The Play “M Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang


M Butterfly is a play written by David Henry Hwang and is a rewriting of the Butterfly myth by Puccini. The main characters of the story are Gallimard, a French diplomat, who falls in love with Song, a Chinese singer and actor, whom Gallimard sees as a woman, but, in reality, he is a male. The author shows the stereotypical view of Asians, especially women, which Western people often have, making Gallimard perceive Song as a woman and do not realize that the person is a spy. M Butterfly is a story revealing the prejudiced attitude Western people have about the citizens of Eastern countries.

Prejudices in M Butterfly

From the beginning of the play, the audience finds out that Gallimard’s favorite opera is Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. Its plot is quite similar to the one of M Butterfly mainly because Gallimard associates himself with Pinkerton, one of the protagonists of Puccini’s opera (Hwang 28). Thus, he perceives his relationship with Song Liling to be similar to Pinkerton’s relationship with Cio-Cio-San, who patiently waited for him for many years and killed herself when she found out that he had remarried.

Song, in that case, is seen as a stereotypical Asian woman that Western people often imagine. However, he tries to convince Gallimard that sexist and racist attitude toward Asian women is wrong, and they cannot be seen as economically, culturally, and sexually inferior to Western men or women. In order to explain it to Gallimard, Song asks him to imagine a Western woman instead of Cio-Cio-San in the play Madame Butterfly. He states that such a sacrifice made by a Western woman will be perceived as something strange but not romantic, as it is with Cio-Cio-San, who was Japanese (Hwang, 29). However, this monologue did not cause any changes in Gallimard’s behavior or perception of Song’s image. That is why Song reinforces Gallimard’s prejudices towards Asian women, encouraging his wrong point of view. He plays a role of an adoring and subservient Asian woman and makes Gallimard see what he wants to see as he does not want the latter to find out that he is a spy.

Song grants Gallimard an illusion of having all power over the Chinese actress in his hands which helps him spy and find out about the plans of the Western politicians in the Far East region. Song’s compartment is based on the standard heterosexual stereotypes of dominant males and submissive females, so he intentionally puts himself inferior to Gallimard. He , however, does not have any thoughts that Song is deceiving him. His perception of Eastern women is based on the image of Cio-Cio-San from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and he sees her in Song. Thus, Gallimard makes up a major part of Song’s image himself and falls in love with it. Song, who acts according to the patterns Gallimard has in his mind, only boosts his masculinity which makes him engage in another romantic relationship with a Danish student.

The fact that Gallimard is a married man who has an extramarital relationship with two women contributes to his promotion at the embassy. One of his colleagues admires Gallimard’s newly gained confidence and approves of his machismo related to the fact that he cheats on his wife (Hwang 45). Moreover, Song’s submission and admiration of other men help Gallimard feel that he finally assumed Pinkerton’s role. However, in reality, it turns out that Song is a real Pinkerton since it is him who does not gain any losses at the end of the story while Gallimard is convicted for treason.

Relationship Between East and West

The relationship between East and West in M Butterfly is shown mainly through the relationship between the people of these cultures. In that case, Gallimard is a collective image of the Western people, and Song Liling is a collective image of the Eastern people. Through the gender and racial stereotypes, the audience sees that Western people are shown as those who possess knowledge and power and thus are considered superior to Eastern people who are suppressed by the West. The standard Western-Eastern relationship is displayed with the help of a retelling of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, where Western people are shown as cruel and dominant possessors of world authority. Eastern citizens are portrayed as submissive and inferior to them, which contributes to the image of the weaker sex expressed by the Butterfly.

However, Hwang describes the relationship between East and West in a different manner. Though the plot of his play is quite similar to the one of Madame Butterfly, there is one novelty in it. It is manifested in Song Liling’s being a male and Eastern spy. The audience perceives this man as a smart and inventive person, an actor who applies gender and racial stereotypes in his image for his own purposes. Thus, Song’s a shy and submissive compartment that powerful Western men associate with Eastern people, which finally benefits him since he manages to get all the necessary information from Gallimard. The latter does not have an idea that Song may be engaged in the affair with him for his own purposes, and that is why his interest flatters Gallimard, who considers himself the smartest one of the two.

Through the relationship between Gallimard and Song, the audience may see that the seemingly submissive East exploits the West and finally manages to circumvent it. That is why Gallimard gets to the prison while Song returns to China. Moreover, Gallimard kills himself at the end of the play because he cannot accept that he was deceived by a Chinese male. When driving a parallel with Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, it is clearly seen that the role of the Butterfly, or the weaker sex, is displayed by a Western but not an Eastern citizen. Thus, the initial authority-related relationship between the Orient and the Occident drastically changes at the end of the play.


Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it is possible to conclude that M Butterfly by David Henry Hwang is a story that touches upon several topics which matter even in modern society. The play links together such themes as racial, gender, and sex-related stereotypes and prejudices that exist both in the Western and Eastern worlds and prevent people of different nationalities from establishing equal relationships. The story also examines the distribution of power and international authority between the Occidental and the Oriental countries and the people who live there. Through the figure of Song Liling, the author shows that all categories, such as biological sex or the country a person was born in, do not matter in the real world. That is why it is wrong to divide people into them – such precise categorization may cause trouble, as it happened with Gallimard and his extramarital affair with Song Liling.

Work Cited

Hwang, David Henry. M Butterfly. A Plume Book.

Cite this paper

Select a referencing style


AssignZen. (2023, May 14). The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang.

Work Cited

"The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang." AssignZen, 14 May 2023,

1. AssignZen. "The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang." May 14, 2023.


AssignZen. "The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang." May 14, 2023.


AssignZen. 2023. "The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang." May 14, 2023.


AssignZen. (2023) 'The Play "M Butterfly" by David Henry Hwang'. 14 May.

Click to copy

This report on The Play “M Butterfly” by David Henry Hwang was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Removal Request

If you are the original creator of this paper and no longer wish to have it published on Asignzen, request the removal.