The Woman Warrior is the memoir of Maxine Hong Kingston's experience growing up as a first-generation Chinese American. In it, she tells the stories of several other women to reveal the struggles and issues that have affected her own life. In telling their stories, she is telling her own stories because Kingston herself is a compilation of all the women in her book. In The Woman Warrior, Kingston reveals the cultural conflicts that have affected her and how, ultimately, she is able to fight back and find her own identity.
The Woman Warrior is a complex work which mixes voices, styles, fiction, and reality as it provides readers a glimpse into the Chinese-American experience. Typically regarded as an autobiography, Kingston's memoir greatly diverges from the typical conventions of this genre. Kingston skillfully weaves the forms of autobiography, fiction, history, and mythology into a multi-layered work of art. Most autobiographies focus on the author, taking an introspective look into his or her mind and life, usually containing a consistent first person "I" narration throughout. Kingston's autobiography, on the other hand, tells the tales of several women, both real and fictional, whose stories have shaped her life. Her book does not follow a linear pattern, and it often becomes difficult to discern what is fact and what is fiction. In fact, since most of Kingston's stories are told to her second-hand by her mother or by someone else, it is hard to discern the validity of any of her accounts. However, the factual truth of Kingston's stories is not important, but rather how she comes to terms with them and how she incorporates them into herself.
Kingston's book sheds light on the treatment of women in pre-Communist China. Women were considered substandard to men and were only valued in terms of their obedience, their service, and their ability to give birth to boys. Girls are sold as slaves by their families and men have more than one wife. Kingston is haunted by her mother's tales of killing baby girls back in China and learns the notion of "wife-slave" that the Chinese emigrants brought with them to America: "When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves" (Kingston 19). This idea of women's subservience to men is ingrained in the minds of the children of emigrants as the right way, the only way.
The idea that women were viewed as a commodity, an object owned by men, is confirmed by Kingston's own father: "A husband may kill a wife who disobeys him. Confucius said that" (193). Such oppressive treatment of women is condoned and furthered by Brave Orchid, who carries the traditions of her people through her own practices of self-denial, through the labeling of all Americans as ghosts, and through her talk-stories. In the story of No Name Woman, China is depicted as a world of strict rules and social codes, where honor is paramount and privacy does not exist. Juxtaposing Brave Orchid and Fa Mu Lan, No Name Woman does not partake in the abnegation required of women; she does not insist on doing what is best for her family and her village. For this and for the loss of her honor No Name Woman pays dearly. Brave Orchid uses her sad end as a warning to Kingston of the dangers of breaking old customs and traditions. Kingston is warned not to tell anyone, and No Name Woman's name is never known, because she has dishonored the family and is no longer a part of it. The father of No Name Woman's illegitimate child, however, is never punished in any way.
Kingston's story reveals the difficulties of growing up a first-generation Chinese-American. The book exposes feelings of displacement and alienation from both societies. Kingston is caught between two very different cultures with very different values, without truly belonging to either. She does not feel completely American, because she must go to Chinese school and feels her mother's pressure...
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