The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts

by Maxine Hong Kingston


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“A classic, for a reason” – Celeste Ng via Twitter

In her award-winning book The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston created an entirely new form—an exhilarating blend of autobiography and mythology, of world and self, of hot rage and cool analysis. First published in 1976, it has become a classic in its innovative portrayal of multiple and intersecting identities—immigrant, female, Chinese, American. 

As a girl, Kingston lives in two confounding worlds: the California to which her parents have immigrated and the China of her mother’s “talk stories.” The fierce and wily women warriors of her mother’s tales clash jarringly with the harsh reality of female oppression out of which they come. Kingston’s sense of self emerges in the mystifying gaps in these stories, which she learns to fill with stories of her own. A warrior of words, she forges fractured myths and memories into an incandescent whole, achieving a new understanding of her family’s past and her own present.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679721888
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/1989
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 10,545
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 880L (what's this?)

About the Author

Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants who operated a gambling house in the 1940s, when Maxine was born, and then a laundry where Kingston and her brothers and sisters toiled long hours. Kingston graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley, and, in the same year, married actor Earll Kingston, whom she had met in an English course. The couple has one son, Joseph, who was born in 1963. They were active in antiwar activities in Berkeley, but in 1967 the Kingstons headed for Japan to escape the increasing violence and drugs of the antiwar movement. They settled instead in Hawai‘i, where Kingston took various teaching posts. They returned to California seventeen years later, and Kingston resumed teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley.

While in Hawai‘i, Kingston wrote her first two books. The Woman Warrior, her first book, was published in 1976 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award, making her a literary celebrity at age thirty-six. Her second book, China Men, earned the National Book Award. Still today, both books are widely taught in literature and other classes. Kingston has earned additional awards, including the PEN West Award for Fiction for Tripmaster Monkey, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, and the National Humanities Medal, which was conferred by President Clinton, as well as the title “Living Treasure of Hawai‘i” bestowed by a Honolulu Buddhist church. Her most recent books include a collection of essays, Hawaii One Summer, and latest novel, The Fifth Book of Peace. Kingston is currently Senior Lecturer Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

No Name Woman

    "You must not tell anyone," my mother said, "what I am about to tell you. In China your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born.

    "In 1924 just a few days after our village celebrated seventeen hurry-up weddings—to make sure that every young man who went 'out on the road' would responsibly come home-your father and his brothers and your grandfather and his brothers and your aunt's new husband sailed for America, the Gold Mountain. It was your grandfather's last trip. Those lucky enough to get contracts waved goodbye from the decks. They fed and guarded the stowaways and helped them off in Cuba, New York, Bali, Hawaii. 'We'll meet in California next year,' they said. All of them sent money home.

    "I remember looking at your aunt one day when she and I were dressing; I had not noticed before that she had such a protruding melon of a stomach. But I did not think, 'She's pregnant,' until she began to look like other pregnant women, her shirt pulling and the white tops of her black pants showing. She could not have been pregnant, you see, because her husband had been gone for years. No one said anything. We did not discuss it. In early summer she was ready to have the child, long after the time when it could have been possible.

    "The village had also been counting. On the night the baby was to be born the villagers raided our house. Some were crying. Like agreat saw, teeth strung with lights, files of people walked zigzag across our land, tearing the rice. Their lanterns doubled in the disturbed black water, which drained away through the broken bunds. As the villagers closed in, we could see that some of them, probably men and women we knew well, wore white masks. The people with long hair hung it over their faces. Women with short hair made it stand up on end. Some had tied white bands around their foreheads, arms, and legs.

    "At first they threw mud and rocks at the house. Then they threw eggs and began slaughtering our stock. We could hear the animals scream their deaths—the roosters, the pigs, a last great roar from the ox. Familiar wild heads flared in our night windows; the villagers encircled us. Some of the faces stopped to peer at us, their eyes rushing like searchlights. The hands flattened against the panes, framed heads, and left red prints.

    "The villagers broke in the front and the back doors at the same time, even though we had not locked the doors against them. Their knives dripped with the blood of our animals. They smeared blood on the doors and walls. One woman swung a chicken, whose throat she had slit, splattering blood in red arcs about her. We stood together in the middle of our house, in the family hall with the pictures and tables of the ancestors around us, and looked straight ahead.

    "At that time the house had only two wings. When the men came back, we would build two more to enclose our courtyard and a third one to begin a second courtyard. The villagers pushed through both wings, even your grandparents' rooms, to find your aunt's, which was also mine until the men returned. From this room a new wing for one of the younger families would grow. They ripped up her clothes and shoes and broke her combs, grinding them underfoot. They tore her work from the loom. They scattered the cooking fire and rolled the new weaving in it. We could hear them in the kitchen breaking our bowls and banging the pots. They overturned the great waist-high earthenware jugs; duck eggs, pickled fruits, vegetables burst out and mixed in acrid torrents. The old woman from the next field swept a broom through the air and loosed the spirits-of-the-broom over our heads. 'Pig.' 'Ghost.' 'Pig,' they sobbed and scolded while they ruined our house.

