Maxine Hong Kingston was born on October 27, 1940 and is still alive to this present day. She was born in Stockton, California as a second generation of her Chinese family to be here in America. Her father, Tom Hong was a laundry worker, and her mother, Ying Lan Hong was a practitioner of medicine. Together, they had a total of eight children; Kingston being the third.
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Kingston attended the University of California, Berkley majoring in engineering. She then switched her major to English later on in her college years. In the year of 1962, she married an actor by the name of Earl Kingston. The year after that, they had their first son together, Joseph Lawrence Chung Mei. In 1965, She received her teaching certificate and began a high school teaching career. She and her family relocated to Hawaii in the year of 1967. By this time, she began to be serious about her writing. She published her first book in the year of 1975 with the help of Vintage Books.
In an interview that was held by American Literary History, Kingston mentioned her admiration of other authors by the name of Walt Whitman , Virginia Woolf, and William Carlos Williams. Of these authors, she notes the rhythm of their language, the freedom and wildness of the language they write. She is inspired by the fact that these authors write in a way that we don’t have to be ‘constrained to being just one ethnic group or gender.’` which makes her feel as if she can now write as a man, a black person, or a white person.
Form, Structure, & Plot
In the book The Woman Warrior, Kingston has organized the novel to tell the stories of five different women that she has encountered in her life. Three of these women are relatives; one is a mythical character; and the last woman mentioned in her book, is herself. She starts off with the story of her long-dead aunt, or as she calls her, the ‘No-Name Woman’ that has shamed her family. Her second story is the mythical story of Fa Mu Lan, a victorious female warrior. The following story tells us about the struggle that her mother has made back home in China.
In each chapter, there was a different story of how each woman lived. There were multiple plots, each story having its own plot. In the novel, time was really something that really didn’t exist to her. At the beginning of the book, she started with a flashback of the time that her mother told her a talk-story so that she would learn her lesson as to why she shouldn’t shame her family. She then went back centuries ago to tell us the mythical story of Fa Mu Lan, to her mothers own time and her struggle back in China, to her aunt, Moon Orchid’ story, and to herself in the present day.
Point of View
Kingston’s narrative perspective approach on her novel is very different of any other books I have read. Kingston writes her novel from a first and third person point of view. She includes the words ‘I’ which tells us that this novel was written as a limited narrative. With five different stories written, her novel varies from a reminiscent and recent perspective. Her stories are told from the past to present.
Kingston shows her first point of view with a protagonist voice when she is talking as her own self, an American; and when she tells her mythical story and portrays herself as the woman warrior Fa Mu Lan. As the voice of herself, she acts as a protagonist. As the voice of Fa Mu Lan, she is simply an observer.
Writing in third person point of view, she talks about her long dead aunt, who has shamed her family; her mother, Brave Orchid, who tells her struggle back in China; and her aunt, Moon Orchid, who eventually dies in a mental asylum. In all three of these stories, Kingston acts again simply as an observer telling us the story of three different women.
Throughout the novel, her point of view switches entirely from third person, to first person, to third, and back to first person. As a reader, this effects me greatly so that I may come to understand the story more.
Beginning her novel with the ‘No Name Woman’, this flat character stayed statistic and was revealed directly. This aunt of hers was brought up into the story by her mother who told Kingston that she was a sister of her father’s that had killed herself in the well along with her newborn baby. I believe that she was a round character because in this story she stays quiet about herself being pregnant, telling no one.
In the story of Fa Mu Lan, this character was introduced indirectly. At the beginning of this chapter, you wouldn’t be able to figure out who was talking. And along the way, you’d finally see that it was another person, someone mythical. Fa Mu Lan is a round character that changes dynamically going from a simple girl who finds herself on a mountain top training to become the strongest woman warrior that influenced many.
Her mother’s story begins indirectly as well. Alike with Fa Mu Lan, you wouldn’t be able to tell who was talking but you will pick up along the way. In this story, Her mother is a flat, static character that succeeds in China as a medicine woman.
The story with the character of her aunt, Moon Orchid, comes in a direct approach telling us that she is a sister of Kingston’s mother that is coming to ‘the Golden Mountain’ for the very first time. I believe that this character is a round character that is static.
