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Asian Women In Western Theatre Film Studies Essay

Oriental studies, as defined by Edward Said ( 1979, p. 3 ) , is ‘a Western manner for ruling, restructuring, and holding authorization over the Orient ‘ . The West ‘s interaction with the East can be seen as an look of the power relationships between the two, and this frequently expresses itself in the humanistic disciplines. David Henry Hwang ‘s drama M. Butterfly ( subsequently filmed by David Cronenberg ) , Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil ‘s phase musical Miss Saigon, and Rob Marshall ‘s movie Memoirs of a Geisha ( based on the novel by Arthur Golden ) , are all narratives about Asiatic adult females, constructed by Western work forces. Therefore inquiries both of race and of gender come into drama when we examine these plants.

The theoretical account for all ulterior word pictures of Asiatic adult females in Western theater is Madame Butterfly, originally a novel and drama but made celebrated by Puccini ‘s opera. A immature Nipponese adult female, Cio-Cio-San ( Butterfly ) , is married to an American naval officer, Pinkerton, who leaves shortly after the relationship is consummated. Cio-Cio-San delaies three old ages for him to return, but when he does he brings with him his legal American married woman, and the despairing Butterfly commits suicide. The narrative contains many repeating elements. There is an consciousness of the cultural impact of colonialism on the East, and this is gendered in a relationship between two people, adult female stand foring the alien East. This feminisation of the East is a common subject in Western fiction covering with the Orient. As Said ( 1979, p. 207 ) puts it, the adult females ‘are normally the animals of a male power-fantasy. They express limitless sensualness, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing. ‘ Although this is an over-simplification of Madame Butterfly ( this may be how Pinkerton sees Cio-Cio-San, but the audience is encouraged to see him as a blemished character ) , this West/East male/female duality is what the narrative of Madame Butterfly represents, whether it is adopted dependably or subverted.

The musical, Miss Saigon, updates and transplants the secret plan of Madame Butterfly to 1970s Saigon, during the Vietnam War. The fact that the cardinal Pinkerton/Butterfly relationship can be so easy converted into one between an American G.I. and a Vietnamese saloon miss demonstrates the continuity of concerns about American colonialism in the East, and the hegemony of the Orient as a concept- Japan or Vietnam, it ‘s all the same. Although the musical nowadayss Chris more sympathetically than the original opera does Pinkerton, he mostly matches McClary ‘s summing up of Pinkerton as ‘a cartoon- a crudely concocted blend of chauvinistic flag waving and marauding gender ‘ ( 2006, p. 23 ) . For Americans Asiatic adult females are still a trade good, to be abandoned when it is clip to return place. Chris ‘s concluding pick to remain with his American married woman is accompanied by self-seeking words: ‘I wanted to salvage her, protect her, Christ, I am American, how can I neglect to make good? All I made was a muss merely like everyone else in a topographic point full of enigma that I ne’er one time understood. I wanted back the universe I knew ‘ ( Schonberg 1990, p. 65 ) . This exposes the dangers of colonialism, when foreign states dabble in civilizations they do non understand. This is exemplified by Kim ‘s decease ; and while both Kim and Cio-Cio-San end up dead ( the common destiny of adult females in opera and musical ) , Kim ‘s self-destruction does non do as powerful a statement as Cio-Cio-San ‘s. The Nipponese adult female commits suicide in the same ritualistic manner as her male parent ; thereby repossessing some kind of honor, whereas Kim ‘s hiting simply affirms American cultural laterality over South East Asia, even if the war has been lost.

Hwang ‘s drama M. Butterfly is besides slackly based on Puccini ‘s opera, but it consciously subverts cultural and gender functions. Gallimard, a Gallic civil retainer in China falls in love with a beautiful opera miss, Song, merely to happen that she is really a adult male. Song besides turns out to be a undercover agent, and she feeds Gallimard false information about the war in Vietnam. At the terminal of the drama Gallimard commits suicide by the traditional Nipponese method of harakiri. The drama therefore reveals the Western male captivation with the alien feminine East to be an semblance. This thought of a adult female as an aesthetic building is present in Madame Butterfly ; Pinkerton says admiringly of Butterfly, ‘As lightweight as the thinnest brown glass, in her size and her bearing she looks like a figure on a screen. But when she steps out of that glistening lacquer background… ‘ ( Appelbaum 1983, p. 9 ) . In M. Butterfly, Gallimard is unable to see behind the ruse of frock and makeup ; these are what construct an Eastern adult female, like the geishas of Japan, who are similarly a male ideal. This subject of Orientalism is openly and wittily mocked in the movie:

Rene Gallimard: You made me see the beauty of the narrative, of her decease. It ‘s, it ‘s pure forfeit. He ‘s non worthy of it, but what can she make? She loves him so much. It ‘s really beautiful.

