You are on page 1of 4

Sara Ramirez Dr. Heltzel UIC Eng. 114, Colonial and Post-Colonial Lit.

19 February 2013 The Western Men‟s Perspective of Asian Women: Stereotypes Made in M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang In the play M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, Rene Gallimard, the narrator and main character, starts the story of his lifelong romantic ignorance that led him to be convicted of treason and to be incarcerated. Before Gallimard starts his story, he explains his favorite opera Madame Butterfly to the audience, which is parallel to Gillimard‟s life throughout the play. The opera is described as the story of an Asian woman named Cio-Cio-San, also known as Butterfly, who gives up her life for her American “husband,” Benjamin Pinkerton, because he abandoned her and married an American woman after they had a child together. Afterwards, Gallimard tells the story of how he met Song, his mistress who is actually a male Chinese spy, how his life played out during his 20 year relationship with “her,” and how he ended up in jail because of their relationship. Throughout the play, Hwang, who at times uses a culturally stereotypical and humorous tone, embeds events into Gallimard‟s life that demonstrates the stereotypes that Western men have of Asian women. Western men seem to believe that all Asian women are feminine, traditional, exotic, and submissive women who are in need of Western protection like Cio-CioSan from Madame Butterfly. Also, as shown in Hwang‟s version of Pinkerton, we can also see how the Western men also thought that Asian women were easy to marry, willing to tolerate infidelity, and completely devoted and dependent on Western men. At a larger scale, Western men also viewed all of the East as feminine and the West as masculine. For example, when Song states

how he couldn‟t ever truly be a man because he was Asian, one can see that the West set up the stereotype that Asians were in a sense weaker than the Westerners. However, throughout the play, Hwang also shows how those stereotypes are not true. Hwang illustrates many of the stereotypes through Gallimard‟s idea of a perfect woman, the fantasy that Asian women are completely reserved, submissive, and devoted to their husbands. Gallimard believes he found his perfect woman in Song. Sadly, Gallimard does not know that his “perfect woman” is in fact a man who is manipulating him. Thus, Gallimard does not realize the flipped roles; Song becomes the “Pinkerton” of the story and Gallimard becomes “Butterfly.” Throughout the play, the reader gets a clear picture of how intensely mistaken the western men‟s perspective of Asian woman is and how that flawed stereotype ingrained in Gallimard‟s mentality fueled the destruction of his life. For example, after Gallimard starts an “extra-extramarital affair” with Renee, a beautiful student from Denmark, in 1963, Renee starts to analyze the attention a man‟s penis receives on one of their encounters. Renee states that “you [men] conquer the country, or whatever, but you‟re still wearing clothes, so there‟s no way to prove absolutely whose [penis is] bigger or smaller. [...] The whole world run by a bunch of men with pricks the size of pins” (44). Through this analogy, Renee not only “questions the role of the penis in modern society,” like Gallimard puts it, but unintentionally foreshadows the reality that lies behind the universal stereotype that men are different based on a meager physical or, in Renee‟s eyes, character trait. In this way, Renee also becomes the voice of the author, who is trying to challenge an established stereotype. The men who try to hide their “little weenie” through successes is Renee‟s way of saying that no one will truly know the size of a man‟s penis unless it is proven, or, in other words, that someone sees and compares them. In this same way, the reader can compare this conclusion to Hwang‟s message: western men cannot know how Asian women are supposed to act unless the men experience how

Asian women are themselves. Moreover, one cannot conclude that Western women and Asian women
will act differently from one another. Renee plays off the idea that Gallimard fell in love with a intangible woman that a man created, which challenges Gallimard‟s fantasy of a submissive woman. Also, the last

line that Renee says could be seen as Hwang‟s way of stating that Western men‟s perspective of Asian women is closed minded and not entirely correct. Furthermore, after Song tells Gallimard that she is pregnant, Song tells Chin that “„all he [Gallimard] wants is for her [Butterfly] to submit. Once a woman submits, a [Western] man is always ready to become „generous‟” (48). Song manipulated Gallimard‟s dream of becoming Pinkerton by allowing him to believe that he was taking on the role. However, Gallimard was so deep into the fantasy that he did not even realize he was situating himself in the wrong role. Gallimard fell deeply in love with Song, and Song manipulated that knowledge just like Pinkerton did when he found out Cio-Cio-San was in love with him. Song becomes Pinkerton, and therefore, Hwang cunningly shows the imperfection in the western men‟s perception of Asian women. He demonstrates that the stereotype can apply to more than just Asian women; anyone could become a Butterfly. Also, Song‟s plan later bears fruit when Gallimard openly receives Song in Paris and says, “I‟ve forgotten everything. My mind, you see—there wasn‟t enough room in this hard head—not for the world and for you” (58). At this instance, Hwang is showing the tremendous grip the Western stereotype had on Gallimard. Gallimard openly admits that Song was in control of his mind, and at this point, Gallimard relinquishes control of himself to Song and completely transforms into Song‟s Butterfly. Song creates Gallimard‟s fantasy of having a woman who fits the Western stereotype of Asian women by adding signs of submission in their daily lives. However, even though Song does demonstrate the stereotypical behavior that Western men associate with Asian women, there is an underlying irony through the fact that Song is actually a man that uses the Western stereotype to

manipulate Gallimard. Through this established irony, the reader can clearly realizes that the western stereotype of Asian women is clearly flawed. Like Song states at the end of Act two, “Rene, I‟ve never done what you‟ve said. Why should it be any different in your mind? Now split—the story moves on, and I must change” (59). Song reveals his masculinity, which consequently
shatters Gallimard‟s fantasy life. Gallimard realizes the hard way that his perception, ingrained by

his society and reinforced by his mind and friends, of Asian women is not always true, and while Gallimard tells his story and remains in denial, he becomes the symbol of the western men‟s flawed cultural perspective of Asian women.

Related Interests