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David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly and Aime Cesaire's A Tempest as Examples of Postcolonial Drama

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In the closing lines of M. Butterfly, Gallimard, the hapless French diplomat/accountant turned spy, says, "I have a vision. Of the Orient" (92). At the moment he is speaking of his remaining belief that there are beautiful women, as he thought his "Butterfly" was, but it is indicative of the colonial impulse. Colonization becomes possible because a society can characterize another society in ways that make colonization seem like a positive endeavor. As Said notes, the characterization of other cultures, such as the Orient or Africa, is carried out in the popular realm through works of art, literature and drama. Indeed, books, plays, poems and stories are just a few of the forms used to indoctrinate the masses of a colonizing nation with the rationale and impulse to colonize.

As if to underscore this point, one way to rebel against colonization is to warp the tools of the colonizer to support the cause of liberation. The strategy seems to be especially popular in drama, where there are two stellar examples of postcolonial literature, A Tempest by Aime Cesaire and M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang. These plays are rewritten versions of Shakespeare's The Tempest and Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, respectively, and retain the same characters and basic plot elements. Both Shakespeare's and Puccini's works helped create symbols of other cultures - Caliban is a black devil, and Cio-Cio San is the meek and beautiful "Butterfly." These characterizations have become stereotypes in Western culture, and formed, or at least mirrored, the rationale for colonization.

To make these pieces work against the notion of colonization, Cesaire and Hwang must significantly alter the content. They do so, and they also eschew mimicking the styl...

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..., and the victories represented in these plays are not large scale liberation, so it is even more difficult to see the correct path.

The stories we tell each other make up our world. Just as the Nick Redstocking stories created a Native American dialect that never existed, The Tempest and Madame Butterfly fabricated characters that came to stand as symbols of entire cultures. The power of stories is especially evident when we look at the role our art and literature has played in imperialism. Fanon would say the way to overthrow a physically present governing force is through violence. Hwang and Cesaire do a similar violence to the pieces that keep us imprisoned in false notions of the other. It is only through taking over these works, appropriating and reconstructing them, that we can be psychologically liberated from the rationale and impulses of the colonizer.

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