Love as Desire and Self-Delusion

Alone in this cell, I sit night after night, watching our story play through my head, always searching for a new ending, one which redeems my honor, where she returns at last to my arms.

Act One, Scene 3 is set in the present, in a prison in Paris. The audience does not yet know exactly why Gallimard is in jail—only that his crime involves national security and some kind of mistaken sexual identity. In this scene, Gallimard addresses the audience directly and begins his explanation of why he acted as he did. Gallimard knows that society is laughing at him, but he thinks they should envy him instead as he has known and been loved by the “Perfect Woman.”

In this quote, Gallimard warns the audience not to trust the story they are about to hear because it is still being rewritten. Throughout the play, Gallimard repeats this process of rewriting his own story to build himself up and grant himself what he wants. Gallimard is self-deluded. He lives in a world of male fantasy, in which his personal honor depends on obtaining a woman’s devotion.

She would always have prepared a light snack and then, ever so delicately, and only if I agreed, she would start to pleasure me. With her hands, her mouth . . . too many ways to explain, and too sad, given my present situation. But mostly we would talk. About my life.

This quote is from Act Two, Scene 5. From his prison cell, Gallimard describes the life he and Song shared in Peking during the early 1960s. In Gallimard’s memory, Song behaves like the perfect courtesan, entirely attentive to her man’s bodily needs. Song devotes expert attention to satisfying Gallimard’s sexual desires. Although Song submissively asks Gallimard’s permission before every act, it is clear that Song, not Gallimard, is actually in control of their sex life. After Song pleasures him, Gallimard has no trouble deluding himself into thinking Song desires him or believing that Song is absolutely fascinated by his life.

Song is indeed fascinated, but not for the reasons Gallimard thinks. Song’s assignment is to get Gallimard to talk. Song notes everything Gallimard says in order to pass on information to Comrade Chin, an official from the Chinese Communist Party. Gallimard’s self-delusion and sated desire make him vulnerable to Song’s manipulation.

I’m an artist, René. You were my greatest . . . acting challenge. (She laughs.) It doesn’t matter how rotten I answer, does it? You still adore me. That’s why I love you, René.

In Act Two, Scene 7, Gallimard imagines a conversation with Song after the French pardon Song for spying and deport Song back to China. Gallimard asks if Song doesn’t wish to be back in France. Here, Song’s answer is a clue to Song’s complex emotions toward Gallimard. Gallimard has been deluding himself about being a male in total control, while Song has been deluding himself about being a great actor, basking in his audience’s admiration. Song confuses his physical desire for Gallimard, whatever that desire might consist of, with the desire to be adored.

Gallimard’s self-delusions are unmasked when Song insists on being seen naked, unquestionably a man. Song’s self-delusions are unmasked when Gallimard refuses to accept the homosexual Song, the man who is not playing a part. The lovers’ final parting is poignant because neither one can give up self-delusion in favor of direct expression of desire. They desire each other, but they cannot be honest with each other, which makes real love and intimacy impossible.

Yes—love. Why not admit it all? That was my undoing, wasn’t it? Love warped my judgment, blinded my eyes, arranged the very lines on my face . . . until I could look in the mirror and see nothing but . . . a woman.

This quote is from Act Three, Scene 3. Gallimard delivers this speech in the last scene of the play, as the dancers help him dress in a kimono and apply makeup to play the role of Madame Butterfly. Gallimard has just admitted that he has “long since faced the truth” about Song being a man, one who is “a cad, a bounder” who “deserved nothing but a kick in the behind.” Instead, Gallimard has given Song all his love. In Gallimard’s warped mind, the fact that he loves an unworthy man means that he is now a woman, like Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. He knows he must make the ultimate sacrifice for love. Gallimard sees love as a force that keeps him from being his true, masculine, logical self.

The play ends with Gallimard, dressed as Madame Butterfly, committing suicide. Gallimard is probably insane—after all, he’s been talking to himself, performing imaginary operas, and conjuring up Song in his head. His madness comes from his inability to let go of either self-delusion or idealized desire.

Sexuality as Domination and Submission

The first time I saw them in his closet . . . all lined up—my body shook. Not with lust—no, with power. Here were women—a shelfful—who would do exactly what I wanted.

This quote is from Act One, Scene 5. Sitting in his cell, Gallimard looks through a stack of girlie magazines, which are “[q]uite a necessity in prison,” and recalls his emotions on first encountering such magazines as a boy. His adolescent sexuality takes the form of fantasies of dominance. The women in the magazines are passive objects and they make no personal demands on Gallimard at all, leaving him free to do anything he wants with them.

After he looks at the magazines, Gallimard gazes at a pinup girl in the window who is stripping and playing with herself for his viewing pleasure. Watching the stripper does not evoke the same response as the magazines. Instead Gallimard feels a sense of shame over watching something dirty. The music that accompanies the stripper is Puccini’s “Love Duet,” a reminder that even a woman who is a sex object is also a moving, breathing human being with sexual desires of her own. Complete submission is impossible, so Gallimard does not feel desire.

I knew this little flower was waiting for me to call, and, as I wickedly refused to do so, I felt for the first time that rush of power—the absolute power of a man.

