard takes and makes it seem as though Gallimard is the female in their relationship, which perhaps is alluding to the ending when Gallimard admits that he is Madame Butterfly: “my name is Rene Gallimard – also known as Madame Butterfly”. Gallimard cannot deal with this realization he makes about himself, the idea he was fighting internally with throughout the play. As Song puts it, “we are always most revolted by the things hidden within us”.

-ACT

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Filed under Week 8: Taiwanese queer fiction; M. Butterfly

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