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Storytelling and Tradition a Comparison of Maus and the Woman Warrior

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The stories Maus and The Woman Warrior that we read this semester seem very different from each other, but I think that they both contain similarities and can be contrasted readily. The Woman Warrior by Maxing Hong Kingston like Maus by Art Spiegelman deals with storytelling and tradition derived from racial issues. These books are not merely based on race though. Culture, identity, language, heritage, history, and discrimination are all components in the compositions of Maus and The Woman Warrior. The races, beliefs, and struggles of the characters in these books are very different, but can be similar at times. Cultural disparities run rampant in these books and are the cause of much suffering and struggle. In one book, you have traditional Chinese values clashed with American culture and in the other you have Nazis trying to exterminate the Jewish race. In both cases, culture is being destroyed and the characters are forced to adapt to the world around them. These books also involve family issues heavily. Both of the books have strong parent-child relationships as their backbone. The old teach the young and the young, in turn, teach the old. The lessons learned range in content from heritage to genocide and are powerful messages to be heard by people of all races and religions. The culture of the groups of people in these stories, derive from their environment and also the tradition of their families. The daughter in The Woman Warrior is a product of an American society, but she is taught by the person closest to her, her mother, ideas and values that contrast greatly with what the outside world is telling her. Her mother tells her stories that can hardly be determined as truth half the time, but all contain the messages derived of a strict Chinese culture. An example of how Brave Orchid's culture clashes with American culture can be displayed by the time when she sends her daughter to the drug store to ask for candy as reparation, because a delivery boy came to their house with pills that were meant for a different Chinese family. Brave Orchid said to her daughter, "You get reparation candy. You say, ‘You have tainted my house with sick medicine and must remove the curse with sweetness.' He'll understand." Brave Orchid is used to a world where people try to make up for their mistakes even when they don't have to rather than just ignoring the affects their mistakes have on others. In Maus, Art's father is not so much at odds culturally with the outside world, but his experiences are so much different that it is almost like he has his own culture that is understood only by those who survived the Holocaust. Vladek looks at things differently than most people. Vladek has seen things such as children being swung by the legs like baseball bats into a wall until they died. He has seen families ripped apart and countless cold-blooded murders. All of these things were caused by the Nazis. You could say that the Nazi's created Vledek's culture for him. Vladek has seen the most evil and horrible capabilities of human beings. This sets him apart from most people. This is what makes him cherish every piece of food on his plate at every meal and save every piece of rope or random junk that he finds, because he knows that if worse comes to worse again you have to be prepared. So, for the parents in these books, a dramatic past shapes their culture and this culture they pass on to their children through stories and tradition. Through the stories in this book, an identity is created in the characters, one that reflects their past. In the case of Art Spiegelman and his father, their identities are that of a race that has incurred terrible tragedy. This fact is branded on them for life and it is a part of who they are. The Holocaust had a tremendous impact on Vladek, as did its story on Art. To survive an attempted genocide upon ones race would instill things like fear, hatred, and caution into ones identity. These traits can become a traditional presence in ones belief system by parents teaching their children these things. To have your father go through the Holocaust would certainly affect the way you view the world and teach your children. I would think that distrust would be the most noticeably present trait in a Jewish person whose relatives were affected by the Holocaust. This distrust and any other Holocaust-generated traits will most likely continue to be passed on to future generations of Jews for years. In relation to The Woman Warrior, a cultural identity is passed down to a daughter from her mother through the mediums of storytelling and tradition. The girls' mother is Brave Orchid. Brave Orchid is always telling her daughter stories that are often far fetched. Whether they are real or not though, they tell of a culture far different from anything the daughter has ever witnessed in America. These stories give the daughter an identity that stems from traditional Chinese culture. The daughter identifies herself as a woman warrior through the summation of these stories and her own personal feelings towards