    "When they left, they took sugar and oranges to bless themselves. They cut pieces from the dead animals. Some of them took bowls that were not broken and clothes that were not torn. Afterward we swept up the rice and sewed it back up into sacks. But the smells from the spilled preserves lasted. Your aunt gave birth in the pigsty that night. The next morning when I went for the water, I found her and the baby plugging up the family well.

    "Don't let your father know that I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don't humiliate us. You wouldn't like to be forgotten as if you had never been born. The villagers are watchful."

    Whenever she had to warn us about life, my mother told stories that ran like this one, a story to grow up on. She tested our strength to establish realities. Those in the emigrant generations who could not reassert brute survival died young and far from home. 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.

    The emigrants confused the gods by diverting their curses, misleading them with crooked streets and false names. They must try to confuse their offspring as well, who, I suppose, threaten them in similar ways—always trying to get things straight, always trying to name the unspeakable. The Chinese I know hide their names; sojourners take new names when their lives change and guard their real names with silence.

    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?

    If I want to learn what clothes my aunt wore, whether flashy or ordinary, I would have to begin, "Remember Father's drowned-in-the-well sister?" I cannot ask that. 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. She plants vegetable gardens rather than lawns; she carries the odd-shaped tomatoes home from the fields and eats food left for the gods.

    Whenever we did frivolous things, we used up energy; we flew high kites. We children came up off the ground over the melting cones our parents brought home from work and the American movie on New Year's Day—Oh, You Beautiful Doll with Betty Grable one year, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with John Wayne another year. After the one carnival ride each, we paid in guilt; our tired father counted his change on the dark walk home.

    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. My aunt could not have been the lone romantic who gave up everything for sex. Women in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil. I wonder whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family.

    Perhaps she had encountered him in the fields or on the mountain where the daughters-in-law collected fuel. Or perhaps he first noticed her in the marketplace. He was not a stranger because the village housed no strangers. She had to have dealings with him other than sex. Perhaps he worked an adjoining field, or he sold her the cloth for the dress she sewed and wore. His demand must have surprised, then terrified her. She obeyed him; she always did as she was told.

    When the family found a young man in the next village to be her husband, she had stood tractably beside the best rooster, his proxy, and promised before they met that she would be his forever. She was lucky that he was her age and she would be the first wife, an advantage secure now. The night she first saw him, he had sex with her. Then he left for America. She had almost forgotten what he looked like. When she tried to envision him, she only saw the black and white face in the group photograph the men had had taken before leaving.

    The other man was not, after all, much different from her husband. They both gave orders: she followed. "If you tell your family, I'll beat you. I'll kill you. Be here again next week." No one talked sex, ever. And she might have separated the rapes from the rest of living if only she did not have to buy her oil from him or gather wood in the same forest. I want her fear to have lasted just as long as rape lasted so that the fear could have been contained. No drawn-out fear. But women at sex hazarded birth and hence lifetimes. The fear did not stop but permeated everywhere. She told the man, "I think I'm pregnant." He organized the raid against her.

    On nights when my mother and father talked about their life back home, sometimes they mentioned an "outcast table" whose business they still seemed to be settling, their voices tight. In a commensal tradition, where food is precious, the powerful older people made wrongdoers eat alone. Instead of letting them start separate new lives like the Japanese, who could become samurais and geishas, the Chinese family, faces averted but eyes glowering sideways, hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers. My aunt must have lived in the same house as my parents and eaten at an outcast table. My mother spoke about the raid as if she had seen it, when she and my aunt, a daughter-in-law to a different household, should not have been living together at all. Daughters-in-law lived with their husbands' parents, not their own; a synonym for marriage in Chinese is "taking a daughter-in-law." Her husband's parents could have sold her, mortgaged her, stoned her. But they had sent her back to her own mother and father, a mysterious act hinting at disgraces not told me. Perhaps they had thrown her out to deflect the avengers.

    She was the only daughter; her four brothers went with her father, husband, and uncles "out on the road" and for some years became western men. When the goods were divided among the family, three of the brothers took land, and the youngest, my father, chose an education. After my grandparents gave their daughter away to her husband's family, they had dispensed all the adventure and all the property. They expected her alone to keep the traditional ways, which her brothers, now among the barbarians, could fumble without detection. The heavy, deep-rooted women were to maintain the past against the flood, safe for returning. But the rare urge west had fixed upon our family, and so my aunt crossed boundaries not delineated in space.

