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The setting is Song and Gallimard’s Beijing flat in 1963. Comrade Chin gathers Song’s report. During the scene, Gallimard stays on his knees, watching the action. Song has a new demand of Comrade Chin: a baby. The request shocks Comrade Chin. Song admits the pregnancy claim was a desperate measure to avoid having to strip. On the other hand, with a baby, Gallimard would belong to Song for life. Song explains to Comrade Chin that men play the women’s roles in Chinese opera “because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act.” After Comrade Chin leaves the stage, Gallimard asks Song to be his Butterfly again. Song reminds Gallimard that he is in prison and Song is on a plane back to China. Then Song invites Gallimard to continue his account of Song’s pregnancy.
The scene in the Beijing flat continues. Gallimard urges Song to become his wife, a role Song claims to be unworthy of. Song knows it will ruin Gallimard’s career if he divorces his wife Helga to marry a Chinese Communist actress. Song overrides Gallimard’s desire for marriage and goes away to the countryside. Song later returns to Beijing with a small baby. Gallimard looks on in adoration as Song sings to the baby, but he becomes upset when Song declares the baby will never live in the West. Song’s stubborn refusal to marry him or let him have the child makes Gallimard adore Song all the more.
It is now 1966 in Beijing. Gallimard describes how China has changed. Due to the Cultural Revolution, China forbids contacts between Chinese people and foreigners. Song’s fame and money now count against them. At the same time, the American war in Vietnam goes wrong. The Vietnamese refuse to give in against superior American military strength. Toulon enters the scene with the news that Gallimard is being transferred back to France. Gallimard thinks his transfer is because his predictions about Vietnam were wrong. Butterfly and Gallimard say a hurried farewell. As Gallimard exits, Comrade Chin enters with a group of dancers. Chin’s mob enacts a propaganda film that berates Song as a decadent pervert who lives above the common people. In the film, Comrade Chin forces Song to confess to a homosexual act. Chin’s propaganda film rehabilitates Song in its final scene.
The setting is a commune in Hunan Province in 1970. Comrade Chin interviews Song, who has now been working in the Hunan fields for four years. Chin taunts Song about Song’s former life of luxury and demands that Song do more for the Revolution. Song must now go to France, reconnect with Gallimard, and begin gathering information again. Comrade Chin also throws her own success in Song’s face. Chin is now married, while Song has to go to France to be a “pervert” for Chairman Mao.
The setting is Paris from 1968 to 1970. Gallimard’s new job consists of keeping track of traffic violations in the suburbs. Students are shouting Chairman Mao’s slogans on the streets of Paris. Helga, Gallimard’s wife, gets caught up in a protest by accident. The police hit her with a water cannon, and she drops all their groceries. Back home, Gallimard is unsympathetic. He tells Helga that he wants a divorce and that he’s had a mistress for eight years. Helga realizes that Gallimard doesn’t want to live with her anymore, even though his mistress is in China. Helga recalls that she was happy in China. She knew Gallimard was not what he pretended to be, but she enjoyed the pretense of being a diplomat’s wife.
Marc appears but does not want to hear more about Gallimard’s “love goddess.” Marc offers to fix Gallimard up on a date but withdraws the offer because Gallimard is drunk. Gallimard drinks more and wonders why people can’t understand that he’d found the perfect woman. Song appears. At first, Gallimard thinks he’s been drinking too much and is imagining Song’s presence, but Song has truly returned. Gallimard wants to embrace his Butterfly, but Song keeps talking. Song addresses the audience, and the scene is once again Gallimard’s prison cell in Paris. Song starts wiping off makeup and invites the audience to take a break during the upcoming change.
In the last five scenes of Act Two, time speeds up dramatically. Scenes 7 and 8 take place in 1963. Scene 9 jumps to 1966, and Scenes 10 and 11 take place in 1970 and the present. The staging also changes during these scenes. Scene 7 continues the chronological narrative of Scene 6, but the staging becomes less conventional, using double spotlights to show parallel actions. Gallimard remains onstage, overhearing the conversation between Song and Comrade Chin. Toward the end of the scene, Song appears in present time and addresses Gallimard in his prison cell. This staging reminds the audience that they are hearing the love story as Gallimard remembers it, not necessarily as it actually happened.
The twin plots of romance and espionage are now completely entwined. Comrade Chin becomes involved in Song’s love affair because Song must produce a baby to hold on to Gallimard and keep up the illusion. Song’s pregnancy and childbirth deception achieves the goal of making Gallimard more attached to Song than ever. He wants to marry Song, his Butterfly, and it’s a challenge for Song to refuse the marriage proposal and keep the child in China. Song sings a lullaby from Puccini’s opera to strengthen Gallimard’s self-delusion and encourage him to believe the child is his son.
In Scene 9, outside events override Song’s efforts and Gallimard’s intentions. The Cultural Revolution turns society against opera singers and other members of China’s educated elite. Gallimard and Song lose their flat. Gallimard is sent back to France because of his mistaken intelligence about Vietnam. Song goes to a prison camp, where Comrade Chin forces Song to take part in a propaganda film against homosexuality. Song gets no credit for his skilled intelligence work on behalf of the state.
The contrast between Song’s fate and that of Gallimard is a social commentary on capitalism and communism. The contrast also creates a shift in how the audience perceives the characters. Comrade Chin’s angry attacks make the audience realize that Song is part of China’s traditional elite class and that his status as an opera performer has protected him from anti-homosexuality laws. Chin happens to be a minor official in Communist China, but her hateful outburst represents prejudices shared by people around the world. Audience sympathy shifts toward Song as a victim of anti-homosexual prejudice. Gallimard’s inaccurate intelligence gathering earns him a demotion, a relative slap on the wrist.
After Gallimard and Helga return to Paris, Gallimard maintains his love for Song. He remains faithful in his heart to “his Butterfly” for four years. He divorces Helga because she cannot live up to his perfect woman in China. Gallimard then gets drunk and goes on and on about Song until his friend Marc grows sick of the story. Gallimard clearly thinks he experiences pure, true love, although, as usual, his feelings are based on self-delusion and selective memory. Meanwhile, after four years working on a rural commune, Song gets orders to go to Paris, reconnect with Gallimard, and resume spying.
When Gallimard’s divorce from Helga is followed by Song’s appearance in Paris, the audience expects that the romance between Song and Gallimard will resume in some form. By this point, the audience knows that Song is actually a man, but it’s still unclear whether Gallimard knows or suspects this reality. Gallimard is eager to embrace Song again, but Song is reluctant to submit to the embrace. Act Two ends with a conversation in Paris between Song and Gallimard, but it is apparent that Gallimard has conjured the encounter with Song in his mind. The audience cannot tell which parts of the dialogue with Song really happened. Even in Gallimard’s remembered or imagined conversation, Song is now the stronger, more decisive of the two characters. Both Gallimard and Song now elicit some audience sympathy—Song because he is a victim of Communist authoritarianism and acting under coercion, and Gallimard because he is in prison and perhaps going mad.