duminică, 22 aprilie 2012

The woman warrior- characters, about the novel, other themes

About The Woman Warrior


The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is Maxine Hong Kingston’s first and most famous book. It was published in 1976 to great critical acclaim, winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In addition to being a canonical work, The Woman Warrior is considered a landmark in Chinese-American literature. It is widely taught in high schools and colleges, particularly because of its relevance to young adults.
Although most of the literary community welcomed The Woman Warrior with open arms, ohers who criticized it. Some readers found Hong Kingston’s writing style unnerving. The book is certainly not traditional as memoirs go. In fact, it defies genre. Though classified and awarded as a work of nonfiction, it is truly a hybrid of fiction with nonfiction because it alternates, often seamlessly, between fantasy and reality. Because much of the book comes out of the oral tradition, where stories constantly change between tellings, it is only natural that Hong Kingston’s stories should not be definitive versions of reality.
One major critic of The Woman Warrior is the Asian-American writer Frank Chin. In a 1991 article, “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake,” Chin complains that The Woman Warrior (along with other seminal Asian-American works) misinforms people about what it is to be Asian-American. He calls Hong Kingston’s impressions of her culture “fake,” “revisionist,” “Westernized,” “stereotypical,” and demeaning. Chin was not the only one to censure Hong Kingston for her impressionistic view of Chinese-American culture. Many of her critics tried to discredit her work by pointing out that she was not an expert on Chinese or Chinese-American history. Hong Kingston has defended herself over the years by explaining that The Woman Warrior was never meant to be a definitive guide to Chinese-American identity. Rather, she says, it reflects her and her family’s personal experiences.
The Woman Warrior consists of five chapters: "No Name Woman," "White Tigers," "Shaman," "At the Western Palace," and "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." It contains memories from Hong Kingston’s own life, written versions of her mother’s stories, and retellings of two famous warrior-woman legends. It is important to note that not once in the book does Hong Kingston mention herself by name. Her narrator is unnamed and often elusive, changing perspectives and even inhabiting the story of the warrior, Fa Mu Lan. By distancing herself from her narrator, Hong Kingston tells us implicitly that The Woman Warrior is not to be taken literally.
Because the book is so multifaceted, it continues to generate wide critical response more than thirty years after its first publication. In addition to giving heart to its readers, The Woman Warrior has inspired other acclaimed writers, perhaps most notably the prolific Chinese-American novelist Amy Tan.

Character List


Brave Orchid
The narrator's mother. She is an unwavering woman who immigrated to the United States from a small Chinese village during World War II. She had two children in China, but they died before she left. In China, she was a renowned doctor. In America, she and her husband run a laundry. Brave Orchid is wedded to Chinese tradition. She cares about her children, but she considers them ungrateful and disrespectful because they do not understand her ways.
Crazy Mary
A neighborhood woman, the daughter of Christian converts. When she was a toddler, her parents emigrated. They sent for her when she was "almost twenty and crazy." The narrator and her siblings avoided Crazy Mary at all costs. It is Crazy Mary's prescription that the pharmacy mistakenly delivers to Brave Orchid.
Fa Mu Lan
A legendary woman warrior. At the age of seven, she is summoned into the mountains, where two kindly immortals teach her how to fight. When her family is conscripted, she returns to her village in a male disguise to fight in her father's place and save her brother. Fa Mu Lan becomes a great army leader and helps unseat the corrupt emperor and reclaim her village from the hands of an evil baron.
Moon Orchid
Brave Orchid's sister, who immigrates when she is already a senior citizen and has not seen her sister for thirty years. She has one daughter, who is already in America and married to a Chinese-American man. Moon Orchid does not wish to see her husband, but Brave Orchid forces her to confront him. After he breaks her heart and shames her, Moon Orchid slips into a state of paranoia from which she never recovers.
Moon Orchid's Husband
He immigrated to the United States many years before, and he has no contact with Moon Orchid or their daughter other than sending them money. In Los Angeles, he is a brain surgeon and is remarried. When Moon Orchid confronts him, he tells her she should not have come and that he never wants to see her again.
Moon Orchid's Daughter
She is Moon Orchid's only daughter. Brave Orchid helped her gain citizenship by matching her with a "tyrant" of a Chinese-American husband. Like her mother, she does not feel angry towards her father and is hesitant to confront him in the way Brave Orchid wishes.
She is a first-generation Chinese-American who grew up in the Chinese immigrant community of San Francisco. The narrator feels distanced from Chinese culture but at the same time wants to understand it. She generally has a hard time speaking up, except in the case of her mother. From an early age, she was determined to be the opposite of what her mother expected. The novel is her exploration of her cultural and familial inheritance.