Song Liling: Well, yes, to a Westerner.

Gallimard: I beg your forgiveness?

Song: It ‘s one of your favorite phantasies, is n’t it? The submissive Oriental adult female and the barbarous white adult male. ( M. Butterfly 1993 )

What has been used to be presented as love affair is exposed pitilessly as a trademark of imperialism.

Gallimard ‘s inability to rule the East means that it is he who comes off worse from their clang of civilizations, and the concluding self-destruction reaffirms the Orient, as it does at the terminal of Madame Butterfly. In this instance it is the Westerner who is destroyed by love, instead than the other manner unit of ammunition. However, although Hwang is trying to deconstruct the usual Butterfly narrative, with what he sees as its imperialist and male chauvinist overtones, he may in fact be protesting excessively much, since the original opera can be seen as incorporating those unfavorable judgments. As Jonathan Wisenthal ( 2006, p. 10 ) puts it, ‘Whereas Pinkerton himself does so essentialize the Orient in the individual of his child-bride, the opera as a whole intentionally avoids making so. ‘ Sharpless, the consul ( or Chris ‘s friend John in Miss Saigon ) , represents the commodifying political orientation of the US, whereas Cio-Cio-San is a to the full rounded character. She is the bosom of the opera, whereas Hwang removes her and replaces her with a adult male, doing a sap of the Westerner but at the same clip hushing the adult female.

Memoirs of a Geisha likewise revolves around male buildings of adult females, in this instance the unreal figure of the geisha. Although the movie does non picture a culture-clash in the same manner as the dramas discussed supra, it is likewise a Western male creative activity of an Eastern female universe. Sayuri is every bit inactive a character as Cio-Cio-San or Kim ; although the merchandising of her organic structure as a trade good is arranged by adult females, it remains portion of a male-male system of exchange. Her desire to go a geisha root from her love of the Chairman ; which seems to propose that a adult female must set to a really narrowly-envisaged ideal to be worthy of male attending. The movie emphasises the difference between a geisha and a cocotte, when Mameha says, ‘Remember Chiyo, geisha are non concubines, and we ‘re non married womans. We sell our accomplishments, non our organic structures. We create another secret universe, a topographic point merely of beauty. The really word “ geisha ” agencies artist, and to be a geisha is to be judged as a traveling work of art ‘ ( Memoirs of a Geisha 2005 ) . However the difference seems little ; they are selling a specially-constructed version of themselves. The movie, with its keen costumes, make-up and sets, is selling a tourer version of Nipponese adult females, if non the adult females themselves.

As we have seen, these dramas and movies act on a narrow theoretical account. The most celebrated images of Asiatic muliebrity that appear in Western theater and movie are the concubines, geishas, performing artists who are figured to sell a construct of the East. The writers of these plants recognize this to some step, but there is a all right line between knocking the stereotype and perpetuating it. The issue is more one of gender than of race. Artificial concepts of adult female are besides sold in the West, but in plants about Japan or Vietnam, these adult females and their exchange is frequently the lone point of contact colonial powers have had with these states ; and the lone face we are shown is the painted 1. In M. Butterfly, the character who inquiries the boundary lines of gender, Song, asks ‘Why, in Chinese theater, are adult females ever played by work forces? Because merely work forces know how adult females should move ‘ ; and in all these dramatisations, they are clear on how Asiatic adult females should move.


Appelbaum, S. ( trans. and ed. ) , 1983. Puccini ‘s Madama Butterfly. New York: Constable.

M. Butterfly, 1993. [ Film ] Directed by D. Cronenberg. USA: Geffen Pictures.

McClary, S. , 2006. ‘Mounting Butterflies ‘ , pp. 21-35 in Vision of the East: texts, intertexts, and context of Madame Butterfly, erectile dysfunction. J. Wisenthal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005. [ Film ] Directed by R. Marshall. USA: Spyglass Entertainment.

Said, E. W. , 1979. Oriental studies. London: Routledge & A ; Kegan Paul.

Schonberg, C. et Al, 1990. Cameron Mackintosh presents Miss Saigon: a musical. London: Wise Publications.

Wisenthal, J. , 2006. ‘Inventing the Orient ‘ , pp. 3-18 in Vision of the East: texts, intertexts, and context of Madame Butterfly, erectile dysfunction. J. Wisenthal. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.