    The work of preservation demands that the feelings playing about in one's guts not be turned into action. Just watch their passing like cherry blossoms. But perhaps my aunt, my forerunner, caught in a slow life, let dreams grow and fade and after some months or years went toward what persisted. Fear at the enormities of the forbidden kept her desires delicate, wire and bone. She looked at a man because she liked the way the hair was tucked behind his ears, or she liked the question-mark line of a long torso curving at the shoulder and straight at the hip. For warm eyes or a soft voice or a slow walk—that's all—a few hairs, a line, a brightness, a sound, a pace, she gave up family. She offered us up for a charm that vanished with tiredness, a pigtail that didn't toss when the wind died. Why, the wrong lighting could erase the dearest thing about him.

    It could very well have been, however, that my aunt did not take subtle enjoyment of her friend, but, a wild woman, kept rollicking company. Imagining her free with sex doesn't fit, though. I don't know any women like that, or men either. Unless I see her life branching into mine, she gives me no ancestral help.

    To sustain her being in love, she often worked at herself in the mirror, guessing at the colors and shapes that would interest him, changing them frequently in order to hit on the right combination. She wanted him to look back.

    On a farm near the sea, a woman who tended her appearance reaped a reputation for eccentricity. All the married women blunt-cut their hair in flaps about their ears or pulled it back in tight buns. No nonsense. Neither style blew easily into heart-catching tangles. And at their weddings they displayed themselves in their long hair for the last time. "It brushed the backs of my knees," my mother tells me. "It was braided, and even so, it brushed the backs of my knees."

    At the mirror my aunt combed individuality into her bob. A bun could have been contrived to escape into black streamers blowing in the wind or in quiet wisps about her face, but only the older women in our picture album wear buns. She brushed her hair back from her forehead, tucking the flaps behind her ears. She looped a piece of thread, knotted into a circle between her index fingers and thumbs, and ran the double strand across her forehead. When she closed her fingers as if she were making a pair of shadow geese bite, the string twisted together catching the little hairs. Then she pulled the thread away from her skin, ripping the hairs out neatly, her eyes watering from the needles of pain. Opening her fingers, she cleaned the thread, then rolled it along her hairline and the tops of her eyebrows. My mother did the same to me and my sisters and herself. I used to believe that the expression "caught by the short hairs" meant a captive held with a depilatory string. It especially hurt at the temples, but my mother said we were lucky we didn't have to have our feet bound when we were seven. Sisters used to sit on their beds and cry together, she said, as their mothers or their slaves removed the bandages for a few minutes each night and let the blood gush back into their veins. I hope that the man my aunt loved appreciated a smooth brow, that he wasn't just a tits-and-ass man.

    Once my aunt found a freckle on her chin, at a spot that the almanac said predestined her for unhappiness. She dug it out with a hot needle and washed the wound with peroxide.

    More attention to her looks than these pullings of hairs and pickings at spots would have caused gossip among the villagers. They owned work clothes and good clothes, and they wore good clothes for feasting the new seasons. But since a woman combing her hair hexes beginnings, my aunt rarely found an occasion to look her best. Women looked like great sea snails—the corded wood, babies, and laundry they carried were the whorls on their backs. The Chinese did not admire a bent back; goddesses and warriors stood straight. Still there must have been a marvelous freeing of beauty when a worker laid down her burden and stretched and arched.

    Such commonplace loveliness, however, was not enough for my aunt. She dreamed of a lover for the fifteen days of New Year's, the time for families to exchange visits, money, and food. She plied her secret comb. And sure enough she cursed the year, the family, the village, and herself.

    Even as her hair lured her imminent lover, many other men looked at her. Uncles, cousins, nephews, brothers would have looked, too, had they been home between journeys. Perhaps they had already been restraining their curiosity, and they left, fearful that their glances, like a field of nesting birds, might be startled and caught. Poverty hurt, and that was their first reason for leaving. But another, final reason for leaving the crowded house was the never-said.

    She may have been unusually beloved, the precious only daughter, spoiled and mirror gazing because of the affection the family lavished on her. When her husband left, they welcomed the chance to take her back from the in-laws; she could live like the little daughter for just a while longer. There are stories that my grandfather was different from other people, "crazy ever since the little Jap bayoneted him in the head." He used to put his naked penis on the dinner table, laughing. And one day he brought home a baby girl, wrapped up inside his brown western-style greatcoat. He had traded one of his sons, probably my father, the youngest, for her. My grandmother made him trade back. When he finally got a daughter of his own, he doted on her. They must have all loved her, except perhaps my father, the only brother who never went back to China, having once been traded for a girl.

    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. To focus blurs, people shouted face to face and yelled from room to room. The immigrants I know have loud voices, unmodulated to American tones even after years away from the village where they called their friendships out across the fields. I have not been able to stop my mother's screams in public libraries or over telephones. Walking erect (knees straight, toes pointed forward, not pigeon-toed, which is Chinese-feminine) and speaking in an inaudible voice, I have tried to turn myself American-feminine. Chinese communication was loud, public. Only sick people had to whisper. But at the dinner table, where the family members came nearest one another, no one could talk, not the outcasts nor any eaters. Every word that falls from the mouth is a coin lost. Silently they gave and accepted food with both hands. A preoccupied child who took his bowl with one hand got a sideways glare. A complete moment of total attention is due everyone alike. Children and lovers have no singularity here, but my aunt used a secret voice, a separate attentiveness.