 Other Major Themes

Birth is an especially important topic in a book centered on the mother-daughter relationship. The moment of birth is when mother and daughter first live as separate sentient beings who can begin a new mutual relationship. Because the narrator’s relationship with her mother is so conflicted, it is not hard to see why she makes birth a recurring theme in The Woman Warrior.
Of all the births she mentions in the novel, the most poignant is her own. The narrator is born in America, a world away from her mother’s homeland. Because she is born on American soil, America is her homeland by default. This fact of geography makes all the difference for the mother-daughter relationship. According to the narrator, where one is born makes all the difference regarding who one will become. For much of her life, the narrator feels inadequate next to her deceased older siblings. They were “real Chinese,” as Moon Orchid says, because they were born in China. This makes them closer to the narrator’s parents than she can ever be. Were she born in China, the narrator would have learned from her parents nearly all the skills she needed to survive. She could look up to them as teachers and wise elders, as Fa Mu Lan looked up to the old man and woman. But because the narrator was born in America to Chinese parents, her mother and father cannot teach her everything she needs to know. For example, she flunks kindergarten because her parents do not teach her English.
In The Woman Warrior, birth is often seen as a catastrophic event. This trend begins in Chapter 1, “No-Name Woman,” in which the narrator’s aunt drowns herself and her baby in the family well. The baby is born healthy, but its birth is a tragedy because it is destined to be an outcast like its mother. Another tragic birth from Brave Orchid’s talk-stories is that of the baby born without an anus. That child’s birth was tragic because not even Brave Orchid could save it from certain death. Instead, it was left to die alone in the family’s outhouse. The narrator marries birth with misfortune again when she describes the village practice of killing newborn girls by pressing their faces into ash. The birth of even a healthy girl is a misfortune because girls are destined to “desert their families.”
Taken as a whole, the narrator’s birth stories reveal her anxiety about finding her identity and inner strength. Having heard so many horrifying tales of birth, for her the event represents powerlessness. The baby has no choice in whether it is born, how it is born, or where it is born. It is therefore, in that moment, powerless over its identity and its future. Babies haunt the narrator because she often feels as helpless to decide her destiny as they are.
Culture Clash
Characters in The Woman Warrior experience culture clash in different ways. Brave Orchid and the narrator’s husband faced culture shock when they emigrated from China to the United States. In their homeland, they both had distinguished careers. Because careers often do not translate between cultures, they became manual laborers in America. They feel alienated from American culture, which is why they refer to their non-Chinese neighbors as “ghosts.”
The narrator experiences culture shock from two directions at once. She occupies the liminal space between Chinese and American cultures. As much as she is both Chinese and American, she feels as though she has little claim to either identity. To the narrator growing up, non-Chinese people are “ghosts” and Chinese immigrants—including her own family—are “barbarians.” The narrator spends much of her childhood trying to overcome her dual culture shock and reconcile Chinese and American cultures. As she states, “Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America.” Only at the book’s end does the narrator admit that much of her perception of Chinese tradition was magnified by legend. As an adult, she knows that her parents would never sell her and that her mother wants her to be a success, not a slave. Being caught between cultures often makes the narrator feel guilty. She knows that, being American-born, she has an advantage over her parents. She may not fit in perfectly, but she is able to navigate the non-Chinese world much more easily than her mother or father could. As a child she sometimes lords this privilege over her unsuspecting parents, as when she mistranslates her mother’s complaints to the pharmacist.
Moon Orchid is a compelling example of the negative effects of culture clash. To begin with, she is already a senior citizen when she arrives in the United States. She is also emotionally frail by nature, which her husband points out when he tells her she is not strong enough for America, and culture shock causes her to lose her spirit and her mind. Brave Orchid and, to an extent, Moon Orchid, think that they can reclaim Moon Orchid’s Chinese marriage in America after thirty years.
Moon Orchid’s husband, in contrast, has not had much trouble with culture clash. He is a successful brain surgeon with a new, younger wife and two children. He has “a new life” and wants nothing to do with her or their daughter. His sending Moon Orchid away is the ultimate shock for her. From then on, she experiences paranoia, a magnified fear of the unknown. She is afraid of the Mexicans in her daughter’s neighborhood. Then she becomes afraid of the American government. Moon Orchid experiences such a severe clash of cultures that she becomes convinced that America is a place where people die just by leaving the house.
The word “ghost” has several meanings in The Woman Warrior. It can refer to a disembodied spirit like the Sitting Ghost. It can be an outcast like the “no name” aunt. It can be the memory of someone who died, like Moon Orchid. It can be a non-Chinese person, a “White Ghost” or a slightly less intimidating “Black Ghost.” When Hong Kingston calls the book “Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts,” she is referring to her experiences with all of the above. Many of the ghosts in the book are frightening or malevolent; these include “no name” aunt, the babies Brave Orchid could not save, and the Sitting Ghost. Examples of benevolent ghosts include Moon Orchid, whose story makes her female relatives swear never to be cheated by a man, and Fa Mu Lan, whose legend or memory encourages the narrator to be strong. Two ghosts whose presence the family always feels are the narrator’s older siblings who died in China.
