Act Three

Summary: Act Three, Scene 1

The setting is a courtroom in Paris in 1986. Song testifies to the court, dressed in a man’s suit. Song tells the court about arriving in Paris and being unable to find help from his fellow Chinese citizens. Song describes how, for fifteen years, Gallimard provided a “very comfy life” for Song and the boy Song presented as their child. Song also testifies that he urged Gallimard to get a job handling sensitive documents and persuaded Gallimard to photograph them for transmission to the Chinese embassy. However, the judge is more interested in what “all of France would like to know”—whether Gallimard knew Song was a man. Song testifies that Gallimard never saw him completely naked. Song explains that he’d picked up a few tricks from his mother, a prostitute, and used them “[i]n service” to his country. Song explains that men always believe what they want to hear. Song then lectures the court about the “international rape mentality” of the West toward the East. When the judge asks Song directly if Gallimard knew Song was a man, Song replies, “Your Honor, I never asked.”

Summary: Act Three, Scene 2

The setting is the present, in Gallimard’s prison cell. The “Death Scene” music from Madame Butterfly plays. Gallimard recalls Song’s testimony in court and expresses anger and great shame. Against his will, Gallimard’s mind transports him back to the night he met Song, his Butterfly. Song also appears, but in male dress. Song assumes female postures and tries to get Gallimard to admit he’s still attracted to Song. In spite of himself, Gallimard responds. Song says that he still wants Gallimard but also admits he might just be playing. Song is desperate to make Gallimard see that “his Butterfly” was always an illusion. Song at last grants Gallimard’s often-repeated request and starts to strip. Gallimard begs Song to stop, but Song drops his briefs. When Gallimard sees Song naked, Gallimard laughs hysterically because, he explains, he wasted “so much time on just a man!” Song responds that he’s not just any man, but the person Gallimard has loved for years. Song urges Gallimard to throw away his pride, but Gallimard rejects the real Song in favor of the fantasy woman he’s believed Song to be. As Song leaves, he warns Gallimard that he’ll be sorry. Gallimard replies that he already is.

Summary: Act Three, Scene 3

In the last scene of the play, Gallimard is in his prison cell. As dancers appear and help him put on a kimono and make up his face, Gallimard tells the audience of his continuing search for a new ending to his story, in which he returns forever to his Butterfly’s arms. Gallimard reprises his vision of Asian women who die because they love foreign devils, women who will take any punishment their men give them. In public, Gallimard has continued to deny accepting Song’s manhood. But privately, in his cell, he admits that he has long since faced the truth. He confesses to giving Song all his love and that love for Song warped his judgment. Now, when Gallimard looks in the mirror, he sees nothing but a woman.

In Gallimard’s fantasy world, a woman sacrifices herself for the love of a man, even when that man is completely without worth. With the dancers’ help, Gallimard dons a wig and becomes Madame Butterfly. The music from Puccini’s death scene blares as Gallimard plunges a knife into his own body and commits suicide. The dancers lay him gently down on the stage. Song stands smoking a cigarette and staring down at Gallimard’s body. Song asks, “Butterfly? Butterfly?” The lights fade slowly to black.

Analysis: Act Three

The action in Act Three begins in 1986, fifteen years after Song’s arrival in Paris. Song’s court testimony provides the only known details about those years. Gallimard supports Song and the boy, which implies that he considers them his family. Gallimard photographs secret documents for Song, which implies that Gallimard’s spying was voluntary. Song testifies that Gallimard and Song had sex, although Gallimard had never seen Song naked. Song’s testimony supports Gallimard’s claim about believing Song was a woman. Song’s testimony also includes a lecture on the “international rape mentality” of the West toward the East. In court, Song is dressed in men’s clothes and appears as his true self. However, because Song is an actor, it is not clear if he tells the truth or if he’s performing. Song’s support of Gallimard’s claim could be due to love or to Song’s own fear of being punished for his homosexuality. His lecture to the judge might be an attempt to placate his Communist Party handlers.

Scene 2 contains the climax of the play, when Song drops his briefs and forces Gallimard to look at his naked body. This action comes after the courtroom scene in the play. However, because Gallimard is replaying the event every night in his mind, the audience does not know exactly when Song’s strip actually happened or if it really took place at all. Back in Act Two, Song refused Gallimard’s request to see his Butterfly’s naked body. Now, when Song’s naked body finally appears before him, Gallimard breaks down laughing because Song is “just a man.” The exchange that follows, in which Song tries to convince Gallimard to love him as always, is the most emotionally honest moment in the play. Song’s reaction to Gallimard’s rejection strongly suggests that Song loves him. Shortly thereafter, Gallimard admits that he loves Song.

However, Gallimard admits that he is still rewriting his own story. Gallimard’s self-serving narrative leaves out fifteen years of physical and emotional interactions between himself and Song. Without knowledge of those missing years, the audience remains ambiguous about the love affair. Did Gallimard love Song and the boy as family? He must have because he supported them and voluntarily took part in Song’s espionage. Did Song love Gallimard as a sexual being or as the most adoring audience an actor could wish for? At what point in the romance did Gallimard’s self-delusion actually drive him mad? The play does not answer these questions.

The play ends with an operatic gesture, a suicide that echoes the death scene in Madame Butterfly. Gallimard turns himself into a woman and accepts his “female” destiny: to sacrifice himself for love. Song stands next to Gallimard’s body and addresses him as “Butterfly,” but it remains unclear if Song regards the dying Gallimard with love or with scorn. The audience knows only that Song is the last image that appears in Gallimard’s mind.