    She kept the man's name to herself throughout her labor and dying; she did not accuse him that he be punished with her. To save her inseminator's name she gave silent birth.

    He may have been somebody in her own household, but intercourse with a man outside the family would have been no less abhorrent. All the village were kinsmen, and the titles shouted in loud country voices never let kinship be forgotten. Any man within visiting distance would have been neutralized as a lover—"brother," "younger brother," "older brother"—one hundred and fifteen relationship titles. Parents researched birth charts probably not so much to assure good fortune as to circumvent incest in a population that has but one hundred surnames. Everybody has eight million relatives. How useless then sexual mannerisms, how dangerous.

    As if it came from an atavism deeper than fear, I used to add "brother" silently to boys' names. It hexed the boys, who would or would not ask me to dance, and made them less scary and as familiar and deserving of benevolence as girls.

    But, of course, I hexed myself also—no dates. I should have stood up, both arms waving, and shouted out across libraries, "Hey, you! Love me back." I had no idea, though, how to make attraction selective, how to control its direction and magnitude. If I made myself American-pretty so that the five or six Chinese boys in the class fell in love with me, everyone else—the Caucasian, Negro, and Japanese boys—would too. Sisterliness, dignified and honorable, made much more sense.

    Attraction eludes control so stubbornly that whole societies designed to organize relationships among people cannot keep order, not even when they bind people to one another from childhood and raise them together. Among the very poor and the wealthy, brothers married their adopted sisters, like doves. Our family allowed some romance, paying adult brides' prices and providing dowries so that their sons and daughters could marry strangers. Marriage promises to turn strangers into friendly relatives—a nation of siblings.

    In the village structure, spirits shimmered among the live creatures, balanced and held in equilibrium by time and land. But one human being flaring up into violence could open up a black hole, a maelstrom that pulled in the sky. The frightened villagers, who depended on one another to maintain the real, went to my aunt to show her a personal, physical representation of the break she had made in the "roundness." Misallying couples snapped off the future, which was to be embodied in true offspring. The villagers punished her for acting as if she could have a private life, secret and apart from them.

    If my aunt had betrayed the family at a time of large grain yields and peace, when many boys were born, and wings were being built on many houses, perhaps she might have escaped such severe punishment. But the men—hungry, greedy, tired of planting in dry soil—had been forced to leave the village in order to send food-money home. There were ghost plagues, bandit plagues, wars with the Japanese, floods. My Chinese brother and sister had died of an unknown sickness. Adultery, perhaps only a mistake during good times, became a crime when the village needed food.

    The round moon cakes and round doorways, the round tables of graduated sizes that fit one roundness inside another, round windows and rice bowls—these talismans had lost their power to warn this family of the law: a family must be whole, faithfully keeping the descent line by having sons to feed the old and the dead, who in turn look after the family. The villagers came to show my aunt and her lover-in-hiding a broken house. The villagers were speeding up the circling of events because she was too shortsighted to see that her infidelity had already harmed the village, that waves of consequences would return unpredictably, sometimes in disguise, as now, to hurt her. This roundness had to be made coin-sized so that she would see its circumference: punish her at the birth of her baby. Awaken her to the inexorable. People who refused fatalism because they could invent small resources insisted on culpability. Deny accidents and wrest fault from the stars.

    After the villagers left, their lanterns now scattering in various directions toward home, the family broke their silence and cursed her. "Aiaa, we're going to die. Death is coming. Death is coming. Look what you've done. You've killed us. Ghost! Dead ghost! Ghost! You've never been born." She ran out into the fields, far enough from the house so that she could no longer hear their voices, and pressed herself against the earth, her own land no more. When she felt the birth coming, she thought that she had been hurt. Her body seized together. "They've hurt me too much," she thought. "This is gall, and it will kill me." With forehead and knees against the earth, her body convulsed and then relaxed. She turned on her back, lay on the ground. The black well of sky and stars went out and out and out forever; her body and her complexity seemed to disappear. She was one of the stars, a bright dot in blackness, without home, without a companion, in eternal cold and silence. An agoraphobia rose in her, speeding higher and higher, bigger and bigger; she would not be able to contain it; there would no end to fear.

    Flayed, unprotected against space, she felt pain return, focusing her body. This pain chilled her—a cold, steady kind of surface pain. Inside, spasmodically, the other pain, the pain of the child, heated her. For hours she lay on the ground, alternately body and space. Sometimes a vision of normal comfort obliterated reality: she saw the family in the evening gambling at the dinner table, the young people massaging their elders' backs. She saw them congratulating one another, high joy on the mornings the rice shoots came up. When these pictures burst, the stars drew yet further apart. Black space opened.