Ghosts are synonymous with mysteries. They “shimmer” in a liminal space where things are unclear and fact is inseparable from fiction. Brave Orchid is not afraid of ghosts because she is a “shaman” who can bridge the physical and metaphysical worlds. For the narrator, in sharp contrast, ghosts signify confusion and insecurity. She feels as though she has inherited ghost stories and that she is herself a kind of ghost. She struggles with her identity and does not feel as though she belongs completely in Chinese or American culture. Because the narrator suffers from a ghostly sense of indefiniteness, she craves logic, clarity, and simplicity. She says, “Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, t.v. dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts.”
The narrator is fascinated not only by women warriors, but also by especially unfortunate women. For her, the epitome of misfortune is in going insane, losing one’s reason and sense of security. The most central story of insanity in the book is Moon Orchid’s. On some level, Moon Orchid knows that confronting her husband is the wrong thing to do. Still, Brave Orchid forces her to travel to his office in Los Angeles. Moon Orchid is not emotionally strong to begin with, so she cannot withstand her husband’s rejection. Until that point, Moon Orchid has been happily living in a dream. As long as she does not see her husband, she can pretend that they still have a marriage and that he is the same man he always was. She believes she is loved. When the fantasy shatters, Moon Orchid is left with no sense of self. Whereas before the incident, she was flighty and chatty, afterward she withdraws and becomes overly serious. Eventually, she becomes paranoid about a government conspiracy and has to be placed in a mental asylum. In the asylum, Moon Orchid regains some of her happiness, but never her reason.
Another aunt, “No name” aunt, is certainly very unfortunate, and in some ways she fits the profile of insanity. She commits infanticide and suicide in one stroke when she throws herself and her newborn into the well. The narrator suggests that the villagers make “no name” aunt lose her mind. In every way they can, the villagers make her feel as though she does not deserve to live or to have ever lived. Even her own family members call her a “ghost” and pretend that she does not exist. In one way, drowning herself and her child is a valiant act of defiance. In another, it is the act of a woman driven to irrationality.
Another insane character is the village crazy woman in China. Like her future daughter, Brave Orchid is compassionate when it comes to insanity. She tells the villagers that the woman is not really trying to signal planes, no matter what she may say. Still, the villagers stone her to death. In “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,” the narrator describes “half a dozen crazy women [who] are girls” who live in her neighborhood. The foremost is Crazy Mary, whose prescription accidentally gets delivered to Brave Orchid. Crazy Mary is the only one of her siblings born in China. Her parents emigrated without her. By the time they sent for her, she had gone mad.
Another “crazy woman” is the one the children call Pee-A-Nah. She is “the village idiot” and seems to think she is a witch, given the pointed hat she wears and the broom she pretends to ride. When Brave Orchid is not there, Pee-A-Nah chases the children and frightens them. There is also a woman next door, possibly bipolar, who alternates between being extremely talkative and social and being very antisocial. She spends two years in the mental asylum but is never quite cured.
The narrator says at one point, “I thought every house had to have its crazy woman or crazy girl, every village its idiot. Who would it be at our house? Probably me.” The narrator thinks that she is crazy because she “hear[s] voices in motors and [sees] cowboy movies on blank walls.” Whether these things are ghostly visions or manifestations of her creativity, they certainly make the narrator abnormal. Because she feels she does not belong, the narrator sympathizes with the insane; she does not know what it is like to lose one’s mind, but she at least knows about feeling ungrounded.
The Power of Expression: Silence and Talk-Stories
The power of the spoken and written word is one of the most central themes in The Woman Warrior. Throughout the book, the word is doubly powerful. Things that are spoken or written are equally powerful as things that are purposely kept silent. Hong Kingston introduces both silence and talk-stories in the book’s first phrase, “You must not tell anyone.” Brave Orchid is talking-story but she is also inducting the narrator into the “old Chinese” code of silence.
Let us first examine the power of the talk-story in The Woman Warrior. Brave Orchid claims she cut the narrator’s tongue to make her eloquent. As a master of the talk-story, she wants her daughter to be able to speak well. Brave Orchid’s stories save the narrator from believing all the sexist things she hears among the emigrants. She recalls, “At last I saw that I too had been in the presence of great power, my mother talking-story … She said I would grow up a wife and a slave, but she taught me the song of the warrior woman, Fa Mu Lan. I would have to grow up a warrior woman.” The legend of Fa Mu Lan convinces the narrator that standing up for one’s beliefs is valiant, no matter how much they clash with authority. Even the story of “no name” aunt, which is really about silence, gives the narrator a sense of purpose. As an adult, she commits the story to paper in order to expose the wrongs done to her aunt and redeem her spirit. The Woman Warrior itself is a talk-story even though it is written instead of spoken.
Stories are so important to the narrator because silence makes her furious. Some of the silence in the Chinese emigrant community is kept due to fear of deportation. In one instance, the narrator recounts that she could not tell her “ghost” teacher that her father had run a gambling house. In another, she explains that the emigrants avoided talking to the government or police at all costs; they even made it a habit not to report crimes. The silence that really infuriates the narrator is between parents and children. She says of her mother, “She never explained anything that was really important. [We] no longer asked.” Brave Orchid expected her children to respect and follow tradition, but she did not take the time to explain it. They learned about tradition when they would break it and Brave Orchid would slap them. The parents’ generation subjects her to their silence, their lack of explanation.