them. She learns about the submissive Chinese woman that is not supposed to talk or even think for herself. Kingston rejects this persona and connects more to the story of Fa Mu Lan, who was legendary Chinese woman who took her father's place in battle. Speaking of her mother, the Chinese daughter said, "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." Fa Mu Lan was the daughter's hero, the female she most identified with, and figuratively speaking, the person she would grow up to be. Another interesting part of the book which might be a guess on my part but seems reasonable is that Orchid's daughter's name is never revealed. We assume that the daughter is Maxine Kingston herself but this is never spelled out for us. I believe that the reason for this is an attempt by Maxine to pay respect to her dead aunt by remaining nameless herself. Kingston does not believe in the Chinese values that led to her aunt's death. She has an attitude of sympathy for what happened to her aunt. Her connection with her aunt is that she too is judged by the same perverse, sexist beliefs that ruined her aunt, but rather than having a whole village against her, it is her own mother who passes judgment. So, if the main character is indeed Maxine Kingston, then she portrays herself as a no-name woman just like her aunt, but the difference is that Kingston has an identity of her own and a voice that she is not afraid to use. Language plays an important role in Maus and in The Woman Warrior. The languages involved in Maus are English and German, whereas the languages involved in The Woman Warrior are English and Chinese. Language is an important part of tradition and also in the stories of the characters in these books. In Maus, Vladek speaks both English and German, but Art only speaks English. With the addition of his experiences, language is an integral part of the differences between Art and his father. Like China to Brave Orchid's daughter, Poland is a whole other world to Art. He never experienced living there or the language they used. He'll never fully know what it was like to live in Poland before and during WWII. This is all parallel to Orchid's daughter's experiences and relationship with her mom. She did not speak Chinese and could never fully understand the extreme differences between the life that she had and the life that her mother had in China. Language is a symbol of cultural conflict in these stories. Language can be a cultural barrier as well as a communication barrier. The basis of tradition and storytelling is unquestionably history. If it weren't for history, Maus and The Woman Warrior would not have been written. The history involved in these stories is powerful and influential. The parents of the authors of these books are the true inspiration for their creation, because it is their history that has made such an impact on their children. It is the history in these stories that provides the conflict. In The Woman Warrior, Brave Orchid tells her daughter the story of her aunt who drowned herself in a well because of the shame of becoming pregnant by a man other than her husband. For all anyone knows, she could have been raped, but even if this were the case she would still be looked down upon for the rest of her life by the people of her small China village. This is the most blatant example of the harsh treatment of women described by Brave Orchid's stories. After being subjected to this history lesson, Orchid's daughter forms many theories about her aunt. Her interpretation of the history of her aunt includes theories of her aunt being raped, desperately trying to attract men, and also of her aunt being a restless ghost always begging for scraps of food from other ghosts. These guesses could all be true, but the power of her aunt's story lies in the strict Chinese tradition that led her aunt to suicide. The people of her village thought of themselves as all connected, and that any one action could affect the entire group. This kind of circular notion of a community was so much different than what Orchid's daughter was experienced with in America. The Chinese believe that the nail that sticks out needs to be hammered down. This piece of history taught Orchid's daughter a great deal about the freedom she had and generally educated her on her mother's roots. In Maus, Art learns all about his father's experience in WWII. This particular part of history was obviously nothing new to him, but his father's stories gave him new insight in to the true horror of what had happened, without the muddying affect of rumors and hearsay. Art's father's story not only gave him a more precise knowledge of how the Jews were treated during the Holocaust, but also gave a deeper understanding of his father. He has always known his father to be a little different than other people. His father did such things as: take many various vitamins in order to have control over his health, insist that Art finish every bit of food on his plate at supper, and he always insisted on fixing everything around the house himself, even when he was too old to do it safely. His father was also a tightwad even though he had plenty of money. All of these traits can easily be explained by the effects that WWII had on