    She got to her feet to fight better and remembered that old-fashioned women gave birth in their pigsties to fool the jealous, pain-dealing gods, who do not snatch piglets. Before the next spasms could stop her, she ran to the pigsty, each step a rushing out into emptiness. She climbed over the fence and knelt in the dirt. It was good to have a fence enclosing her, a tribal person alone.

    Laboring, this woman who had carried her child as a foreign growth that sickened her every day, expelled it at last. She reached down to touch the hot, wet, moving mass, surely smaller than anything human, and could feel that it was human after all—fingers, toes, nails, nose. She pulled it up on to her belly, and it lay curled there, butt in the air, feet precisely tucked one under the other. She opened her loose shirt and buttoned the child inside. After resting, it squirmed and thrashed and she pushed it up to her breast. It turned its head this way and that until it found her nipple. There, it made little snuffling noises. She clenched her teeth at its preciousness, lovely as a young calf, a piglet, a little dog.

    She may have gone to the pigsty as a last act of responsibility: she would protect this child as she had protected its father. It would look after her soul, leaving supplies on her grave. But how would this tiny child without family find her grave when there would be no marker for her anywhere, neither in the earth nor the family hall? No one would give her a family hall name. She had taken the child with her into the wastes. At its birth the two of them had felt the same raw pain of separation, a wound that only the family pressing tight could close. A child with no descent line would not soften her life but only trail after her, ghostlike, begging her to give it purpose. At dawn the villagers on their way to the fields would stand around the fence and look.

    Full of milk, the little ghost slept. When it awoke, she hardened her breasts against the milk that crying loosens. Toward morning she picked up the baby and walked to the well.

    Carrying the baby to the well shows loving. Otherwise abandon it. Turn its face into the mud. Mothers who love their children take them along. It was probably a girl; there is some hope of forgiveness for boys.

    "Don't tell anyone you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born." I have believed that sex was unspeakable and words so strong and fathers so frail that "aunt" would do my father mysterious harm. I have thought that my family, having settled among immigrants who had also been their neighbors in the ancestral land, needed to clean their name, and a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here. But there is more to this silence: they want me to participate in her punishment. And I have.

    In the twenty years since I heard this story I have not asked for details nor said my aunt's name; I do not know it. People who can comfort the dead can also chase after them to hurt them further—a reverse ancestor worship. The real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family's deliberately forgetting her. Her betrayal so maddened them, they saw to it that she would suffer forever, even after death. Always hungry, always needing, she would have to beg food from other ghosts, snatch and steal it from those whose living descendants give them gifts. She would have to fight the ghosts massed at crossroads for the buns a few thoughtful citizens leave to decoy her away from village and home so that the ancestral spirits could feast unharassed. At peace, they could act like gods, not ghosts, their descent lines providing them with paper suits and dresses, spirit money, paper houses, paper automobiles, chicken, meat, and rice into eternity—essences delivered up in smoke and flames, steam and incense rising from each rice bowl. In an attempt to make the Chinese care for people outside the family, Chairman Mao encourages us now to give our paper replicas to the spirits of outstanding soldiers and workers, no matter whose ancestors they may be. My aunt remains forever hungry. Goods are not distributed evenly among the dead.

    My aunt haunts me—her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her, though not origamied into houses and clothes. I do not think she always means me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water. The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute.

Table of Contents

No Name Woman1
White Tigers17
At the Western Palace111
A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe161