That generation also silences women. It expects them to be obedient and subservient. The narrator feels as though the community code of silence muffles her. She is not allowed to ask questions about ‘anything that is really important.’ Sex is unspeakable, death is unspeakable, and shame is unspeakable. She suspects that her mother cut her tongue not to make her eloquent as she claimed, but to shut her up. The things she wants to say are trapped inside, and when she tries to speak she has an ugly “duck voice.” When the narrator bullies the quiet girl in school, she is taking out her anger at the whole community. The incident at school mirrors her outburst in “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe.” There, she directly accuses her parents for silencing her and not sharing information with her. At the book’s end the narrator uses the story of Ts’ai Yen to explain that she finally found her voice by struggling against alienation and frustration.
In The Woman Warrior, tradition is a source of both pride and embarrassment for the narrator. In chapters such as “Shaman” and “White Tigers,” it is clear how much she values “old Chinese” values. The narrator depends on her mother as the bastion of tradition. Having never been to China, she constructs much of her impression of China from her mother’s “talk-stories.” The tradition of The Woman Warrior is especially important to the narrator, who invokes the legends of Fa Mu Lan and Ts’ai Yen to guide her. She shows special respect for these “old Chinese” stories by the way she uses them in the book. The story of Fa Mu Lan gets almost an entire chapter. In it, the narrator tells the story from Fa Mu Lan’s perspective. She goes seamlessly from her own narrative to Fa Mu Lan’s, allowing herself to be, at least in fantasy, the great heroine.
The narrator saves the story of Ts’ai Yen for the book’s conclusion. She does not explain why she has chosen the legend, letting it speak for itself. In doing so, she stands behind the wisdom of ancient Chinese stories and of tradition. In “Shaman,” the narrator shows her reverence for her mother’s “old” talents. She is proud of her mother especially for being a shaman, being able to bridge the physical and metaphysical worlds. She also says that her mother is a “great power” when she is “talking-story,” engaged in the oral tradition.
As much as the narrator values tradition, it also embarrasses and frustrates her. Her biggest conflict is with the sexism she sees engrained in “old Chinese” tradition. She feels pressured to become a “slave” of a wife. As a child, she thrashes on the floor when she hears the older generation repeat old sayings about girls’ worthlessness. For example, her father tells her: “Chinese smeared bad daughters-in-law with honey and tied them naked on top of ant nests … A husband may kill a wife who disobeys him. Confucius said that.” The narrator becomes determined to act the opposite of what tradition mandates. She revolts by being messy and disobedient, not demure and charming like Brave Orchid wants.
The narrator’s problem with tradition comes to a head when the subject of marriage comes up. Her parents do not seem to appreciate her good grades or her determination to become a scientist. Brave Orchid tells her to follow suit like the other neighborhood girls and become a typist. The narrator thinks her parents are so desperate to marry her off that they will match her with the mentally challenged boy who follows her around. Even as an adult, living far from her parents, the narrator still feels her mother's traditions surrounding her. As she puts it, “Before we can leave our parents, they stuff our heads like the suitcases which they jam-pack with homemade underwear.”
Despite the narrator’s problems with tradition, she ultimately can take what she wants from it and leave the rest. Legends of the likes of Fa Mu Lan and Ts’ai Yen convince the narrator that her mission in life is to be brave and righteous, to become a "swordswoman" of her own kind.
Women Warriors
The legendary women warriors in the book are Fa Mu Lan and Ts’ai Yen. These heroines have much in common. They begin life as gentle girls and are transformed, by choice or by necessity, into fierce warriors. They do not give up being women in order to be warriors; both have children. They do battle far away from their families, always with the intention of returning home. Aside from being fighters in the physical sense, Fa Mu Lan and Ts’ai Yen have other skills that make them great. Their unique qualities inspire the narrator to find her own definition of “woman warrior.”
Fa Mu Lan has the unique understanding that her troops must be happy in order to win. When she sets off from her village, she takes with her only the men whom their families could truly spare. She does her best not to break any hearts. Fa Mu Lan also feeds and sings to her men to give them a sense of support and solidarity. As a woman warrior, Fa Mu Lan has the unique ability to be both a soldier and a nurturer.
Ts’ai Yen’s literary accomplishments make the narrator look up to her in particular. Ts’ai Yen becomes a warrior because barbarians kidnap her. Like the narrator, she feels alienated even from her own family; her sons are growing up in the barbarian tradition and do not speak Chinese. The legend of Ts’ai Yen shows the narrator that she does not have to fight physically in order to be a warrior. She affirms for the narrator the power of the word.
The narrator also sees Brave Orchid as a woman warrior. She understands how valiantly her mother has fought to retain a sense of identity and dignity in America. For Brave Orchid, life in America is a constant battle against the “white ghosts” who do not understand her. She is so determined to keep her family safe that she embarrasses her children to no end. One vivid example is when the pharmacy accidentally delivers a mentally ill woman’s pills to her family. Brave Orchid marches to the pharmacy with her daughter to demand that the curse of “sick medicine” be removed. The young narrator does not appreciate the gesture; she is embarrassed and thwarts her mother’s plan by mistranslating.
A less humorous example of Brave Orchid’s warrior-self is when she forces Moon Orchid to confront her husband. The scene is funny for its absurdity but pathetic because Brave Orchid is fighting a losing battle. For the most part, until she grows up, she has a hard time respecting her mother’s for-your-own-good tactics.
In China, Brave Orchid is a more literal warrior. She vanquishes ghosts such as the Sitting Ghost and the ape man. The narrator attributes her mother’s immense power to her lack of fear. When the Sitting Ghost pins Brave Orchid to the bed, she berates and threatens it, never calling for help. Like the legendary “great eaters” who cooked and ate ghosts to vanquish them, Brave Orchid is not afraid of any food, including “squid eye” and other morsels that disgust her children. While the title The Woman Warrior refers to Fa Mu Lan and Ts’ai Yen, it also refers to Brave Orchid and the narrator herself.

