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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Breaking the Myth of Madame Butterfly

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Giacomo Puccini the Italian composer presented to the Western world the most famous geisha of all Cio-Cio San, also known as Madame Butterfly. The image of geisha was formed during Japan¡¯s feudal past. Geisha was traditionally men and served as physical and mental relief to battle warriors. The role of geisha has been dominated by women for the past 50 years and has served relief to career-driven businessmen. Geisha means ¡°artist¡± and a geisha¡¯s manner of appearance, conversation, party-hosting and sexual performance is considered as an art form. They are helped to dress in their traditional kimonos and spend long hours powdering their faces white with kabuki make-up and appleblood-red lipstick. Geisha was revered not only in Japan but also fascinated in Western culture. Their image in the West as an exotic seductress skilled in the Kama Sutra arts of pleasing men is part of the European-American cultural stereotype of the Oriental perpetuated by French navy expeditions. Pierre Loti¡¯s Madame Chyrsantheme is such an example. Puccini¡¯s Madame Butterfly portrays Cio-Cio San as a tragic figure whose art to please Pinkerton results in the self-sacrifice of her life. Most Caucasian men, including Gallimard, have a strong fascination toward Madame Butterfly because it satisfies the Western man¡¯s fantasy of being a powerful exploiter who can abuse an Oriental woman¡¯s love cruelly. In another word, by dominating the Oriental woman the Westerners feel the power of being a man.


Therefore, when Gallimard first sees Song singing the lines of the death scene from Madame Butterfly, he says, ¡° I believed this girl. I believed her suffering. I wanted to take her in my arms--- so delicate, even I could protect her, take her home, pamper her until she smiled¡± (Hwang, 15). Gallimard feels Madame Butterfly played by Song, an Oriental woman, is more convincing than that played by the Western huge woman with ¡°bad makeup¡±. He thinks that Song lets him for the first time see ¡°the beauty of the story¡±. It is obvious that Gallimard is greatly attracted by Madame Butterfly performed by Song. He is beginning to fantasize him to be Pinkerton and models Song on his Madame Butterfly.


Song seizes that she holds a certain fantasy for Gallimard. As an actor in Peking Opera, Gallimard is her greatest acting challenge. Therefore, Song takes advantage of Gallimard¡¯s mentality and creates the character and information that Gallimard wants to read into his fantasy of dominance.


In later meetings when Song pretends to be inferior to Gallimard, he feels greatly delighted. However, Gallimard contains his urge to visit Song and begins to work ¡°like a dynamo¡±. Such a stoic attitude creates illusions, as in most male fantasies of power, ¡° I feel for the first time that rush of power--- the absolute power of being a man¡± (Hwang, ). The power of being a man is associated with sexual dominance. As a boy of twelve, upon seeing his uncle¡¯s girlie magazines, he reacts in this way, ¡°my body shook. Not with lust--- no, with power. Here were women--- a shelfful--- who would do exactly as I want¡± (Hwang, 10). However, she will do what he wants only in his fantasy; of course, this is not enough. His life in the West has been a disappointment. He marries his wife Helga who is older than himself, yet her father is an ambassador to Australia, thus to some extent, he marries her in order to ¡°settle for a quick leap up the career ladder¡± and he admits ¡°passion, I banish, and in its place--- practicality¡±(Hwang, 14). Moreover, his elder wife once persuades him to see Dr. Bolleart because she wants to have a baby but the doctor says that there is nothing wrong with her. Absolutely, her persuasion greatly hurts Gallimard¡¯s self-dignity and his masculinity. Of course, Gallimard could never feel the power of being a man from his elder wife. Neither could he feel such power from his Western lover. His first sexual experience with Isabelle, he is actually raped even though he says he enjoyed it. Owing to these, he can¡¯t help linking his ideal woman with Puccini¡¯s Madame Butterfly. After meeting Song, he begins to model Song on his Madame Butterfly. He ¡°seems oblivious that he is inventing a character¡± for her (Kehde, 44). To some extent, Gallimard fantasizes him to be that cruel white man while his Chinese lover to be his Madame Butterfly. Song recognizes his fantasy and tactfully surrenders to Gallimard by several letters, which announces Gallimard¡¯s ¡°victory¡±


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¡°Song Six weeks have passed since last we met¡­ Is this your practice--- to leave friends in the lurch? Sometimes I hate myself, but I always miss you.