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The Woman Warrior (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 0 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Kingston¿s uniqueness in blending both fiction and nonfiction into her works clearly defines her proficiency with the English language. Along with that, her memoirs add a taste of Chinese culture to our American lifestyle, giving her audience a head-on collision of both worlds. In The Woman Warrior, Kingston incorporates her personal experience with fictional elements, producing a piece that is controversially misconceived as an autobiography. This work of literary ingenious is structured in an autobiographical form, and nothing more. Relying a great deal on imagination and memory, she recreates moments in her life from the important fragments, unforgettable and yearning for a form. The Woman Warrior is a collection of stories to grow by. In addition, The Woman Warrior is a self-searching fictional piece of literature with relations to Kingston¿s mother, the female relatives she had heard of, and fables of astonishing heroines. The memoir indirectly educates its reader of the difference between American-Chinese and Chinese women. It brings forth Chinese customs, and the consequences for actions not acceptable of a woman, and persuades its American and Chinese-American readers to make connections with it. Present throughout her book are many similar themes, all of which deal with societal pressures on and expectance of women. The role of women in the traditional Chinese society is a reoccurring subject, both apparent and obscure, as well as the power of speech and writing as opposed to being silenced, growing up as a Chinese-American 'becoming Americanized', and individuality vs. conformity. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The Woman Warrior is captivating, appealing to your emotions and giving you the opportunity to glimpse into the lives of women and better understand the difficulties, the hardships, and obstacles women had to face to find themselves. The vast amounts of culture hidden behind the text helped me, in a way, realize that my culture is very much a part of me, as it is to my parents. I¿m always being reminded that certain actions I am performing are not part of my culture. I could never really understand why it should matter, I mean, I¿ve never lived in the same place where my parents grew up and yet here I am being scolded for acting the way I do based on the present culture I grew up with. Now I can see that no matter what I choose to do, my heritage is a part of who I am, and that traditions should be treated as guidelines to both protect and aid me in all my decisions. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in reading about heroines both from a fictional and nonfictional standpoint - feminine family relations and how culture plays a role in the way women are treated. The Woman Warrior would stand well with those searching for a book with a purpose or meaning in life. It is extremely touching.
Guest More than 1 year ago
No matter the individual this account of women stuck between a male dominated society that was China in the 19-20th centuries and its antithesis, the United States, this book will draw tears from your eyes. Being a male who is not trapped between two worlds I still was inclined to mourn for the events of this book. The segment with the Drowning Woman is especially difficult to get through. Read and learn.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was required to read this book for my AP English Course. This book caught my attention right away when I read the synopsis, however the book exceeded my expectations. I love the author's fusion of Traditional Chinese culture with that of American culture. The different expectations of her family, teachers, and classmates make it easy for anybody to relate to the experiences in the book. I would recommend this book to ANYONE!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
juniperSun on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kingston keeps us a bit unsure of what is story and what is real--the tale of Fa Mu Lan is told in the first person--which reflects Kinsgton's own difficulty as a child in telling them apart. Dominated by her mother, she was never sure how to please her, continually running afoul of some superstitious stricture. Her mother never answers questions, just tells some story and since the stories change from time to time, Kingston has to create her sense of her past from the pieces she gleans.
StefanY on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This collection of Chinese folklore is also a complex soul-searching journey for the author in which she delves into the folklore of her Chinese heritage that has been imparted to her over the years mainly by her mother and assesses how these tales relate to her own inner self in the way that she has been raised by her parents and also in the way that she has grown both within and apart from these cultural boundaries. The stories themselves are fairly interesting and entertaining, but what really makes this book noteworthy is the introspection of the author as a Chines-American woman growing up within two separate cultures in the 1970's and the inner strength and courage that she develops throughout this growing-up process. While it was a bit outside of my comfort zone at times, I really appreciated this book for the honesty and sincerity of the author and the courage that it took to put all of her internal feelings and thoughts out into the ope for all to see.
TheAmpersand on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Woman Warrior" is an early example of the "midlife memoir" genre and it's a classic of the form, a far more serious and purposeful piece of work than most of the books that bear that description. Hong Kingston's writing is at once impressively fluid and forceful, and reading it sometimes feel like seeing a long-silenced personality suddenly bloom on paper. The author also does an excellent job of illustrating her precarious cultural position. She's caught between two societies she can't gain access to: an emmigrant Chinese society whose rules she can neither inquire about nor understand and a white American "ghost" world that does not entirely accept her. She's aware that she's likely to remain an outsider looking in, but she also avoids the navel-gazing that plagues so much of this genre. Her book is, in some ways, the cultural history of an entire community. Telling a story larger than herself, Hong Kignston includes whole chunks of Chinese mythology in her narrative and recounts the fates of many of the relatives who emigrated with her. Some of her relatives were unprepared to deal with the seismic changes that awaited them in their new home and met with crushing disappointment; if anything "The Woman Warrior" demonstrates how tenaciously people can hold on to the cultures and social structures they were born into and how profound the differences between East and West can sometimes be. Other migrants, like the author's parents, display superhuman amounts of personal resilience and an awe-inspiring capacity for work, leaving the author feeling