The Woman Warrior-themes and analysis(language and narrative voice, writing process)

Themes and Analysis


According to E.D. Huntley, several themes that arise in the novel include: “silence (both gendered and racially constituted); necessity for speech; the discovery of voice; the construction of identity and the search for self-realization; the mother-daughter relationship and the conflicts that it engenders; memory; acculturation and biculturalism; and cultural alienation.” Huntley compiles a list of scholarly reviews on the themes and finds that they agree with his findings, particularly themes relating to immigrant communities and cross-cultural conflict. “Other reviewers reflect on Kingston’s handling of a theme that pervades the literature of diaspora and immigrant communities, the theme of cross-cultural conflict. Huntley also notes: "For reviewer Miriam Greenspan, Maxine Hong Kingston captures “the pain of an American-born child who inevitably reject the expectations and authority of her family in favor of the values of the new land” (Greenspan 108); Linda B. Hall describes the book as “remarkable in its insights into the plight of individuals pulled between two cultures” (Hall 191); and Susan Currier writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that Woman Warrior is a personal narrative that represents Kingston’s effort “to reconcile American and Chinese female identities” (Currier 235)."  When asked about the cultural themes in her writing, Kingston responded, “I wonder if it just takes a lifetime or two to be an integrated person, so that you don’t have to think, at what point do I have to announce that I am a minority person or a woman or what? When I think back on when I was a young writer, I would wonder, ok now, when do I let everybody know that I’m Chinese American? Do I have to announce that?”
The novel also employs several smaller themes that feature in one or two stories but support the overarching themes mentioned by Huntley.

No Name Woman


Necessity and Extravagance

In an essay about The Woman Warrior, Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong writes about "the protagonist's struggle toward a balance between self-actualization and social responsibility... identified as 'Necessity' and 'Extravagance.'" The struggle between necessity and extravagance is embodied in the narrator’s mother’s sparse talk-story and the adultery of the narrator’s aunt:
My mother has told me once and for all the useful parts. She will add nothing unless powered by Necessity, a riverbank that guides her life.
Wong explains how “The code of Necessity that Maxine's mother lives by is a legacy from her native land, where scarcity of resources has given rise to a rigid, family-centered social structure.” The aunt’s response to necessity-driven society is extravagance, embodied in her adultery:
Adultery is extravagance. Could people who hatch their own chicks and eat the embryos and the heads for delicacies and boil the feet in vinegar for party food, leaving only the gravel, eating even the gizzard lining - could such people engender a prodigal aunt? To be a woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was a waste enough.

Silence: Individual and Cultural Repression Across the Generations

The theme of silence is tied to the cross-cultural difficulties that the narrator faces throughout her own life. Kingston writes that “The Chinese I know hide their names; sojourners take new names when their lives change and guard their real names with silence.”
 The implication of silence goes beyond simply hiding names; it means the confusion of Chinese culture to first-generation Chinese Americans like the narrator. The narrator asks:
Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?
But the silence of the narrator's family is also used as a curse against the adulterous aunt. The way in which the family is silent about her erases her from the family history and from life itself. It is this silence that creates a horrifying ghost out of the aunt that haunts the narrator:
My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her.

The Community vs. the Individual

Although the story takes place in 1924 before the time of the Chinese Revolution, we get the sense that there are intense communal ties binding No Name Woman’s village together. In one interpretation of the story, Kingston describes the villagers’ violent raid as a reaction against her individual will:
In the Village Structure, spirits shimmered among the live creatures, balanced and held in equilibrium by time and land…the villagers punished her for acting as if she could have a private life, secret and apart from them.
This idea that the individualistic person is a negative asset to a community directly contrasts from the American culture, which values the individual. From this perspective, the No Name Woman story can be interpreted as showing the contrast between communal values of Old China versus the impending American culture that is taking so many of the villagers away.

Repression of Sexuality

The repression of sexuality can be interpreted alongside the aforementioned theme of the community vs. the individual. Kingston interprets No Name Woman’s adulterous relationship as a result of her ability to remain sexually attractive, which is an expression of individuality. All the villagers in the 1924 China town are supposed to remain dull as a sign of community solidarity:
Brothers and sisters, newly men and women, had to efface their sexual color and present plain miens. Disturbing hair and eyes, a smile like no other, threatened the ideal of five generations living under one roof.
Although both men and women had to remain sexually dull in 1924 China, Kingston finds herself reevaluating the meaning of sexual attraction while growing up. She finds herself having to both repress her sexuality (she insists that she will have "no dates" but also uphold a standard of being “American Feminine.”) Trying to find her sexual identity as a Chinese-American woman growing up in the 1940s is something that vexes Kingston throughout The Woman Warrior.



Ghosts perpetuate throughout The Woman Warrior, but it is especially prevalent in “Shaman.” There are evil poltergeists such as the Sitting Ghost who torments Brave Orchid, but there are also the numerous White and Black Ghosts referred to in America:
Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts.
Brave Orchid considers all non-Chinese people to be ghosts. She sees these people as foreign and calling them “ghosts” is her refusal to accept them, though she has lived in America for so long. She still considers China to be her “home” and refers to America as a “terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away.”

At The Western Palace


Tradition vs. Assimilation

Throughout this chapter, Brave Orchid seems incredibly unaware of the realities around her. We first notice this in the beginning, when she cannot conceive that Moon Orchid may have aged in the past 30 years. When she later “speaks with the invisibilities” while her children are opening Moon Orchid’s presents, we know that something is amiss. Brave Orchid is showing a complete submissiveness to all things traditional.
This intense hold on tradition is most evident while Brave Orchid desperately attempts to reunite Moon Orchid with her husband. Brave Orchid is willing to overstep any social code to get them back together. When Moon Orchid tells her that it is against the law for men in the U.S. to have more than one wife, Brave Orchid responds by saying “The law doesn’t matter.” Such blatant denial of reality proves how strongly Brave Orchid is attached to upholding Chinese moral standards. She refuses to assimilate to an American code of behavior.
The story of the Western Palace is the perfect metaphor for this idea. “East” represents the old culture of China, while “West” represents the modern culture of America. As the Empress of the East, Moon Orchid is supposed to save her husband from his impending American assimilation, embodied by his “Western Empress”, or new wife.

