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M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly is apparently based on real life experience. It is a story that stunned the whole world and the author, Hwang, won himself a place in the hearts of many literature lovers. The narration begins in a small prison cell. Rene Gallimard is a captive of the government of France and his own illusions to a considerable extent. In his illusions, he gives details of a time when his desire made him feel like flying, a period of time when a Chinese spy, Song Liling, a beautiful woman, touched and embraced the captive with a love as vivid, as elusive and as seductive as a butterfly. All this long, Rene had no idea that his ideal woman was indeed a Chinese spy and that she was a man in disguise. Only life could present such unrealities about love.  And through the story, we learn that fantasy can indeed become a man’s mistress, as well as his jailor. M. Butterfly is among the most explosive, compelling and a slyly drama so full of humor, a perfect work of brilliance that deserves applause from all the literature lovers. The story evolves between several themes, written in different styles. This paper will analyze various themes and writing styles and how they are of relevance to the life we live today.

East-West, Male Female dichotomy

David Henry Hwang, being one of the preeminent Asian American Writer, he explores the themes of the East-West dichotomy, or racism in other words. Hwang speaks of Rene’s affair with an Asian Woman. (Hwang 95). In today’s world, with so much civilization, referring to someone using his nationality or tribe, as much as it may sound formal or appropriate, it still may be considered as an insult and may actually develop into a case that can only be determined by a court of law. Maybe there might not have been legislative laws that prohibited racism at the Rene was a captive of the French government, but that gave him no express authority to call the Chinese detective an Asian woman. This shows the continuing inferiority of people from the East, as those from West continue regarding themselves as superior. The story has a rich shock of value for the contemporary audience today and positive as the main intention in the playwright is to force any particular audience to swallow down their own stereotypes and cultural constructions. These are seen to clearly affect the relationship between people of the East and West, more specifically between men and women as depicted in this story ( Hwang 45).


This is perhaps the most outright theme that presents itself to any reader. The fact that the Chinese man, woman, falls into a relationship with the Rene, the French government captive, is an outright act of homosexuality even when he knew that he should act as an official diplomat of the Chinese government even when he is supposes to seal his identity as a spy. Unbeknown to Rene Gallimard, Song is actually a spy of the Chinese government, who plays as a subjective and meek Asian woman with the main intention of gaining access to sensitive political information that the spy though Rene had. The truth finally plays out, and Rene is implicated because of the classified political information he unknowingly released to the Chinese spy. He is imprisoned, and that is when the reality hits him hardest. Just like anyone in his situation would be, he is still trying to come to terms that his perfect woman was in the real sense a man. Although, in the world today same sex relationships may be legal in some nations around the world, homosexuality is still viewed as a cultural crime in various communities across the world. In the last act of the story when Rene commits a ritualistic suicide perhaps denotes that homosexuality has no place in the world’s society today. (Kroll 1)


Just like homosexuality, deception is regarded as a vice in most societies all over the world. But in today’s world, deception is frequently used to as means to an end, where the final result overlooks the means used to achieve it. The same theory goes into the story; Rene is the victim of deception. He is so deceived that he chooses to take his own life after he finds out that he has been lain to. The Chinese spy presents himself to Rene as an Asian woman, truly submissive and ready to love and be loved. Little did he know that he was being deceived to release all the sensitive political information he had to the Chinese spy. Deception is the sole source of all his tragedies, and to the Chinese spy, deception is used as a means to achieve the sensitive information, to him deception is a means to an end. (Rich 1)

Symbolism and Illusion

Besides Hwang conveying his message through moving and touching themes, his choice of words and writing styles serves a lot of quality to the development of the story. Actually, besides the actual setting of the story beginning in a prison cell, the development of the story takes place in the mind of Rene. He says that he has played out all the events day after day and is always searching for a new story with a definite ending, where he will leave his cell and forever return to his butterfly’s arms. The word butterfly has been used to symbolize other objects but in this particular instance, the butterfly refers to his Asian woman, little did he know that his butterfly was actually a man. The smooth transition of the story from the prison cell to the mind of Rene Gallimard provides the reader with an acute symbolism of events. Symbolism is an indirect way of referring to people or situations in the actual world so as not to create any direct implication of any character set within the story. A reader actually has no access to any real object because everything is seen through the depths of the captives mind in a rather broken and distorted fashion.

The book title alone is an appropriate example representing the use of symbolism. Everything eludes Rene as the story develops just like a butterfly. The use of symbolism as a writing style is to make the audience have more vivid scenes given that the story is mostly set out in the deep mind of the captive. The story is devoid of any truth or reality but offers numerous realities and illusions and a descriptive way on how one can be affected by the other. Rene actually chooses fantasy, symbolism and illusion as a way of driving himself towards escaping the reality. He chooses to escape reality even when reality is staring right in front of his face. (Shimakawa 357).


Hwang’s work of literature presents the audience with a lot of themes to take lessons from. That people can be as evil as the Rene Gallimard’s prison cell and these acts of immorality should be discouraged. The relationship of people of the East and West should be even without either feeling inferior or superior respectively. Deception has no place in the world today and all the perpetrators only belong in jail. The story also explores the male-female relationships that call for a lot of keen before investing in them.                          

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