This quote is from Act One, Scene 11. Gallimard devises a plan to attract Song by playing hard to get. He deliberately stays away from Song, knowing Song will feel rejected and beg for his attention. Gallimard’s plan is based on his fantasy world, in which he is irresistibly masculine and his lover is helplessly feminine. The thought of Song alone at home and longing for him makes Gallimard feel even more powerful. He thinks of Song as a “little flower,” a frail, delicate creature easily crushed and destroyed by masculine energy. Gallimard’s plan also assumes that being in love is a natural state for a woman and that loving someone involves giving up control.

Song appears to fall for Gallimard’s scheme and writes increasingly desperate letters begging Gallimard to come back. The letters reinforce Gallimard’s domination fantasies. However, the audience soon learns that the letters are part of Song’s plot to gain access to Gallimard. Song manipulates Gallimard’s fantasy of a submissive woman in order to dominate a self-deluded man.

Renee was picture perfect. With a body like those girls in the magazines. . . . And it was exciting to be with someone who wasn’t afraid to be seen completely naked. But is it possible for a woman to be too uninhibited, too willing, so as to seem almost too . . . masculine?

This quote is from Act Two, Scene 6. Gallimard has an affair with Renee, a young Western woman he meets at the Austrian embassy. Renee is a student, the daughter of a capitalist who “exports a lot of useless stuff to the Third World.” Gallimard describes his relationship with Renee as his first extramarital affair, which raises questions about the sexual nature of his affair with Song. Gallimard’s comment about Renee’s willingness to be seen naked implies criticism of Song, while his reservations about Renee’s lack of inhibition implies Song’s superior femininity.

Gallimard continues to see Renee even though her sexuality intimidates him. Song knows Gallimard is seeing Renee but does not confront him about it. Gallimard likes to imagine Song, his Butterfly, crying alone at home. He says, “It was her tears and her silence that excited me, every time I visited Renee.” Gallimard is so attached to male dominance that he cannot perform sexually without imagining submission, even it’s not coming from the woman he’s with.

Masculinity as Imperialism and Authoritarianism

[They] simply want to be associated with whoever shows the most strength and power. You live with the Chinese, sir. Do you think they like Communism?

This quote is from Act Two, Scene 3. Gallimard, now a vice-consul in charge of intelligence gathering, talks privately with Toulon, the French ambassador. Toulon has heard rumors about Gallimard’s beautiful Chinese mistress, so he naturally considers Gallimard an expert on popular opinion in China. Toulon confides that Jack Kennedy has signed an order to bomb North Vietnam and asks Gallimard how the Chinese might react. Gallimard thinks that the Chinese don’t even like Ho Chi Minh. Gallimard predicts that both China and Vietnam will respect American power.

Gallimard ignores the fact that both Chairman Mao and Ho Chi Minh lead Communist regimes. He shows no respect for the viewpoints of the Chinese majority. But then again, Gallimard really knows only one Chinese person—Song—a person who seems to resent the Communist regime. Gallimard claims, “Deep down, they miss the old days. You know, cappuccinos, men in tuxedos . . .” He is directly quoting Song, who evoked that vision of sophisticated Westernism primarily to attract Gallimard. In Gallimard’s mind, strength equals masculinity, and he obtusely believes Asian people will of course submit to strength. Gallimard further assures Toulon, “If the Americans demonstrate the will to win, the Vietnamese will welcome them into a mutually beneficial union.” Gallimard has no basis for this opinion except his own prejudices, an expression of decades of French imperialism in Vietnam.

So, if I’m a guy with a small one, I’m going to build a really big building or take over a really big piece of land or write a really long book so the other men don’t know, right? . . . And that’s what we call a civilized society. The whole world run by a bunch of men with pricks the size of pins.

This quote is from Act Two, Scene 6. Here, Renee, Gallimard’s Western and sexually aggressive female lover, delivers a semi-comic lecture on penises. Her words are a vulgar version of the feminist critique of male-oriented societies. As the daughter of a business tycoon, she has had the opportunity to observe male success up close. Renee is making fun of the male obsession with penis size and of the male tendency to view every conquest or success as an expression of masculinity. Her diatribe disgusts Gallimard and makes him feel like less of a man.

Renee is a modern, outspoken woman who, unlike Gallimard’s Song, is unafraid to speak her mind. At first, Renee comes across as a sex-mad airhead. But during this same conversation with Gallimard, Renee shows far greater political savvy than Gallimard, the so-called intelligence gatherer. About her plan to study in China, Renee comments, “And if they end up taking over the world—well, then I’ll be lucky to know Chinese too—right?”

The West thinks of itself as masculine—big guns, big industry, big money—so the East is feminine—weak, delicate, poor . . . but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom—the feminine mystique. . . . You expect Oriental countries to submit to your guns, and you expect Oriental women to be submissive to your men.

This quote is from Act Three, Scene 1. Song, now dressed as a man, testifies in a Paris court about Song’s relationship with Gallimard and their espionage activities. The judge asks a few questions about the intelligence gathering but is far more interested in what “all of France” wants to know: whether Gallimard knew Song was a man. Song backs up Gallimard’s claim of not knowing. Song then claims that it’s easy to convince men because they always believe what they want to hear. Song also introduces the term “international rape mentality” to explain Gallimard’s confusion. Song’s quote here is a response to the judge’s request to define that term.

Song’s analysis reveals that Gallimard is self-deluded not only about his own masculinity but also about his racial superiority as a Westerner. Song directly equates the invasion of other countries with heterosexual rape. Song also predicts that the West will lose all in its dealings with the East. Song speaks political truth to power and also refuses to answer the judge’s prurient personal question.