guilty, grateful, and a little excluded.The book also makes excellent use of the silence that once permeated the author´s childhood and adolescence. From the language barriers that separate many of the book's characters American society to her family's prohibition on speaking during mealtime to the a family history that sometimes too painful to discuss, silence plays a major role in this personal history, and it's hard to name another writer that does so much with what might be termed "negative literary space." "The Woman Warrior" could also be read as Hong Kingston's own brave attempt to take a meticulous personal inventory and to understand her cultural origins, even if she knows that some of them are likely to remain beyond her understanding. As she tries to fill in the empty spaces that have haunted her since childhood, the author displays a steadfast faith in the power of narrative to create order, and we should perhaps be grateful for the fact that the author's domineering mother was a masterful storyteller who "story talked" for hours while leaving a great deal unsaid. The end product of this difficult upbringing and the author`s own considerable literary talents is "The Woman Warrior," and it's a fantastic read and a book that might change the way you look at every immigrant's experience. Highly recommended.
mysteena on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Woman Warrior" explores a girl's search for identity. Is she Chinese, American, a ghost, a slave, a crazy woman? The writing is so unique, written in a memoir yet fictional manner. Very poetic, beautiful writing that asks to be read aloud. I actually did read some aloud to Chris, just because I was so struck by the passage that I had to share it with someone. I'm so glad I read this!Here's my entry for the class discussion board:In ¿The Woman Warrior¿, we learn how difficult it is for Chinese-American girls to develop a sense of identity. Where do they belong: In the world of China, where girls are discarded as slaves and called maggots, or the world of America trying to fit in amongst the ghosts? To reiterate the point of her unattainable identity, the narrator never reveals her name to her readers. This makes her even more anonymous to us, and accentuates the fact that she herself has had difficulty discovering whom she really is.Growing up, her mother did not fully teach her about her Chinese heritage and customs. Instead, her mom was upset by her questions and disgusted that these things weren¿t instinctive to her daughter. The author writes, ¿From the configurations of food my mother set out, we kids had to infer the holidays. She did not whip us up with holiday anticipation or explain¿How can Chinese keep any traditions at all? They don¿t even make you pay attention, slipping in a ceremony a clearing the table before the children notice specialness¿ (185). In some respects her mother had given up on her American born children maintaining a sense of Chinese heritage, or understanding Chinese ¿ways¿. When forcing Moon Orchid to face her husband, Brave Orchid says to her son ¿You can¿t understand business begun in China. Just do what I say. Go.¿ (151). She doesn¿t accept the fact that her children might have some insight into life in America and instead treats them as if they have no understanding of life on either continent. She also refers to her children as Americans, (¿Don¿t be silly. You Americans don¿t take life seriously.¿ (150), yet for years the children lived with the expectation that someday their family would move back to China. This must have further confused their sense of belonging.As a result of her befuddled identity, the author grows up unsure of her place in the world. She refuses to talk when she enters public school and even when she begins talking she does so in an unsure, ¿squeezed duck¿ voice. She becomes infuriated at the girl who never talks, perhaps because she sees herself in the girl, and tries to force the girl to speak. I found it particularly interesting that she spent so much time describing this episode between her and the silent girl, alone in the bathroom. I believe she was combating herself at this moment, trying to force herself to speak normally. The author also is full of fear. She¿s afraid of ghosts, afraid of becoming a crazy woman, afraid of being married to a man she doesn¿t know, afraid of being sold for a slave. These are all types of identities that she knows she doesn¿t want thrust upon her, but which her mother has led her to believe could be a possibility for her life. Even as a grown woman, returning home for a visit, her mother still has a strong hold on her daughter¿s sense of well being and identity. ¿I could feel her stare ¿ her eyes two lights warm on my graying hair, then on the creases at the sides of my mouth, my thin neck, my think cheeks, my thin arms. I felt her sight warm each of my bony elbows, and I flopped about in my fake sleep to hide them from her criticism.¿ (100). Once again, she is viewing herself from her mother¿s perspective (too skinny!) and she loses her own sense of self.One last point that I found fascinating was how she has researched her Chinese heritage. Throughout the novel, she mentions phrases and words that she has tried to discover the meaning to. One example is Ho Chi Kuei, for which she lists about 12 different translations that she
hearthfirecircle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent fiction book, writen embracing Chinese mythology and feminism.
PinkPandaParade on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Probably most intriguing about the structure of Maxine Hong Kingston¿s Woman Warrior, beginning with "No Name Woman¿ and ending in A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,¿ is that it characterizes Maxine Hong Kingston¿s memoir, told in the interesting format of non-sequential episodes, as one that begins in oppressed silence but ends in universal song. When looking at the three woman warrior figures in the book ¿ her aunt, the No Name Woman; the rewritten legendary warrior in ¿White Tigers¿ (based upon the Mulan legend); and the poet and barbarian captive, Ts¿ai Yen ¿ the characteristics that unite them all are their determined attempts at asserting their own kinds of power, femininity, and individuality in patriarchal Chinese society. The methods through which they do so revolve around words written, spoken, or not spoken: from the silence practiced by No Name Woman, to the words written on the warrior¿s back, to the songs created by Ts¿ai Yen and, finally, to the stories that Kingston as the author uses to find the marks of the woman warrior within herself, and to do so in a way that allows the readers insight into a life that even the narrator is grappling to understand. The words that open Woman Warrior, which begins with the story of No Name Woman, are quite interestingly an admonition of silence: ¿¿You must not tell anyone,¿ my mother said, `what I am about to tell you¿¿ (3). This admonition signifies a promise, and a breaking of a promise: The narrator¿s mother Brave Orchid is showing courage and confidence in her daughter by sharing something that should not be remembered, yet at the same time, her mother is breaking the silence surrounding