Brave Orchid: Feminist?

“At the Western Palace” also brings up important clues as to the relationship between Brave Orchid and her husband. This is one of the only chapters in which Brave Orchid slanders her husband for being sexist, saying ““When your father lived in China, he refused to eat pastries because he didn’t want to eat the dirt the women kneaded from between their fingers'. The relationship between the two of them seems passive-aggressively hostile, which may have something to do with Brave Orchid’s anger towards men in general. Brave Orchid even cites that the role of a wife is to “scold her husband into becoming a good man”.
This attitude, combined with her firm stance on setting things right with Moon Orchid’s husband, proves Brave Orchid as a type of feminist hero. This idea (although not specifically connected with Brave Orchid), is written about in Sau-Ling Cynthia Wong’s casebook on The Woman Warrior. Wong cites another writer, Jeffrey Paul Chan as saying that he “attributes the popularity of The Woman Warrior to its depiction of ‘female anger,’ which bolsters white feminists’ ‘hallucination’ of a universal female condition…”
In truth, Brave Orchid’s feminine anger definitely defines the mood of “At the Western Palace”, so much so that at the end of the story, she makes her daughters take a pledge to control the wily ways of their future husbands. It is a guarded feminism, however, because Brave Orchid is essentially only arguing for control of men, not for complete independence from them.

First vs. Second Generation

This chapter clearly proves the disconnect between the American-born children and their first-generation Chinese parents. Moon Orchid believes the children to be “savage-like”, being “raised in the wilderness” of America. The children are essentially so unlike Moon Orchid in their assimilated lifestyle that she cannot view them as human. The children, on the other hand, are embarrassed by their more traditional aunt and mother. When Brave Orchid suggests “calling out to Moon Orchid” through the glass in the airport the children “slink away”, and when Moon Orchid returns to the Valley as a mad-woman, the children say “Chinese people are very weird".Both generations are in their own worlds;, and in this chapter, there is not that much communication between the two. Moon Orchid’s husband, although not quite a second-generation emigrant, is perhaps the epitome of the split between tradition and assimilation.


As it is in the rest of The Woman Warrior, the clash between Chinese and English is rather apparent in “At the Western Palace”. Moon Orchid is especially sensitive to Brave Orchids’ children’s accents, and Brave Orchid has trouble communicating with the receptionist in the doctor’s office. The language gap is perhaps another tool to show the divide between assimilation and tradition; between first and second generation. In this chapter, however, sensitivity to language is used as a metaphor for Moon Orchid’s decline into insanity. When she claims that Mexican Ghosts are after her, Brave Orchid immediately recognizes it as farce, because Moon Orchid cannot understand English, let alone Spanish. Brave Orchid asks Moon Orchid how she knows that the Mexican Ghosts are after her, to which Moon Orchid replies:
'They were speaking English….this time, miraculously, I understood. I decoded their speech. I penetrated the words and understood what was happening inside.’
This quote, combined with Moon Orchid’s later admission that she is happy in the insane asylum because “everyone speaks the same language”, proves that language is a metaphor for Moon Orchid’s overall distance and exclusion from American culture. This was the cause of her downfall—the inability to translate herself into the new world. While the basic inability to speak English was a big part of this, the idea of “truly understanding” someone else invokes allusions to more than just words—it is the comprehension of one’s identity. Already cast out from the life of her husband, who she believed to be part of her own culture, Moon Orchid was so disassociated from any sense of social belonging that she grew obsessed with ghosts. The ghosts serve as a metaphor for America’s multicultural society that ironically only found means to exclude her.

Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe

Speech vs. Silence

In “A Song for A Barbarian Reed Pipe,” Kingston discusses the generational and cultural conflicts of an “American-Chinese [trying to become] American-feminine.”Raised in the ghost land of another nation, she imagines that Americans hear the noisy dialect of Chinese as “chingchong ugly” and instead whispers to her peers at school. However, Kingston soon rebels against her inability to communicate and comes to value verbal expression as a sign of sanity and normalcy. As she encounters more instances of madness in her neighborhood, she concludes that “...talking and not talking made the difference between sanity and insanity. Insane people were the ones who couldn’t explain."  Kingston soon fears that she herself is crazy, and projects her hatred of own inability to speak onto her shy classmate. By physically abusing and threatening the mute Chinese girl, she symbolically rejects the binds of silence and spends the rest of the story pursuing her own form of articulation. Along with her newly found speech Kingston appears to simultaneously question Chinese tradition and the indirect way in which the Chinese speak, hiding both rituals from their children and truths from the American ghosts: “Lie to Americans. Tell them you were born during the San Francisco earthquake... Give a new name each time you get arrested; the ghosts won’t recognize you.” It is thus interesting to note that Kingston’s Woman Warrior is a collection of Kingston’s personal background, fact, and fiction, all presented as one memoir.

Gender Roles & Issues

As Kingston slowly discovers her voice, she must continually reconcile with gender issues, the restrictions of her Chinese culture, and the presentation of these lies and truths. It is clear that she is ashamed of her “pressed-duck voice”, and oppressed stereotypes of women constantly bombard her and her young female relatives. Her grandfather screams “Maggots!” when he deems it necessary to acknowledge the women, and her father reminds her that “A husband may kill a wife who disobeys him.  Kingston resists putting herself into a state of submission by purposely presenting herself poorly to her “FOB” suitors.

