Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American author and Senior Lecturer for Creative Writing at the University of California,Berkley. She has contributed to the feminist movement with such works as her memoir The Woman Warrior,which discusses gender and ethnicity and how these concepts affect the lives of women. Kingston has received several awards for her contributions to Chinese American Literature including the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1981 for China Men.
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is a memoir and her autobiography and as Linda Hunt says “suggests that we need to pay attention to the contradictions male dominance creates for women who are one and the same time subordinated by a culture, and yet, embroiled in its interstices; such women may be painfully at odds with themselves” (5). The first chapter of the book No Name Woman begins with a still young girl Maxine listening to her mother telling her the story of her father’s alleged sister.
The latter asks Maxine not to tell her father about her sharing the story of her aunt, who got pregnant while her husband was in America and how the villagers marginalized and made her commit suicide. “Don’t tell your father you had an aunt. Your father does not want to hear her name. She has never been born” (The Woman Warrior 14) She identifies herself with her aunt whom she calls “my forerunner” and begins to create different scenarios, narrations of what may happened to her and all are made in third person.
She is trying to learn how to be a Chinese-American, and how Chinese people used “to name the unspeakable” and tries to understand that if you are Chinese-American which is the part that defines you being a Chinese and how to separate things : “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 a Chinese tradition and what is the movies? ” (The Woman Warrior 6) Linda Hunt says that Maxine’s profound conflict is about her loyality and where it lies regarding the experience of the aunt she had never met and is agonizing about what stance has to take towards her Chinese-American history.
Later on, in the book, Hunt says that Maxine juxtaposes the legend of Fa Mu Lan, “a tale her story-telling mother used to chant, against the story of the outlaw aunt”, and furthermore says that “the purpose is to test whether her culture’s myth about a heroic woman who defends her village will provide a way for Kingston to transcend the degrading female social role, and yet, be loyal to the community. ”( Hunt, 7)
In the article Hunt says that Kingston retells the story in the book imagining her as Fa Mu Lan, “who through magic and self-discipline she is traines to bring about social justice while at the same time fulfilling her domestic obligations” and that “she creates with her body the ideographs for various words: in Kingston’s universe it is through mastery of language that a warrior is created”( Hunt, 8).
Hunt says that “this myth combined with heroism and social duty is explored to see if winning the approval and admiration of the Chinese or Chinese-American community can provide so much gratification that Kingston will be persuaded to repress her injuries at the hands of the community” ( Hunt 8) In her tale,Kingston tries to subvert her own attempt by inserting in the tale certain elements of the female avenger which brings at surface the injustice women has to suffer as sex and “the issue of female anger”(Linda Hunt 7).
She tries to bring down the baron who recruited her brother and she is presenting herself as a defender of the village: “I want your life in payment for your crimes against the villagers”and the baron tries to be charming,to appeal her “man to man” : “Oh, come on now. Everyone takes the girls when he can. The families are glad to be rid of them. ‘Girls are maggots in the rice’. ‘It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters’” (The Woman Warrior 43)
By this she is trying to expose the baron’s sexism and “to show the reader that, try as she does, she cannot simply overlook the patriarchal biases of Chinese culture”(Hunt 8) The third and forth chapter of the book,Hunt says that Kingston uses to “probe even further the implications of her culture’s sanctioned way for a woman to be strong”(Hunt 9) Maxine’s mother,Brave Orchid lived a life that is very similar with the limits of realistic possibility to the woman warrior model.
Like the woman warrior in the tale who returns to housework and produce sons, Brave Orchid accepts a phase of her life without a complaint when she is called by her husband in the United States. This story shows that a warrior woman model could work for some women as well.
Moon Orchid,Brave Orchid’s sister,her emigration to the United States drives her to madness and death and this shows that she wasn’t a strong person and Hunt says that: “-it is important that Kingston remind us that not all women have acces to the remarkable reserves of strength and inflexible will that have served her mother ” (Hunt 10) In the final chapter of the book, “A Song For A Barbarian Reed Pipe”, she says more about her rage at her Chinese legacy and strategies she found by making peace with that legacy.
The narrator tells the reader how as a teenager she accumulated in her mind a lot of truths about herself and how she tried to confess to her mother. She says that she tried to confess to brave Orchid, she only found her mother was just not interested: “ I shout my mouth,but I felt something alive tearing at my throat, bite by bite,from the inside”(The Warrior Woman, 100) One night she was having dinner and finally and her“throat burst open” and she stood up burbling and talking saying that she will never get married to “that hulk, that gorilla-ape” and threatened her mother that if she sees the man again she will go away for good.
Her outburst towards her mother has an important breakthrough, that she has to make a choice and being an outsider makes her to speak free. Maxine feels like she needs to get away from the Chinese-American community and she says to her mother:“Even if I am stupid and talking funny and get sick, I won’t let you turn me in to a slave or a wife. I’m getting out of here. I can’t stand living here anymore. It’s your fault”(The Woman Warrior 201) In her autobiography, Maxine Hong Kingston tries to be both, a woman warrior and a Chinese for other Chinese women and girls.
And as Hunt says that Kingston’s autobiography is a masterpiece which has her own theme of diverse cultural realities and that she is reminding us to be careful when embracing a universal notion of what it means to be a woman. I think we have something to learn through this book and how to fight for our rights and how to fit in to a world with different nationalities,histories and traditions and as Hunt says there will always xist:“Agonizing contradicitions between allegiance to gender and fidelity to some other dimension of one’s cultural background- and this might be race or class instead of or as well as ethnicity- may be a common place of the female experience” (Hunt 12) I agree with Linda Hunt who said that Maxine Hong Kingston tried very hard to find a way to break out the silence which her anxiety created and she finally succeeded but the alienation may be one of the most profound obstacles women have to face in finding their inner voices.