Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


Gallimard directly quotes an image from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, of a butterfly pierced with a needle. The image makes him question his own treatment of his own private Butterfly, Song. Each time Gallimard calls Song “Butterfly,” he reminds the audience that Song is beautiful but ephemeral and that Gallimard has the power to capture and destroy Song. In the end, Gallimard destroys himself, and Song addresses him as Butterfly. The butterfly symbolizes the fragility of life and love and the cruelty of man.


Song wears a kimono when appearing in the Puccini role of Butterfly. The robe is a symbol of a Japanese woman but also of female sexuality. Helga, Gallimard’s wife, pretends she’s wearing a kimono when she moves to Madame Butterfly music, probably for Gallimard’s benefit. When Gallimard is with Renee and imagining Song, his Butterfly, sad and alone at home, he pictures Song wearing a kimono and crying into its soft sleeves. Song dons a kimono for his reunion with Gallimard in Paris but slips out of it between Acts Two and Three, emerging in a men’s suit. Gallimard wears the last kimono in the play and kills himself in it.


Gallimard’s jail cell has a window, his only view to the outside. A pinup girl appears in this window to perform for Gallimard. The window symbolizes an expansion of viewpoint, but it also serves as a barrier. The pinup girl and the outside world are closed off from Gallimard; he can see both but have neither. The window’s presence only emphasizes his isolation.


The first time Gallimard walks Song home, Song asks Gallimard to be a gentleman and light Song’s cigarette. Gallimard doesn’t smoke, so Song lights the cigarette instead. Song’s cigarette is a symbol of an independent, modern, sophisticated woman. The fact that Song lights the cigarette is a hint that Song is a man. Song’s cigarette appears again as Song observes Gallimard’s suicide. This time, however, Song’s smoking is a defiantly masculine gesture.