her sister-in-law, the titled No Name Woman. This is one of the first of many of the narrator¿s mother¿s talk-stories, ones that were told with a purpose to aid her children in life events, while sealing the bond between child and mother. The story of the woman warrior, who is the protagonist of ¿White Tigers,¿ is created in history and then transformed by the narrator into one of triumph through the breaking of silences. Inspired by Kingston¿s childhood and the stories of Yue Fei and Mulan, the chapter becomes another way for the narrator to celebrate the breaking of silences, something that continues throughout the book. This union between mother and daughter the novel can be seen as the compromise of generations, an idea carried out in Kingston¿s appropriation of myths and stories seen in the retelling of these woman warriors. Her mother, in fact, is the narrator¿s guide of the methods in which to appropriate talk-stories for her own purposes. Kingston¿s retellings are part of the idea that a culture growing up in one country can appropriate the lessons of their parents, who grew up in another. It is the idea and the hope that stories created by a patriarchal culture can still make room for its daughters, ultimately one the most important ideas Kingston communicates in her beautifully rendered book.
cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kingston writes about how her isolating experiences as a Chinese girl among American classmates, but what struck me was the universality of her story. This is a story that anyone who's ever felt stifled or shy can relate to, or anyone whose family is full secrets or been touched by mental illness...the list of experiences we can share with Kingston is a long one. Bonus points for including loads of Chinese folklore to distinguish this from dozens of other "daughter of China" books.
ccavaleri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A really interesting take on the Mulan story and on feminism. In short, sometimes stories that portray women as strong aren't actually helpful. The Mulan story sets an unreachable standard which is illustrated through the life of the modern main character and her super-woman mother.
Kayla-Marie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maxine Hong Kingston writes a very imaginative memoir that ends with Kingston's discovery of her voice and her journey towards wholeness. She interweaves stories of her mother and her aunts, as well as Chinese legends (most notably, a unique take on the Fa Mu Lan legend) as told to her by her mother when she was a young girl. She includes many desriptions of Chinese traditions and behaviors, often comparing Chinese and American culture, which I found quite interesting. Her writing is beautiful. She uses a lot of creative license in this memoir. The reason why my rating is not higher than it is is because this novel read very slowly for me. It would take me an hour to read 30 pages. I am not sure why that is. Perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood to read this memoir or maybe it was because it deviated so much from what I was expecting from a book classified as nonfiction (it could possibly be both these things since the two can be connected very easily). The author speculates a lot on the stories her mother told her and sometimes she will create her own fictional endings to the stories from her family history. She will imagine a story that she actually knows very little details of and make it into a complex narrative. The insertion of Chinese legends also takes away from the nonfictional aspects of the memoir. I know authors are given a creative license in their memoirs, but I think Kingston went a little overboard. I also have a difficult time referring to this novel as a memoir. My definition of a memoir is an account of a significant moment in the author's own life, so I believed that Kingston would focus on herself and her experiences. However, she rarely talks about herself at all except in the last chapter. Instead, she chooses to focus on the women in her family, particularly her mother and two of her aunts (one from each side of her family). Most of the stories she recounts happened before she was born or were ones she wasn't there to witness first-hand. The stories are known to her second-hand, mostly told to her by her mother. This offered great insight into Chinese culture from around the early to mid-1900s, but I feel like I didn't get to know the author too well. However, despite all of this, I would recommend this book. It is a beautifully written and imaginative piece of work. I may suggest reading it as a semi-autobiographical historical fiction novel rather than as a nonfiction memoir, though.
eesti23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Woman Warrior creates an account of a girl who grows up in America amongst her Chinese family and community. The novel moves from point to point in time, mainly in a story-telling type way. Stories about older relatives lives in China are mixed with stories of life in America and this at times can be a bit challenging to follow. Each chapter, whilst semi-independent, does flow together with the other chapters creating a satisfied feeling at the end. Some chapters were much more enjoyable to read, in my opinion, than others - in particular the one about Maxine's mother becoming a doctor and when Maxine's Aunt came to stay with them in America. A surprisingly enjoyable read, especially once you get a bit further into the book.
g0ldenboy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second of three novels assigned to my college's Asian American Literature course. While there are flashes of poetic language, its disorganization and stereotypical portrayals make it difficult to enjoy.
d.homsher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Chinese-American girl's memoir, made up of distinct chapters, inspired by stories the author heard from her Chinese mother.Kingston weaves fictional elements into the separate chapters of her autobiography, trying to comprehend her Chinese mother's former life and in that way reconnect with the impressive, mysterious, and sometimes frightening woman who is her mother. In the process, Kingston tends to describe or reimagine the lives of mad women, outcast women, and slaves in China, many of whom she learned about through her mother's cautionary tales. The narrator both fears and identifies with these outcasts. Thus, her efforts to make a bridge to her mother through her writing are always complicated by rebellion and resistance.
mldg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Maxine Hong Kingston tells how the ancient patriarchal Chinese society still oppressed her as an American born Chinese female. She tells of the struggle to find freedom and self-worth with a mixture of legend and personal experience. In the end she learns to speak for herself and find independence from and identity with her very strong mother. At times this book disturbed and confused me; but always, I was captivated by its intensity.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a moving and at times gripping account of growing up female and Chinese-American.
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