It has been said that the mind is the theatre of conflict. But what happens when perceptions clash and heads butt? In the play M. Butterfly, by David Henry Hwang, he uses the title as his primary metaphor, but he convolutes the play by having too many themes working around it which can distort the reaction of the audience. The tenor is the butterfly and the vehicle is the M, now the problem with this is that the tenor and the vehicle imply too many things, making it far too abstract to make a clear description of reality. The interaction between the vehicle and the tenor yields nothing except confusion to an audience that is simply stimulated by the superficial layers of the play.
Looking at the metaphor M. Butterfly, one is able to extract a vast spectrum of ideas which Hwang suggests, for example: East vs. West, man vs. woman, sexuality, power relations, race, gender, class, stereotypes, fantasy… etcetera. Now, from a mathematical point of view the metaphor has many variables in the equation, making the problem much more difficult to solve. In other words, Hwang's butterfly metaphor is too ambitious and the audience can have a head full of themes that don't seem to connect to each other. For example, a secondary metaphor which feeds into the butterfly metaphor is when Gallimard says; "I knew this little flower was waiting for me to call, and, as I wickedly refused to do so, I felt of the first time that rush of power-the absolute power of a man" (Hwang, 32). This example implies a power relationship as the tenor and the vehicle is Song, but the number of themes that this metaphor suggests is too many: Power relations, stereotypes, east vs. west, and man vs. woman, race...
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...Post…We all simply concluded that the gentleman was possibly insecure about his own sexual orientation and therefore found the play threatening" (97). Oh well, if that's the case than I'm in big trouble with Hwang.
So there you have it, not only did Hwang's metaphors fail to describe reality effectively to the audience, but the hubris of a Tony award winner has been illuminated by a part-time college misfit. However, the audience was most certainly stimulated by the most obvious sexual aspects of the play, but when looking at the metaphor as a whole the only thing one can do is go cross-eyed because the play is too potent with themes to make quality connections. It's safe to say that gravity works even on an "elevated" play such as M. Butterfly.
Kroll, Jack Newsweek. 6 Nov. 1988
Hwang, David H. M. Butterfly. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.
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