Lastly, Kingston tells her own story. The character of her self is a round and dynamic character that changes over time and maturity. She grows up as a weird child that always disagrees with her mother and is always put last in her class. And when she is grown, she acts more mature and has come to accept her mother and her own culture.
One central character from the book is Fa Mu Lan. When introduced, she is a girl at the age of seven. Before she began her training, she was a ‘little girl of seven’ (pg 20), during training, she is a respectful child that knows how to treat her elders, and after training, she becomes the strongest person in China, winning victory from a giant and over throwing the Emperor. When she is in battle, she appears to look like a man. And when she marries the love of her life, ‘she is beautiful’ (pg 39).
Another one of the characters goes by the name of the Brave Orchid. Brave Orchid starts in the book at the age of thirty-seven. Brave Orchid is a woman with a medical diploma, with ‘thick brows’ (pg 58), ‘lips full’ (pg 58), and ‘spacy eyes’ (pg 58). Her mother is the type of mother to tell many talk-stories as Kingston was growing up.
The Woman Warrior occurs in both China and America. The time varies throughout the novel. Kingston went from family past, to centuries ago, to her mothers past, her childhood past, and finally to her recent years. In China, the setting is described differently in each of the stories. These stories differ from taking place in Chinese villages, to a more urban China, and lastly, here in America.
In the stories of her long dead aunt, the story is told back in their village of Canton, China; same with half the story of Fa Mu Lan. The other half that Fa Mu Lan takes place in is in the mountains and heavens, where Fa Mu Lan does her training. Fa Mu Lan then goes back to China on the battlefield to defeat many of those she has wanted to avenge. And Fa Mu Lan’s last visit is to where the Emperor lives so that she can overthrow the Emperor that did his people wrong. With the story of her mother, it takes place in a more urban area where her mom works with medicine. The story of her aunt, Moon Orchid takes place in America where she immigrates. Later on in this story Kingston’s mother, Brave Orchid takes her sister to Los Angeles, California to confront Moon Orchids husband. And at last, the story of herself takes which place in America. Where Kingston changes her attitude because she feels as though these Chinese cultural behaviors don’t suit her because she is in want to become more free like Americans.
Above all, Kingston’s diction throughout The Woman Warrior was very formal.
When telling us about the pain she felt as she was being cut, she didn’t simply say ‘it hurt’ she gave detail which made us understand she, as Fa Mu Lan, was feeling saying that ‘It hurt terribly ‘ the cuts sharp; the air burning; the alcohol cold, then hot ‘ pain so carious.’ (pg 35). Kingston uses imagery many times through the book. Her language can be very detailed when describing nature itself describing to us that the ‘water was so clear it magnified the fibers in the walls of the gourd’ (pg 22). She can be flowery when she described what the old people’s house looked like with ‘Ferns and shade flowers that grew out of one wall, the mountainside itself’ (pg 21).
In the novel, There is much dialogue going on between one character and another. Usually it is only an A, B conversation. These dialogue voices can vary differently from the narrative voice. Some dialogues can be those of she and her mother arguing and the narrators voice can be the one of her more mature self that has accepted her mother. Usually the dialogue between one character from another wouldn’t be so different in this novel; unless of course they were on separate sides of an argument.