Finding A "Voice"

In a final look at her past, Kingston tells the story of Ts’ai Yen to represent the possibilities of two cultures coming together and “translating well.”Kingston as a writer identifies with the poetess Ts’ai Yen over the strength they find in expression. The women warriors can symbolically bridge the cultural gap between the barbarian (American/ghost) culture and their own with the power found in their unique voices.

Language and narrative voice


The language of The Woman Warrior invokes a complex juxtaposition of cultural and linguistic voices. Kingston tries to capture and emulate the nuances of Chinese speech through her prose. Trying to transmit a Sinitic language by means of an Indo-European language was no easy task, and one that Kingston had to pursue actively. Nevertheless, The Woman Warrior is not pure talk-story. There is in fact a blending of first, second, and third person narration. The first-person narration of Kingston is her own American voice, the second-person is that of the Chinese talk-story, and the third-person (which only appears in “At the Western Palace”) is a mixture; a talk-story transposed from Kingston’s Chinese parents to her American siblings, and finally back to Kingston herself. What results from this combination of voices can only be described as a “fusion language” unique to Kingston, almost like her own type of Creole language.
Writing in this “fusion language,” which is an American language with Asian tones and accents, or rhythm, is a way that Kingston brings together Chinese and Western experiences. This “melding” of the two experiences –the images and metaphors—is what makes Kingston’s style her own. Kingston admits that one of the ways she works to bring these two together is to speak Chinese while writing or typing in English.

Writing process


The completion of The Woman Warrior came from Kingston’s on-the-spot writing of her thoughts. She wrote down anything—until some of it started falling into place. It was this habit that allowed Kingston to complete The Woman Warrior in just three years while teaching at a boarding school that demanded she be on call twenty-four hours a day.
It is interesting to note that the original title of The Woman Warrior was Gold Mountain Stories.  As Kingston states in a 1986 interview with Jody Hoy:
“The publishers didn’t like a title that sounds like a collection of short stories; they never like to publish collections of short stories. I wasn’t that happy with either of those titles, I think that calling that book The Woman Warrior emphasizes ‘warrior.’ I’m not really telling the story of war, I want to be a pacifist.”
In terms of Kingston’s decision-making process in what to include and exclude from her story, she admits to using only what she deemed was “necessary” cultural imagery. She didn’t want readers to approach her work as "exotic.” What cultural references she did allow to remain in The Woman Warrior she considered to be more “American-friendly.” This, of course, was a very subjective endeavor on her part, and, in a more recent reflection she had on The Woman Warrior, Kingston was quoted as calling the cultural references “really Chinese.”