Vladek. After hearing his father's story, I'm sure that Art could definitely start understanding his father's behavior better. For Art to know his father's history can only work towards strengthening the bond between them. Family disputes are a major connection between TWW and Maus. The parents stories of the past and the tradition that they attempt to pass on to their children is a major source of conflict for the characters in these books. There is no end to Brave Orchid's onslaught of offensive Chinese tradition towards her daughter much like Art's father will always have his stubborn, self sufficient attitude that creates friction between them. Brave Orchid's constant ramblings of ghosts and demeaning comments towards women are an ever-present thorn in her daughter's side. Like Brave Orchid, Vladek also instills the feeling of inferiority into his child, only he does so by constantly reminding Art of his incompetence as a handy man. Though it would be accurate to say that Vladek and Orchid are not perfect role models as parents, it would be unfair to say they are bad parents when taken into consideration their dramatic pasts. After all, people are a product of their environment. I think that for Art and Orchid's daughter to stay on good terms with their parents, they have to weed out the aspects of their parent's personalities that they know were cause by a troubling past and try to see them for the person they are minus the irreparable personality flaws and quirks. As for Orchid's daughter, she needs to apply this to not only her mother, but also to the source of her mother's differences, her Chinese heritage. Orchid's daughter has to take something positive out of the culture handed down to her so that she can come to terms with her family's history and have some respect for Chinese tradition although it's teachings are not partial to her own beliefs. Wherever there is a mix of ethnicities living together, there will be discrimination. Discrimination can take shape in minor forms such as name calling all the way up to major displays of hate like genocide. Discrimination was present in both of the books that I am comparing. In The Woman Warrior, Brave Orchid's daughter felt the presence of discrimination. In one part of the book she says, "I have so many words-"chink" words and "gook" words too-that they do not fit on my skin." The "fit on my skin," is in reference to how Fu Mu Lan had her villages grievances tattooed on her back. Like Lan, Orchid's daughter has the burden of her people on her back but in a metaphorical sense. She knows the burden of the Chinese woman and of the Chinese people as a whole in terms of racism. The Chinese woman is considered worthless by their society. Their only purpose is bearing children. This notion is obviously infuriating to Orchid's daughter and as if that weren't bad enough, she has to do with the ignorance of people in America such as racist bosses. At the school Orchid's daughter attends, she is the only Chinese girl and she feels isolated from her peers. Being as much American as she is Chinese makes it hard for her to develop as a person, because she is unsure about which set of values are more valid. The frustration she feels inside makes her angry often and she finds it difficult to act feminine. The Chinese culture her mother is from holds no place for American ideals and vice versa. This leaves Orchid's daughter confused about who she is. As far as discrimination is concerned, there is no more drastic form than genocide. This is the type of discrimination known best by Vladek and Art. Vladek wasn't merely insulted by people because of his race, but nearly killed. Discrimination has been the most influential thing in Vladeks life. The discrimination felt by Vladek and by Orchid's daughter may have been to much different degrees, but it forces them both to ask themselves why people hate or dislike them and what makes them so much different. It also encourages them to figure out who they are as a person so they can confirm to themselves that they are not deserving of hate and prejudice. Maus and The Woman Warrior are books with drastically different content, but closely related themes. Themes like the passing on of beliefs to your children, dealing with oppression, and parent/child relationships are found in both books. There are important lessons to be learned from these books. I think that the most important lesson is that one should never give up hope. Both books are stories of survival. In Maus, Vladek is trying to escape death and in The Woman Warrior, Brave Orchid's daughter is trying to survive a life separated by two different cultures. The struggle they endure is long and intense in both stories. The characters in these books stand up to those who look down on them and try to impose their will on them. In the end, they conquer their enemies and emerge victoriously from battle. The culture and legacies of different ethnic groups must be continued through storytelling and tradition to inspire the lives of future generations to come. Books like Maus and The Woman Warrior are the reasons why the past will never die and will always be an influential force in the present.

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