“M. Butterfly” a Play by David Henry Hwang

M. Butterfly is probably one of the most controversial still rather popular works by an American playwright, David Henry Hwang. This story consists of several captivating details and examples with the help of which it is possible to understand the essence of western and eastern women, define the benefits which are available to a society that has to live under certain oriental conditions and realize the power of cultural manipulation. The complicity of the chosen play defines the true nature of the relations between men and women as well as the necessity for women to be feminine and for men to be mainly. The role of oriental women and western men described in the play is an important aspect that is taken to comprehend how human fantasy may predetermine human faith and destiny and how crucial the image of an oriental woman in western life is so that it may create long-lasted relations or ruin someone’s life.

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The Power and Politics of Images

Many captivating expressions help to understand the nature of relations between Western and Eastern cultures. It was stated that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet” (Budd 73), still, the play by Hwang proves that it is sometimes interesting to mix up the cultures and introduce the images which provide a person with the desired portion of power and influence. The relations between a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard, and a secret Chinese male agent who pretended to be a woman for 20 years, Song Liling, are considered to be powerful evidence of how Western and Eastern traditions and interests may contradict each other. The image of an oriental woman is always shy, passive, and too modest (Hwang 7), this is why it is not difficult for Liling to live with Rene and manipulate him as long as necessary to achieve the desired goal.

The point is that the desire to believe in the images created by old traditions makes people blind and weak to define the truth. Cultural manipulation is regarded as the main weapon used in the play: it does not matter how rich the level of knowledge about cultures is, but it is always possible to manipulate human behavior. This is why the point of such kind of manipulation is important: people can hardly guess that they are manipulated by other people or by the circumstances. They are blind and weak because they cannot realize how crucial their perception of the reality that is based on cultural prejudice is. After 20 years of living together, Gallimard gets to know the truth and able “to tell fantasy from reality” (Hwang 90). He understands how false his interpretation of an oriental female image was.

Cultural and social manipulations are considered to be an integral factor in each character’s life. Song, as a person who wants to have a very big influence on Rene’s life, depends on his knowledge about oriental women and is guided by the necessity to use and lie to Rene. This kind of social manipulation deprives him of the possibility to focus on his own emotions and feelings. Cultural manipulation is the issue Rene suffers from. For a long period, Rene truly believes that oriental woman should possess several modest qualities which are so perfectly combined in Song. Rene is manipulated by the idea of female devotion and dependence: “love warped my judgment, blinded my eyes, rearranged the very lines on my face… until I could look in the mirror and see nothing… but a woman” (Hwang 91).

The result of such manipulation is tragic for both characters in the play: Song loses his beloved person and Rene cannot separate reality from fantasy properly and continue living accordingly.

Relativity of the Power Relationship

Despite numerous political and cultural aspects that are present in the play M. Butterfly, Hwang focuses on the psychological side of human relations. Western and Eastern cultures can never be united, however, the offered images of the play and fantasy of the main characters are properly used by the author to persuade the reader that human relations are various, and it is so hard to define the truth of such relations. Rene gets a good chance to enjoy the time spent with a Chinese woman. He realizes that Eastern traditions are not that disgusting and prejudiced as he and his wife used to think. Certain attention is paid to the relativity of manhood and womanhood and the necessity to be weak for women and to be powerful for many. These two concepts should have some differences, and Eastern countries serve as the best examples of how men may be treated by women and what respect should be shown.

This kind of relativity proves that feminine women (in the play, it is the image of oriental women dictated by Song) are appropriate for men. This image makes men of different cultures believe in their power and their worth. Feminine women make men more manly and stronger.

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However, it was not enough for Hwang to underline the role of women in male life. Hwang aims at explaining that the fascination of the oriental woman is a mutual thing that cannot be avoided or neglected. Even if a man is powerless and cannot be responsible for all actions taken, the presence of a perfect Oriental woman makes him more confident in his ideas and words. Song’s purpose was not successfully achieved: “I am disappointed in you, Rene. In the crush of your adoration, I thought you’d become something more. More like… a woman. But no. Men” (Hwang 91). This example of eastern women’s fantasy about western men shows that even a perfectly planned action may be spoiled by the human inability to control everything. Even though Song believes he manipulates Rene properly, his self-assurance was as powerful as Rene’s desire to forget his fantasy and live in reality. During the whole play, Rene has a particular perfect image of an oriental woman. He lived basing on this idea, and he was captured by his imagination. And the main problem of the images offered is the inability to unite them on the same basis. This is why the main characters can’t create a happy end and enjoy the ideas of orientalism.

The author properly uses the images and fantasy in his play. He makes his characters unhappy enough and describes their lives which are full of unreal images the purpose of which is to make the characters happier and more self-confident.

Works Cited

Budd, David. Culture Meets Culture in the Movies: An Analysis of East, West, North, and South, with Filmographies. Jefferson: McFarland, 2002.

Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. New York: New American Library, 1988.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, March 4). "M. Butterfly" a Play by David Henry Hwang. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/m-butterfly-a-play-by-david-henry-hwang/

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StudyCorgi. 2021. ""M. Butterfly" a Play by David Henry Hwang." March 4, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/m-butterfly-a-play-by-david-henry-hwang/.


StudyCorgi. (2021) '"M. Butterfly" a Play by David Henry Hwang'. 4 March.

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