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David Henry Hwang’s Deconstructivist Amb…  

2010-04-24 21:26:00|  分类: 作业及论文 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Introduction

In 1988, David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly made a hit in the Broadway Theater and won the Toni Award for best play. In the afterword of the play, he points out that he gets the inspiration of the play from an actual incident reported in the New York Times. It is a bizarre story about a French diplomat who fell in love with a Peking Opera singer and was intimate with the singer for nearly 20 years. Only when he was arrested on the charge of conspiracy with his lover for Chinese government did he learn that his lover was not only a spy but also a man. And his attempt to account for the fact was that he had never seen his lover naked because “[he] thought she was very modest” and “[he] thought it was a Chinese custom” (Hwang, p2869.).

Hwang immediately got the idea of associating it with Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and wrote a deconstructivist M. Butterfly to break the “stereotyped view of Asians”/“Oriental”(ibid.). To Hwang, explained Rich, “a cultural icon” like Madame Butterfly “bequeaths the sexist and racist roles”(Contemporary Authors, Vol.132, p188) that impressed in the western mind.

And this play immediately seized mass attention because his “blending of diverse theatrical styles and techniques”(Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol.55, 150.) seemed to have made the most bizarre plot plausibly reasonable. Several reviewers applauded its “ambition, richness, and drama”, while others found “its characterizations and plot twists unbelievable” (ibid.).

And it received both acclaim and criticism, as far as his deconstruction attempt is concerned. However, “Hwang at least cracks open a liaison to reveal a sweeping, universal meditation on two of the most heated conflicts—men versus women, East versus West—of this or any other time”(ibid.), said Rich.

And this essay is going to analyze some ambivalent elements of M. Butterfly in Hwang’s deconstruction. Because of his ABC(American-born Chinese) identity, he has indeterminate identification of the character, Song. And the two protagonists in his design of the denouement become the sacrifice for the compulsory patriarchal/ heterosexual society.

 

Chapter 1  About the Play

Blended with diverse theatrical styles and techniques, M. Butterfly interchanges between Giacomo Puccini’s tragically romantic Italian opera Madame Butterfly and the real story with Hwang’s new interpretation.

1.1. About Madame Butterfly

In Madame Butterfly, Pinkerton, an American sailor, marries a Japanese geisha Cio-Cio-San, also called Madame Butterfly, deserts her and remarries a white woman in America. While waiting for his return, Cio-Cio-San gives birth to a boy and turns down marriage to a Japanese prince. Three years later after she has learned his infidelity and attempt to take away their son, she acquiesces and commits suicide to “save him from dilemma” (Lu Jun, p13.).

Madame Butterfly depicts “how an Oriental submissive woman loves a cruel white man unconditionally and sacrifices her life for love”(Lu Jun, p9.). It reveals “the archetypal East-West romance”(Hwang, p2870.) as well as male-female one. And Madame Butterfly becomes the cultural icon to the western mind: beautiful, exotic, loving, yielding and not binding, giving all and demanding nothing”(ibid, p35).

1.2. About M. Butterfly

In David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, the impersonator in the Peking Opera Song Liling, who at times plays Cio-Cio-San’s part, makes Gallimard, the French diplomat, visualize her to be the real Madame Butterfly and fall in love with her easily. With the help of Song’s tactful acting, they keep intimacy for 20 years. After being incarcerated by the French government, Gallimard learns that Song is not only a spy but also a man. He recalls the whole story between them and realizes that it is he himself who is the butterfly and then commits suicide in the butterfly’s robes.

Song’s success in playing an ideal woman role for twenty years may be that he understands well that in the patriarchal society, “women are constructed by the paternal law, which are made by men”(ibid, 15.) or in Song’s words “only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act”(Hwang, p2854.), and that in the western ideology, the Oriental are submissive, inferior and eager to be dominated.

1.3. About Hwang’s deconstruction

From literary critique, Madame Butterfly undoubtedly is written under the western sexist and racist ideology, especially the Orientalism. In this ideology, the oriental woman is, in Bahri’s words, “both eager to be dominated and strikingly exotic” (Lu Jun,   ) and the oriental man is depicted as emasculated, feminine, weak, yet strangely dangerous. And under the influence of this ideology and its strengthening by the other, Gallimard builds his own identity of being masculine and powerful and potent through, is blinded by Song’s tactful acting and becomes Monsieur Butterfly or M. Butterfly. The Orient of slender women in chong sams does not exist anywhere but in Gallimard’s fatally misguided imagination. Such imagination of “the exotic or imperialistic view of the East” (Hwang, p2869.) then leads to Gallimard’s “undoing” (ibid, p2868.).

M. Butterfly seems to have turned somersaults in every aspect: female turning out to be male, the west loving the east, duped, betrayed, becoming the butterfly and committing suicide. In this sense, M. Butterfly has successfully subverted and deconstructed the original Madame Butterfly.

Chapter 2  Ambivalence in Oriental Identity Determination

Although M. Butterfly attempts to escape from the encirclement of the stereotyped Oriental in Madame Butterfly, Hwang seems to have fallen into another trap which strengthens the stereotyped Oriental image. If we say love is powerful and innocent, Song develops into a transvestite and a traitor of love, and at least indirectly causes the death. After watching the play, westerners seem not to have renewed their stereotyped fantasy but have fallen into another image created by Song: cunning, dangerous, inscrutable and, most of all, effeminate.

