M. Butterfly

Topics: Gender, Woman, Western world Pages: 7 (2755 words) Published: March 2, 2009
Feminism in M. Butterfly In the 1989 drama M. Butterfly, the masterwork of contemporary American playwright David Henry Hwang, the topic of sexual politics underlies all other themes, and creates a tension between the genders that pervades throughout the text; moreover, Hwang subverts traditional thematic aspects of sexual politics by questioning the most fundamental unit of sex by considering the very nature of gender and what defines a male or a female. These elements unite and develop a penetrating examination of feminism, and an inspection of the role of females in both Western and Eastern societies as they relate to males, and an exposé of the inequalities of gender which are present, perhaps fundamental, in both cultures. The tug-of-war for control, both sexual and intellectual, between male and female characters, especially Rene Gallimard and Song Liling, is ubiquitous throughout the text, and culminates in the final scene where Rene commits seppuku, or Japanese ritual suicide. In M. Butterfly, Hwang views feminism from a variety of unusual lenses by looking at both genders, and serving to draw attention to the traits and qualities of both using dialogue, character study, and clever dramatic techniques. Any discussion of feminism in M. Butterfly must be chronological, and show the development of the characters over time; this allows the reader and audience to mark the character study of the selves over duration of the drama. In the opening act the reader is introduced to a very feminine Song Liling, the character who first assumes the function of the female. Hwang acquaints the reader with Song dancing, and in female garb, in the stage directions of the first act; yet the audience can guess as early as two pages later, in the opening of the second scene, that Song is a man and that Gallimard has been tricked, fooled, and that the entire city of Paris laughs at him. There is an interesting comment made here, by the trio of commentators in the second scene, that the trials and tribulations of Gallimard make "a compelling case for sex education in the schools." Hwang is here making a statement which escapes the boundaries of the play and operates in the real world as well; in fact, the three remarkers essentially embody the voice of the playwright discussing the topics of his own drama, remarking on the story. It is important that the three observers are composed of two men and one woman -- by doing so, Hwang implies that in Western society men have more importance, for here they have two voices to the woman's lone opinion. Additionally, Hwang obviously feels the need for some sort of sexual education, and reinforces this with the statement coming from the woman that "I thought the French were ladies' men." This statement hints at an underlying sexism, an assumption that French men are supposedly capable of seducing any woman. This fallacy is found throughout the play, voiced through both words and actions by diverse characters. The second act, significant because of the dramatic device explained above, ends on an ironic note when one of the men comments "Vive la différence!" Easily translated from the French, this is "Long live the difference!" and refers to the difference between men and women; however, this statement is undercut by the fact that it is an obvious joke, said in jest, and so Hwang is stating that in fact, perhaps, the differences between the sexes are the opposite of long living: dead. This considerable view, staunchly egalitarian, attests that there are few or no essential differences between male and female, and is at heart a feminist and forward-looking philosophy; Hwang, speaking here, mocks the differences between men and women (and does so throughout the play) and in this he is actually deconstructing the traditional ideas that each gender has inherent traits, and attempts to show that these ideas are incorrect, that they are at heart fallacious. Hwang thus subscribes to the feminist ideas that...
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