‘A rock grew in the middle of the house, and that was their table. The benches were fallen trees. Ferns and shade flowers grew out of the wall, the mountainside itself. The old couple tucked me into a bed just my width. ‘Breathe evenly, or you’ll lose your balance and fall out,’ said the woman, covering me with a silk bag stuffed with feathers and herbs. ‘Opera singers, who begin their training at five, sleep in beds like this.’ Then the two of them went outside, and through the window I could see them pull on a rope looped over a branch. The rope was tied to the roof, and the roof opened up like a basket lid. I would sleep with the moon and the stars. I did not see whether the old people slept, so quickly did I drop off, but they would be there waking me with food in the morning’ (pg 21)
One spring morning I was at work with my tent repairing equipment, patching my clothes, and studying maps when a voice said, ‘General, may I visit you in your tent, please?’ As if it were my own home, I did not allow strangers in my tent. And since I had no family with me, no one ever visited inside. Riverbanks, hillsides, the cool slopped rooms under the pine trees ‘ China provides her soldiers with meeting places enough. I opened the tent flap. And there in the sunlight stood my husband with arms full of wildflowers for me. ‘You are beautiful,’ he said, and meant it truly. ‘I have looked for you everywhere. I’ve been looking for you since the day that bird flew away with you.’ We were so pleased with each other, the childhood friend found at last, the childhood friend mysteriously grown up. ‘I followed you, but you skimmed over the rocks until I lost you.” (pg 39)
Kingston style of syntax can be shown through the way she writes her sentences. Her sentences are rarely simple and short. Usually they are long, or medium length. Usual sentences range from ten to thirty words per sentence. Her choice of words is very formal. Instead of saying ‘don’t’ she separates it and says ‘do not’. Her sentence structures can have different patterns to them for example, ‘It hurt terribly ‘ the cuts sharp; the air burning; the alcohol cold, then hot ‘ pain so carious.’ (pg 35). Here she uses dashes and semi colons to add more affect when the reader is reading this to understand her pain more in this quote.
In passage #2, Kingston creates a more calming effect to show how passionate Fa Mu Lan and her husband are when they see each other for the first time in many years. Her word choices make a big impact on what goes on through our head when we read this passage. When Kingston had said ‘One spring morning’ we think of the nature, the trees and flowers all around and the morning breeze. She says that a voice, but didn’t tell us whose which makes it more suspicious at the fact that she not only has a visitor, but a visitor that we don’t know, that we don’t expect. When she tells us that ‘no one ever visited Fa Mu Lan’, it gives u more suspicion as to why this visitor wanted to talk to her in the first place. Then, when Fa Mu Lan ‘opened the tent flap’, ‘there in the sunlight stood her husband with his arms fill of wildflowers for her’ which gives us a sense of happiness that they are finally together.
Sight: ‘I searched the house, hunting out people for trial.’ (pg 44)
Hearing: ‘Sounds did not come out of her mouth, sobs, chokes, noises that were almost words.’ (pg 178)
Taste: ‘The teapot and the rice pot seemed bottomless, but perhaps not; the old couple ate very little except for the peaches.’ (pg 21)
Smell: ‘Forbiddingly, I caught the smell ‘ metallic, the iron smell of blood, as when a woman gives birth, as at the sacrifice of a large animal as when I menstruated and dreamed red dreams.’ (pg 34)
Touch: ‘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’ (pg 15)
Imagery is important when it adds on more detail to whatever is occurring in the novel. It is important because as readers, it helps us understand the author’s point of view more. It helps us feel as if we were there, or we were to share the experience with them.
In the legend of Fa Mu Lan, the bird that has guided her up the mountain symbolizes many things. It can mean that the bird was in a way like her guide through her life, a guide through the obstacles that were in her life as well. For example, when she cut her feet and fingers, she still kept following the bird because it was guiding her.
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Another way that Kingston used symbols was another bird to symbolize death. When Kingston tells us the story of her poor Communist uncle, because he was tricked by the bird when he tries to catch a bird after climbing up the tree. The point of that was to get food for his family and himself. But he failed miserably when guards caught him then his body was left on the tree to rot to scare the people and to show them what would happen to them.
A different symbol would be the use of mountains. Here in the novel, mountains were used as a type of getaway. In Fa Mu Lan, she gets away from her village to a mythical place to become stronger. In ‘Shaman’, it was also a getaway for the villagers to escape the Japanese bombings. And the ‘Gold Mountain’ also known, as America was a new beginning for immigrants wanting to leave their country.
When Kingston’s mother, moves to America, she refers to the Americans as ‘ghosts’. She tells her children about the dangers of white ghosts, which are far more scarier than the black ghosts because the black ghosts are less sneakier than the white ghosts. Kingston’s mother, Brave Orchid, makes up things for her children to beware like the newspaper ghost, the taxi ghost, the bus boy ghost, the coach ghost, and the teacher ghost.
