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David Henry Hwang • Born in 1957 in Los Angeles to immigrants • Education • Stanford (graduated 1979) • Yale School of Drama (1980-1981) • Most Notable Works • FOB (Fresh Off the Boat) (1981 Obie Award) • M. Butterfly (1988; produced on Broadway; won a Tony) • 1000 Airplanes on the Roof (1989) • M. Butterfly [the movie] (1993; debut as a screenwriter and executive producer) • Golden Gate (1994; screenplay) • Golden Child (1996/98; 3 Tony nominations) • The Monkey King (2001; NBC miniseries)
Background: Madame Butterfly • Based on a story by John Luther Long, adapted for the stage by David Belasco • Giacomo Pucchini developed the opera version first performed in 1904 (Date to compare: Admiral Perry’s treaty signed in 1854) • Film versions • 1932 Hollywood • 1955 Italian/Japanese • 1996 Italian/English • Inspired works • Miss Saigon • M. Butterfly
Madame Butterfly: Characters “In Puccini’s opera, men are men, women women, Japanese Japanese, Americans American, as defined by familiar narrative conventions.” -Dorinne K. Kondo Characters Lt. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton American, masculine, strong, commanding, cold, lustful, brutish Cho-Cho-san/ Butterfly Japanese, feminine, sacrificing, beautiful, submissive, humble, honorable, exotic
Background: Time Context Keep in mind: The main scope of M. Butterfly takes place starting in 1960. Gallimard returns to Paris in 1968 and probably dies in 1970. Second Indochina War, 1954-1975 *1954: France was forced out of Vietnam *1954: Geneva Peace Accords: Division and reunion *1960: Communist Party confirmed its use of revolutionary violence *1968: Paris peace talks begin *1973: Cease-fire signed in Paris
Themes and Ideas in M. Butterfly How stereotyping… Leads us to make assumptions about individuals Provides us with roles/identities Seduces us with ideals
Main Stereotype: The Feminine East vs. The Masculine West The East Feminine, traditional, exotic, submissive “Orientals will always submit to a greater force” “Here was a Butterfly with little or no voice– but she had the grace, the delicacy… I believed this girl. I believed her suffering. I wanted to take her in my arms– so delicate…” “…protecting her in my big Western arms”
Main Stereotype: The Feminine East vs. The Masculine West The West Masculine, progressive, cruel, controlling “The whole world over, the white man travels, setting anchor, wherever he likes. Life’s not worth living, unless he finds, the finest maidens, of every land…” “Men always believe what they want to hear” “[The international rape mentality is] basically ‘her mouth says no but her eyes say yes’”
Linked Stereotype: Gender Identity “[Women’s roles are played by men in the Peking opera] because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.” -Song M. Butterfly shows that gender roles provide people with an identity based on determining the “other” and being the opposite. Butterfly is Rene’s perfect woman, so he must be the perfect man. The actual categories of what we consider to be male and female exist only in our minds as ways to identify ourselves. The “woman” that Song is referring to in the quote is not an actual woman but the male perception of one which is used to assert their own gender. “I’m a man who loved a woman created by a man. Everything else– simply falls short.” -Gallimard
Role-playing While is is obvious that Gallimard and Song took on specific stereotypes, what roles did some of the more minor characters take on in M. Butterfly? • Helga • Marc • Chin Helga: “The pretense—going on your arm to the embassy ball, visiting your office and the guards saying, ‘Good morning, good morning, Madame Gallimard’—the pretense…was very good indeed.” Marc: “There’re a lotta great babes out there. They’re probably lookin’ at me and thinking, ‘What a dangerous guy.’” Chin: “You always tell me those kind of things, I felt very bad. But not now! Because what does the Chairman say? He tells us I’m now the smart one; you’re now the nincompoop!” Ambassador’s wife Indulgent white man Loyal servant of Mao
Seduction by a Fantasy At what points in the story was Gallimard most drawn to Song? • When he first visited her home • When she wrote the letter stating that she had given him her shame • After he was upset by Toulon and wanted “a vessel to contain [his] humiliation” “There’s a vision of the Orient that I have. Of slender women in chong sans and kimonos who die for the love of unworthy foreign devils. Who are born and raised to be the perfect woman. Who take whatever punishment we give them, and bounce back, strengthened by love, unconditionally. It is a vision that has become my life.”
Transformation in M. Butterfly Butterflies are a symbol of metamorphosis What transformation took place by the end of M. Butterfly? Gallimard and Rene have switched roles: “My name is Rene Gallimard– also known as Madame Butterfly”
Talking points: Gallimard’s other affair *Bold personality* What purpose did she serve in the story? -She served as a foil to Song -Cheating on Song appealed to him because of Song’s submissive nature: “It was [Butterfly’s] tears and silence that excited me every time I visited Renee.” -Catapulted the relationship between Song and Gallimard to ‘something near love’
Talking points: Homosexuality Was Gallimard gay? Hwang: Since he probably had at least an idea that he was sleeping with a man, he was gay to an extent The perception of homosexuality differs from culture to culture, showing that it too is a stereotype Labels like “gay” or “straight” are clumsy
Talking points: Discussion Questions Was Gallimard a sympathetic character? Can males today relate to him? Hwang received some criticism from Asian groups regarding M. Butterfly. Why do you think this happened? Do you think that ideas of Orientalism and femininity are changing? (Be honest– cheerleader example What would we think of as the “perfect woman” in our society? What are conventional male fantasies? What do they tell us? How do you personally relate to stereotypes such as Orientalism? How big of a part do they play in your life or the lives of those around you?
Bibliography Alenier, Karren L. "M.Butterfly." Culturevulture.net. 9 Sept. 2004. 1 Dec. 2004. Deeney, John J. "Of Monkeys and Butterflies: Transformation in M. H. Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey and D. H. Hwang's M. Butterfly."MELUS, Vol. 18, No. 4, Asian Perspectives. (Winter, 1993), 21-39. "Hwang." Contemporary Theater and Drama in the U.S. 1 Dec. 2004. DiGaetani, John Louis. "'M. Butterfly': An Interview with David Henry Hwang." TDRVol. 33, No. 3. (Autumn, 1989), 141-153. Hwang, David Henry. "M.Butterfly." Life Themes: Major Conflicts in Drama. Ed. Annie McGregor and Robert Barton. Mason, Ohio: Thompson, 2004. 25-48. Kondo, Dorinne K. "M. Butterfly: orientalism, gender and a critique of essentialist identity." Cultural critique. Fall 1990. 5-29. Lazere, Arthur. "Madame Butterfly - Giacomo Puccini." Culturevulture.net. 1 Dec. 2004. M.Butterfly. Videocassette. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 1994, c1993. Quillen, Carol. "Feminist Theory, Justice, and the Lure of the Human." Signs, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Autumn, 2001), 87-122. Sun, William H. and Faye C. Fei. "Masks or Faces Re-Visited: A Study of Four Theatrical Works Concerning Cultural Identity." TDRVol. 38, No. 4. (Winter, 1994), 120-132. "The Wars for Viet Nam." Vassar College. 1 Dec. 2004.