Song Your rudeness is beyond belief. I don¡¯t deserve this cruelty. Don¡¯t bother to call. I¡¯ll have you turned away at the door.


Song I am out of words. I can hide behind dignity no longer. What do you want? I have already given you my shame¡± (Hwang, 5)


The deception of Song¡¯s words emerge precisely from the way her words are said, ¡°I don¡¯t deserve this cruelty¡± recalls the myth of ¡° the cruel white man¡±. Song¡¯s claim that she hates Gallimard yet misses him recalls Gallimard of Madame Butterfly, who makes Pinkerton her whole world. Song¡¯s letters let Gallimard feel that he has ¡°gained power over a beautiful Oriental woman¡±. In the play, we discover that Gallimard is most likely infertile. His wife, Helga, asks him to go to see the doctor, and Gallimard, fearing this additional threat to his fragile manhood, refuses. One of the most brilliant elements of Song¡¯s deception occurs when she presents Gallimard with a child, thus enforcing his fantasy of being a powerful, fertile male. After Gallimard feels that he has gained power over Song, the beautiful submissive Oriental woman, like Pinkerton, he decides to ¡°abuse it cruelly¡± (Hwang, 6). Thus, he has love affairs with Renee, a Denish student, who is a Western liberated woman. She interrogates Gallimard on the rationalization for male power system. Gallimard feels uncomfortable with Renee. He doubts, ¡°It is possible for a woman to be too uninhabited, so as to seem almost too¡­ masculine?¡± (Hwang, 54). Renee, the Western liberated woman to some extent serves a foil to Song as the Oriental submissive woman. Song¡¯s existence once and again reinforces Gallimard¡¯s dignity as a man. She knows more or less about his affair with another woman, but she does not quarrel with him directly. Gallimard imagines Song¡¯s suffering in the same way Madame Butterfly feels Pinkerton¡¯s unfaithfulness. ¡°She would cry, alone in those widely soft sleeves, once full of possessions, now empty to collect her tears. It was her tears and her silence that excited me, every time I visited Renee¡± (Hwang, 56). ¡°Gallimard would never dare treat his wife or his girlfriend in such abusive ways--- perhaps because he knows he would never make them suffer as he imagines Song Liling suffers¡± (Kehde, 4). He is greatly caught up in his fantasy of being Pinkerton, a powerful exploiter. He never thinks that his myth of Madame Butterfly results in ruins.


At the end of the play, when Song strips before Gallimard and forces him to see the physical body, Gallimard says in despair, ¡°No! Stop! I don¡¯t want to see!¡±(Hwang, 87). He doesn¡¯t want to face the reality. Gallimard assumes that Song is a woman because to Western eyes Song is wearing women¡¯s clothing and displaying ¡°feminine¡± characteristics. Gallimard¡¯s intoxication with ¡°her¡± image is really the love for the image he has created for ¡°her¡± as much as the one Song has created for him. Gallimard loves a different body from the one Song stripes to show him because it is formed of truths that are different from those that he wants to believe. He loves a woman created by a man. ¡°What I loved was a lie¡±(Hwang, 8). Gallimard¡¯s ignorance helps to make Song¡¯s lie more effective. Female impersonators exemplified by Song Liling¡¯s vocation, are a time-honored convention of Peking Opera in China. This theatrical tradition is built on the ambivalence of actor/actress¡¯s gender. Having perfected the stylized performance of a certain type of characters, one is able to transform himself or herself into the opposite sex while never forgetting the true identity of the player, the Chinese audience is content to suspend disbelief and accept androgyny as part of the theatre experience. In a particularly effective scene between Song and Comrade Chin, Song asks and answers her own question about, ¡°Why, in the Peking Opera, are all women¡¯s roles played by men? ¡­ Only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act¡± (Hwang, 6). Song recognizes what Gallimard wants to see and, as an experienced actor, carries out the lie. Later in the French court, Song explains her sexual relationship with Gallimard, ¡° he never saw me completely naked ¡­I did all the work ¡­ I suppose he might have wondered why I was always on my stomach. ¡­ It was my job to make him think I was a woman¡± (Hwang, 81). Only at the end of the play does Gallimard recognize Song¡¯s ¡°job¡± and realize that he has loved and been manipulated by an impersonator. Gallimard¡¯s myth of Madame Butterfly is completely broken when Song shows the biological identity in front of him.





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