In the novel, Kingston uses situation irony when she talks about Fa Mu Lan coming home. The day after Fa Mu Lan spends at her home, she is asked by her mother to follow her and keep her nightclothes on. She is then asked to kneel before her ancestors and take off her shirt. As a reader I thought that it was weird to kneel in front of your ancestors half naked. Soon after, Fa Mu Lan’s mother ‘washed her back as if she had left for only a day and were her baby yet.’ Then we find out that her parents are going to ‘carve revenge on her back’.
After knowing this, I thought why would her parents scar her back and make her go through so much pain the day right after she got back and haven’t seen her in many years. Reading this I couldn’t quiet understand why the Chinese culture expects so much from their off springs.
Throughout the book, Kingston keeps the same formal tone. She tells us about her life, her culture, her experiences that she has had in her life. She shares stories of her aunt and how she lost her respect for one mistake; a myth that she was a part of her life growing up as a little girl. She told us about her family’s struggle on their way here to America and their life as well. How well her family succeeded, and how bad her family failed.
Other times in her novel, Kingston shows an attitude of anger, like when she was trying to make the quiet girl talk but couldn’t so Kingston tried to make her by physical force like ‘pulling the hair growing out of her weak neck’ (pg 178) and making the girl cry. Even though she was crying Kingston still kept yelling at her, beating her, anything she could do just to make the quiet girl talk. But in the end, the girl still never talked.
The tone of passion was shown when Kingston described the first time Fa Mu Lan saw her husband. She used imagery like ‘one spring morning’ (pg 39) so that we can all imagine a crisp morning filled with flowers everywhere. When she tells us that her husbands ‘arm is full of wildflowers’ added more to the tone. Made us feel touched that he still cared for her and still looked for her after all these years she was gone triaging in the mountain with the old people to become what she is now.
‘You should never be afraid to do anything in your life.’
All the stories that Kingston has given us are life lessons. Her long dead aunt could’ve done something about the pregnancy. If she knew she was pregnant, she should’ve ran away to another village or spoken up if she were raped. She was too afraid to actually do anything about her baby, so in the end, she committed suicide.
With Fa Mu Lan, she was brave. She took the chances that she got and stuck to her choice. She pushed all the way through and overthrew the Emperor. On her way up the mountain, even though she was getting scrapes and cuts on her fingers and feet, she still kept going up the mountain, determined to follow the bird that led her on. She stayed with the old people and now she is as strong as ever. She made her army grow stronger and stronger so then, she was able to over throw the Emperor.
Kingston’s intention is to show us that all we really need to do is pursue our dreams and goals in life. If we stick to them like her mother, Fa Mu Lan, and herself, we can live our happily ever after like any talk-story that ends happily as Fa Mu Lans.
Significance of the Title
The Woman Warrior basically sums up the whole book. Because every story that was in this book was a woman who fought her own battle, making her a warrior. Some lost women, and some succeeded as life went on. For example, the long dead aunt dealt with the fact that villagers came to her home and ruin everything. And her aunt that had migrated to America dealt with a different atmosphere here, her loss of her husband to another woman, and her mind going insane.
The women who won their life battle Fa Mu Lan, Kingston’s mother, Brave Orchid, and Kingston herself are women we can look up to. Fa Mu Lan became the strongest out of everyone in China, and as a woman I think that is something very honorable. Brave Orchid, had a diploma for medicine.
‘The other letters said that my uncles were made to kneel on broken glass during their trials and had confessed to being landowners. They were all executed, and the aunt whose thumbs were twisted off drowned herself.’ (pg 50)
The significance of this passage shows what communism can lead to, tragedy.
‘Then the two of them went outside, and through the window I could see them pull on a rope looped over a branch. The rope was tied to the roof, and the roof opened up like a basket lid. I would sleep with the moon and the stars.’ (pg 21)
This passage shows us the creative mind that Kingston has.
‘It hurt terribly ‘ the cuts sharp; the air burning; the alcohol cold, then hot ‘ pain so carious.’
The passage above shows us how cruel and how dedicative it is to show your respect in the Chinese culture.
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