The woman warrior- Maxine Hong Kingston- summary

Short Summary

The Woman Warrior is a collection of Maxine Hong Kingston's memoirs, so it is technically a work of nonfiction. But the author is careful never to mention her name in the narrative. This is presumably because the book, while grounded in truth, does not maintain a clear boundary between reality and fantasy. In light of these facts, we shall call the narrator of this book "the narrator" and not "Hong Kingston."
Chapter 1: No Name Woman
"No Name Woman" is based on Brave oRCHID''s talk-story from China about her sister-in-law. Brave Orchid tells the narrator the story on the condition that she never repeat it or mention her "no name" aunt. The story begins when many of the men in Brave Orchid's village left to seek fortune in America. Some time later, the sister-in-law became pregnant. The villagers, including her own family members, ostracized her because her child would be illegitimate. To them, she was a "ghost." The night she was to give birth, the villagers raided Brave Orchid's house, where she was staying. They destroyed everything in the house, leaving the sister-in-law to give birth amid the mess. The next morning, Brave Orchid found the sister-in-law and her newborn drowned in the family well. The narrator tries to imagine how her aunt got pregnant. First, she surmises that her aunt was raped. Then, she supposes that her aunt was sexually forward and took a lover.
The narrator also explains why she is breaking the silence about her aunt. She believes that Chinese culture often victimizes and silences women. She wants to give her aunt a voice. At the same time, she is frightened that her actions are angering her aunt's ghost.
Chapter 2: White Tigers
In "White Tigers," the narrator shares another of her mother's stories. This story is very different from her "no name" aunt's story because it is about an empowered and respected warrior woman. It teaches her not to give into stereotypes but instead to make something of herself. The narrator goes effortlessly from speaking in her own voice to speaking in Fa Mu Lan's. When Fa Mu Lan is seven, she follows a bird to a mountaintop, where she meets an elderly man and woman. They convince her to stay with them and train to be a warrior. The old man and woman teach Fa Mu Lan to blend in with her surroundings and to gain precise control of her body. One day, they blindfold her and make her run through the mountains until she reaches the place where the tigers live. Then they leave her to find her way back without supplies. After days of solitude and hunger, Fa Mu Lan becomes unusually attuned to the world around her. She also realizes that her teachers are not just old but immortal. When she returns, the old man and woman teach her the ways of the dragon. On the same day that Fa Mu Lan begins to menstruate, she looks into the old man's magic gourd and sees her brother and future husband being drafted. Men from every family must go to war while the baron exempts himself and his family. When she looks into the gourd again later, she sees her father being drafted.
Fa Mu Lan returns home disguised in men's clothing. In the yard one night, a white horse appears to Fa Mu Lan; it becomes her battle horse. Many of the village men join her and become her army. From then on, she is known as a great warrior and leader. She kills a band of giants and eventually unseats the emperor. While she is at war, Fa Mu Lan's husband recognizes her and they unite at last. They have a son together. He is born during a battle, and Fa Mu Lan rides back into the fray with him slung inside her armor. When she returns home, Fa Mu Lan faces the village baron alone and decapitates him. She turns his palace into a village meeting place.
When the story ends, the narrator explains how her life in America has always felt paltry next to Fa Mu Lan's. She wants to be like Fa Mu Lan and indeed, she has much to fight against. There is the "old Chinese" sexism, which she finds hard to reconcile with stories of warrior women. There is the American government, which closed her parents' laundry for urban renewal. There is the Communist government in China, which has tortured and killed many of her relatives. From an early age, the narrator resolves to become a warrior in one way or another.
Chapter 3: Shaman
In "Shaman," the narrator tells the story of her mother's life in China. Brave Orchid emigrated fifteen years after her husband. In the interim, she went to a midwifery medical school even though she was much older than the other students. She studied hard and quickly became a star pupil. The other students looked up to Brave Orchid because she was smart and not afraid of anything. One night, she volunteered to sleep alone in a supposedly haunted dormitory. As she lay in bed, a Sitting Ghost pinned her to the bed. She berated and threatened it until it finally went away. The next night, she and her roommates vanquished the ghost. Brave Orchid returned home as a woman of renown. She traveled all over to deliver babies—and to vanquish ghosts. She was so successful that she was even able to buy herself a slave to be her nurse. Brave Orchid left China during the Second World War to join her husband in America. As an old woman, Brave Orchid's greatest wish is to be surrounded by her family. The narrator loves her mother but cannot stand being around her. She gets very ill every time they visit together. Still, she is very proud to be her mother's daughter.
Chapter 4: At the Western Palace
"At the Western Palace" is distinct stylistically because it is told in the third person. It tells the story of Brave Orchid bringing her sister, Moon Orchid, to America. The sisters had not seen each other in thirty years. Brave Orchid arrived at the airport nine hours early to wait. Moon Orchid was a flighty and impractical person, especially as compared with Brave Orchid. She spent her time puttering around, asking her nieces and nephews about everything they did. Moon Orchid's husband had always sent her money, but she and her daughter had not seen him for a long time. Brave Orchid insisted that her sister reclaim her husband. She should make his new wife her slave and their children her own. Despite Moon Orchid's protestations, they drove to Los Angeles to confront the husband at his office. It turned out that he was a successful brain surgeon; they could not see him without an appointment. Eventually, Brave Orchid faked an emergency outside so that the doctor would come out. When he recognized Moon Orchid, he told her she should never have come. He said he had a new life and family and wanted nothing to do with her. After that, Moon Orchid went to live with her daughter, but she became afraid of the Mexicans in her neighborhood. She only worsened when she moved back in with Brave Orchid's family. She was convinced the government was watching her and cried whenever someone left the house. Eventually, she was placed in a mental asylum. She was happy there but never regained her sanity. She died after two years. After that, Brave Orchid and her daughters resolved never to let a man cheat on them.
Chapter 5: A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe
"A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" encompasses many events and issues in the narrator's life. It begins be relating that her mother cut her tongue when she was born. Brave Orchid claimed she did so to help her daughter speak. The narrator was convinced her mother did it to silence her. She had a terrible time speaking in class. One day, a "ghost" from the pharmacy mistakenly delivered Crazy Mary's pills to Brave Orchid. The mother dragged the narrator to the pharmacy to demand they remove the curse of "sick medicine." The narrator instead translated that her mother was demanding free candy. From then on, the pharmacist gave them candy with all their prescriptions.
The narrator also tells of beating up a schoolmate. The girl sobbed but would not speak, and eventually, the girl's sister rescued her. After that, the narrator fell ill for a year and a half with a mysterious illness, which she takes as a curse.
The narrator takes up the issue of insanity. She describes several crazy women in her neighborhood, and she is afraid she will be next. All her life, she has tried not to conform to traditional ideas of femininity. Therefore, she is enraged when she finds out her parents have been answering marriage ads in the newspaper for her. She chases off the suitors. Eventually, she becomes afraid that her parents will marry her to a mentally challenged boy who follows her around. One night, the narrator finally lets out all the grievances she has been keeping from her mother. She says she will not be silenced or married off to be a slave. As an adult, the narrator moves far away from the Chinese immigrant community. The distance has made her realize that as a child, she magnified many of the things her parents said. She now perceives that they would never marry her off against her will or sell her into slavery.
The book ends with a story that begins with Brave Orchid's tale and ends with the narrator's. In China, Brave Orchid's mother insisted her whole family attend the theater. When bandits attacked one of the performances, her whole family miraculously survived unscathed. From then on, Brave Orchid's mother was convinced the theater would always keep them safe. The narrator says she hopes her family got to hear the poetry of Ts'ai Yen. Ts'ai Yen was a scholar's daughter who was kidnapped by barbarians. While living among them, she learned to fight. She always felt alienated from the barbarians, even her own children. One night, Ts'ai Yen became inspired to sing. Her song fascinated the barbarians. She became a prolific poet. When Ts'ai Yen was returned to her family, she brought a song with her called "Eighteen Stanzas for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." As the narrator says, "It translated well."