Carmen and Madame Butterfly
Carmen lives only for sensuality. She goes from one man to another. Carmen knows that she is free to stop relationships if she does not love the man anymore and that is fine, because the way she was raised allows her to act that was. She is an independent Gypsy woman. People of Gypsy culture are open-minded and willful. In the culture of the nineteenth century female Gypsies are characterized as strong, free-spirited, extraordinary, and arrogant. The romantic spirit of a Gypsy is considered absolutely apposite to what a usual European woman is supposed to be. Women in “Carmen” represented as very active members of society.
In our time Carmen is no longer viewed as an immoral and slutty female, who mercilessly destroyed the life of an innocent soldier. She is represented more as a woman, which who is murdered by a crazy and jealous lover (Fisher, 2005). “On the one hand Carmen is dishonest, unruly, promiscuous, unsentimental, brash, vicious, and callous, a woman who discards men like picked flowers, yet on the other hand, she is vivacious, energetic, enterprising resourceful, and indomitable” (Fisher, 2005). The only part of her character, which would never change is independence and love for freedom. Carmen has unremitting passion for being independent.
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She enjoys her freedom, and she is always the huntress. Don Jose becomes her doomed prey in this story. They both are very different in culture, attitude, and even their jobs. Jose is more civilized and stands at a higher level in society than Carmen, but it does not stop her from being the leading figure in their relationships. She is the first to make Jose go crazy about. She made him easily fall in love with her, and then she expected him to easily leave her alone. Butterfly is not a prima donna. She is described as a modest and sensitive person, who would do everything for her man.
She is the last one to finds out everything about her lover’s unfaithfulness, and it can be justified by the blindness from her love for him. “She is small, virtually alone, innocent and helpless, she has no power and no knowledge, nothing but dignity” (Chan, 1990). Little and fragile Butterfly has a violent reaction when people assure her that Pinkerton will not be back. She does not want to believe to that, because everything about him is perfect in her mind. Butterfly is ready to sacrifice herself in order to please Pinkerton. She is a victim of a man with a different culture.
He is supposed to be civilized in comparison to her, but that is not true. However outwardly she looks as personification of primitive culture, full of superstition and excessive aestheticism, but actually embodies a civilization, for being patient to her disrespectful husband. Exotic culture always attracts western people. Butterfly for an American man, is no more than just a toy. The perception of marriage is completely different for Pinkerton than for Butterfly. He does not care; he does not know anything about her culture, and he does not realize how much she lost because of him.
Japanese culture is influences Butterfly. The fact that she is a geisha means that she is lonely and has no support, and it is dangerous to fall in love under these circumstances. Geishas are usually sold by their parents or forced to do it due to financial position. “Deprived of the parental shelter, the abjected subject will live with a continual ‘want’ of replacing this loss, which will become subliminal obsession” (Wisenthal, 2006). Butterfly smiles a lot and look happy, but inside she is emotionally unstable, that’s why she prefers to close eyes to ignore many things. Carmen” and “Madama Butterfly” are very different stories with similar ends. Both heroines die in the end, but in different ways. Jose killed Carmen, but Butterfly committed suicide. Both operas touch culture, freedom, love, betrayal, and family. Death can catch you no matter your personality, and these two ladies with different personalities were victims of love, which caused a deadly end. Both operas are full of emotion. Both heroines express themselves through emotion. Too much emotion can probably be the reason of hasty and rash decisions, and sometimes that might cause death.
Butterfly, after she found out that Pinkerton was not going to be with her anymore, had a choice to go back to being Geisha and sing for people. However, emotions took over the poor woman who could not handle this betrayal. Carmen also had a choice to obey Jose and escape death, even if she disagreed with him, but she proffered to be stubborn and it caused tragedy. Whatever the case, she could have left Jose eventually when situation proved to be more positive. Emotions had a big role in this tragedy of the two heroines, who wanted to be happy in love.
Culture has a significant role in “Carmen” and “Madame Butterfly” There are two different cultures in operas. Butterfly is Japanese and she is more reserved and hereditary. People of this culture strictly follow to all traditions. Even though Gypsies also follow their traditions it is not as strict as in Japan. When Carmen was traveling around different places with family and friends, Butterfly was spending her time preparing herself for being a good Geisha. Carmen did not take problems with men seriously, because she knew that she would always find one.
Butterfly, since childhood was taught how to please and be obedient to man. She learned how to be faithful. Even though the two heroines were so different in terms of culture, the disappointment in love makes them close. Maybe Carmen’s way of life seems easier and attractive, but she also did not have a perfect life at that time. In 1820, women in Europe who behaved as Carmen were considered as vulgar and immoral. On the other hand, Butterfly had the same situation since Geishas were always treated as prostitutes, even though it is a stereotype.
What makes them similar is that people did not treat them with respect. Butterfly is a more tragic heroine if compared to Carmen. She is not ready for many things in the life, when Carmen already aware of everything. Carmen has problems but she do not dramatize them, and always finds a way to overcome them. She would never choose death voluntarily. However, Butterfly does not have an experience with men as Carmen, and she only sees herself with Pinkerton. She does not realize that there are many men and someone would make her happy again. She even refuses a wealthy Japanese man who wants to marry her.
Love is what the two stories began from. They both were happy in love, but in the end Carmen lost her feelings for Jose. Butterfly was faithful to her husband and she could not imagine her life without him, and Carmen was not ready for a long lasting relationship, and more likely love was a minute-long feeling. For Butterfly love was sacred. Probably, if Carmen was to meet Butterfly she would feel sorry for her, because in Carmen’s mind she looked like a bird in a cage. However, Butterfly was the happiest woman in the world if only she knew that Pinkerton loved her.
Two operas have opposite leading heroes. Pinkerton chose Butterfly, and she did not even know him and had never met him. That indicates the importance of Pinkerton and that he is the leader in their marriage. Carmen chose Jose, and she does everything to attract him, and she succeeds in what she wants. She does not want Jose to command and act like he owns her. She lets him understand who is in charge in that relationship. Another thing that is similar in these operas is that both men like the heroines are from different cultures. The merging of different cultures did not bring a good end.
Pinkerton is not serious about Butterfly, and he just wants her to entertain him. She is some kind of exotic toy for him. He has the view that it is right to have a legal marriage with an American wife and have a Japanese lover. It does not depend on culture; it is the immorality of the person. In Carmen, it is also a situation when a European man meets an exotic and passionate woman from a different culture. She beckons him, because she is different from other women. He would always be faithful to her, and he wants the same treatment back. She would be happy if he will find some other woman.
He is not used to seeing women easily cheat on men. Jose is raised in a more conservative lifestyle, and he does not want to accept Carmen’s dissolute behavior. Carmen and Butterfly have a big difference in age. There is no mention of Carmen’s age in the play, but she is obviously older then twenty, maybe even close to thirty. Butterfly is an immature fifteen year-old girl. She is too young for marriage. Carmen has had many lovers through her life, but was still not married; this is because she knows that it is too much responsibility. Butterfly was never warned by anyone about the difficulties of marriage.
Fisher B. (2005, January 1). Bizet’s Carmen. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=jrO0vMPNFEkC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false Chan M. (1990, April 29). Asian Voices in English. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=WSx_6K2R7UAC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false Wisenthal J. (2006, November 6). A Vision of the Orient.