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David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly And Aime Cesaire's A Tempest As Examples Of Postcolonial Drama

1784 words - 8 pages

In the closing lines of M. Butterfly, Gallimard, the hapless French diplomat/accountant turned spy, says, "I have a vision. Of the Orient" (92). At the moment he is speaking of his remaining belief that there are beautiful women, as he thought his "Butterfly" was, but it is indicative of the colonial impulse. Colonization becomes possible because a society can characterize another society in ways that make colonization seem like a positive endeavor. As Said notes, the characterization of other cultures, such as the Orient or Africa, is carried out in the popular realm through works of art, literature and drama. Indeed, books, plays, poems and stories are just a few of the forms used to ...view middle of the document...

Hwang discards the operatic form and changes the setting from 19th Century Nagasaki to late 20th Century Beijing. The changes are to be expected, after all they are rewrites of the former pieces, but what is shocking about Postcolonial drama is the overtness with which the message is delivered. At one point in A Tempest, Caliban declares, "Call me X" (14). His former name was a slave name, and, as so many decided during the civil rights movement, another name was more appropriate. It's impossible not to draw connections between Caliban and Malcolm X, or any number of other Black radicals in many countries who assumed the role of revolutionaries. The line draws the audience out of the play and asserts the contemporary ramifications of the performance, and the effect is repeated throughout. The same strategy can be seen at work in M. Butterfly. In an even more didactic move, Song explains the colonial ramifications of Madame Butterfly, and asks Gallimard if he would think it was as beautiful an opera if it were a "blonde homecoming queen" who fell in love with and married a Japanese man who left her, passed up marriage to a Kennedy, and then committed suicide upon learning her husband no longer wanted her (17). Not only is the scene a blatant outline of the goals of Hwang's play, but it also exposes the secondary role that details play. Hwang and Cesaire both privilege the idea, the concept they are promoting, over the content of the work, and they take pains to make clear to the audience what they are trying to say: Colonization is bad, creates problems and hurts people. Likewise, they both seem to suggest that the struggle against colonization is a difficult, confusing and painful process.

Both Cesaire and Hwang represent the colonizer as insulting and ignorant. The underlying explanation is that all of the colonizers notions about the colonized are based on stereotype and fabrication. The colonizer doesn't really know the people he is dominating, and he doesn't really care, because that would make the domination more difficult. It is easier to carry on and make sure to belittle the colonized so things like conscience don't begin to act up. Cesaire makes this obvious in his characterization of Prospero, ruler of an island with only one native inhabitant, Caliban. Prospero calls Caliban an "ugly ape" (11), and another time comments to his servant, Arial, that Caliban is "getting a little too emancipated" (10). Prospero has no patience or sympathy for Caliban, and insults his mother, his island, his native language and his hopes and dreams. Prospero is in a position of power, but it is obvious that he knows that position is tenuous. Caliban is a threat. Similarly, Gallimard wishes to attain and maintain a position of power. Gallimard is not terribly respected, and he is somewhat bungling and foolish. His co-workers don't really like him at first, he obviously isn't truly in love with his wife, and he desires power. Hwang creates the connection...

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