2.1. Song’s gender and identity fluidity

Though Song has to “disguise” to help his “assignment” (Hwang, 2847.), his “wearing a dress” (ibid.) at times seems to have influenced his sexual identity at least after he meets Gallimard. His self-consciousness and subconsciousness of keeping intimate relationship with Gallimard confuses the audience about his sexual orientation. Being a spy, he has to pretend to be Gallimard’s desired object. He plays a feminine, delicate and submissive Oriental woman to satisfy Gallimard’s desire for power and masculinity and to fulfill his fantasy. However, he is a human with genuine emotions. Who could prove he has no love for Gallimard? While being unveiled of his true social gender,, he tries hard to persuade him to maintain their homosexual relationship: “I’m not ‘just a man’”, “I’m your butterfly. Under the robes, beneath everything, it was always me.” (Hwang, 2866-67.) His pleading of keeping Gallimard clearly shows his true love for him. His masquerade helps to establish his feminine image as well as to steal information. His identifying himself as a woman conceals his real gender identity, but “expose[s] his homosexual affection behind his masquerade” (Chiao, 16.). Hence, his masquerade as a female can be interpreted as a self-conscious fluidity of “androgynous gender” (ibid. 15).

Song’s admission that he “could never be completely a man” (Hwang, 2864.) reaffirms his ambivalent gender identification. Under the “international rape mentality” (ibid.) the Oriental men are always despised and disgusted as either “emasculated, impotent”, or “homosexual, queer” (杨秀媚,p76.) while the Oriental women are submissive, seductive, ignorant, innocent and in need of both protection and “bad” treatment. Song’s vengeance of acting an ideal Oriental woman subverts the stereotyped Oriental women while his effeminacy perpetuates the stereotyped Oriental men. And his fluidity of gender and identity, according to James S. Moy, causes failure of the play in finding a new voice of Asia and Asian America, and presents “a vehicle of massive self-doubt”, embodying both racial and sexual confusion. Such self-doubt reflects the psychological state of those who are educated and influenced by the Euro-American culture.

2.2. Hwang’s identification indeterminacy

According to the real story, Hwang interprets a cultural cross-dressing actor Song without any detailed description of his past life or other sexual experiences. Hwang’s hesitation or wandering of identifying Song’s sexuality may result from his self-doubt of his own Chinese marginalized identity.

Being an ABC, Hwang tries very hard to adopt his marginalized culture elements into his works. In his endeavor of deconstruction, we can find his active attempt to subvert the stereotyped Oriental images and to protect Chinese culture. Yet his remoteness from his Chinese root makes it difficult to recognize his cultural identity; and his yellow skin by which he is distinguished, turns to be a barrier in his acceptance by the mainstream of the American culture. Hence, under the education of the Euro-American-centered discursive and cultural hegemonic environment and with the pride of self-consciousness of being marginalized, Hwang’s deconstruction turns into ambivalence and his shaking off the west Orientalist ideology becomes incomplete.

Therefore Hwang does not give any clear description to show his clear attitude toward Song’s sexuality. And the bizarre play with the true origin verifies the west stereotyped Chinese in one way. Its design for Song as a cross-dressing actor with a prostitute mother, and its direct denial of being completely a man as the Oriental, which label his racist and sexist subconsciousness and his hesitation in defining the east marginalized identity, verifies the stereotype in another.

 

Chapter 3 Gallimard and Song’s Sacrifice

We know that Gallimard commits suicide in the end. He dies not for Song, however, but for the destruction of his own imagined ideal woman created by Song, a man. And his sacrifice warns the west not to fall into the fantasy of the stereotyped Oriental images. The west and the east should build mutual understanding. These are said to be Hwang’s aim of writing the play.

However, Gallimard’s death is the death of his kind: somewhat effeminate, actually homosexual, which are resisted in the western patriarchal/heterosexual ideology. Therefore, his death symbolizes his yielding to the patriarchal/heterosexual society, and his choosing fantasy is also his willingness of abiding by the western system, which finds no room for “sexual diversity or plural sexuality” (Chiao, p17.).

Meanwhile, Gallimard’s death is actually doubtful because, according to the play, he dies on the stage, which could be only a “symbolic death”(ibid.) of his fantasized Butterfly. Could it be Hwang’s joke, or his yielding to the western culture?

Song’s playing the cross-dressing ideal Oriental woman turns him into transvestite. Under the masquerade, he succeeds in disguising from Gallimard who accepts only heterosexuality. Although Song tries to make Gallimard understand his affection after his true social gender is unveiled, his homosexuality is abruptly rebuffed by Gallimard, the representative of the patriarchal/heterosexual society. How will he identify himself then, after Gallimard’s death? He might wrap himself again in woman’s dress and continue his transvestitism, or he might take off the womanly dress and conceal his true homosexuality since there is no room for him both in the compulsory heterosexual China and the west to exhibit his true love, true self.

Therefore, both Gallimard and Song sacrifice for the patriarchal/heterosexual society in different ways. Hwang might not have realized that his intended deconstructivist M. Butterfly falls short in the compulsory patriarchal/heterosexual society.

 

Conclusion

Although attempting to do a great deconstructivist M. Butterfly, David Henry Hwang fails to deconstruct Madame Butterfly completely due largely to his Chinese origin and American education. His worry and perplexity about identifying his racial class may cause directly the incompletion. As a result, Song fails to be clearly identified and seems to play a transvestite role and perform an actual homosexuality. And he and Gallimard sacrifice in their respective ways for the compulsory patriarchal/heterosexual society.

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