Culture ideas, symbols, norms and values play a significant role in the creation of women images and the differentiation of gender roles. In fact, women still combat traditional stereotypes of women’s roles in different societies and in the home. It is argued by the Chinese communists that the Confucian hierarchies have justified class oppressions in our history and that women were the biggest victims of Confucianism. By analysing the novel’s characterization of The Woman Warrior, this is a powerful exploration of the female role in Chinese society facing the struggles with the old tradition’s cultural issues and gender relations. This analysis will reveal the struggles and issues by looking at how Kingston’s use of characterizations to symbolize the truth and the women human problems, how Kingston depicts the characters on different Chinese women she met in her life in the corresponding settings of imaginary female roles in the novel, and exploring how old traditions evolved and influenced women in this novel.
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In order to provide a basis for understanding the woman oppression and the role of woman identity, it is helpful to look at the meaning of the depiction on the main character of The Woman Warrior, such as “No-Name Woman”, “Fa Mu Lan”, “Moon Orchid”, and “The silent girl” to see how women are treated differently and to see how she built into the theme. The narrator, Maxine Hong Kingston collects a total of five stories based on her life experiences. The stories consist of different characters that are mainly female to set up the theme that Chinese women were facing different issues because gender is socially and culturally constructed. Yet the uses of characters are more than just introducing the characters for readers to see and understand the characters, she effectively uses the characters to symbolize the truth and the women human problems where she tries to leave words to readers. She describes the characters in her stories as “poor” and afflicted in both their mind and body. She successfully uses the effective technique to make readers feel as if they are in the same room with the person using characterization as metaphors.
In the novel, she first introduces “no name woman” who is her aunt in the way that allows readers to be drawn into image and exploitation. The narrator started retelling her mom’s story about her aunt “no name woman”. Kingston’s mother tells the narrator a family secret about her “drown-in-the-well aunt” who had her existence erased by her own family. She writes,
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.” (Kingston 1.1)
In essence, Kingston knows nothing about her aunt but she only knows she is an excluded person in her family from her mother’s tone. Her nameless aunt who was married but had a baby outside her marriage while her husband was away for work was punished for messing up the order of relationship. The villagers threw rocks and food to raid her house as punishment for her messing up the order of relationship. Eventually, she killed herself by drowning in the family well with her new born baby. Through effective uses of characterization, Kingston is able to transmit the truth though her mother’s story. The passage above shows as a warning to Kingston. It is meant to warn Kingston to avoid being a disgraceful and disloyal woman like her aunt. It also reveals that being a woman is supposed to be careful and loyal. At the end of the chapter, Kingston also makes her own assumptions that she imagines her aunt was a victim of a horrible rape and that the baby who was killed was a baby girl. Kingston writes,
“To be a woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was a waste enough. My aunt could have been the lone romantic who gave everything up for sex. Women in the old China did not choose. Some-man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil.”(Kingston 1.6)
Reputation plays a vital role in the past and even now. In the context shows her aunt has no right to complain and she has no choice in the affair. Her aunt clearly limits her rights. However, her only right to choose on her own is to commit suicide to drown herself with the baby into the family well. The nameless woman assumingly faces severe feminine oppression is a precise example of how the settings are portrayed that having no human rights and freedom of choice for Chinese women. From this particular chapter, Chinese women’s oppression reflects the human problems of having no basic women empowerment, women’s human rights, and women’s freedom of choice. In the book of Advancing the human rights of women, it states concerns of the position of the women. The United Nations sets as a basic goals “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human right in the dignity and worth of human person, in equal right of men and women” (Andrew P.171) Kingston appears to resent the standards that Chinese women are faced with. Throughout the book, Kingston is rebelling from the standard of how people of Chinese tradition think other females should act and conform. She struggles to accept the pattern of conformity, and she refuses to understand a culture that she is a part of.
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Despite the fact that Chinese traditional society states that women were subordinated to men, Kingston views that in a different way that women can be brave, strong and courageous rather than treated like slaves. An imaginary example of a woman’s role of is Fa Mu Lan who is depicted as a heroic woman. The story about this heroic character is a perfect contracted example of a low-value woman and a powerful woman. Fa Mu Lan is who Kingston wants to be like. The strongest woman, stronger than any man is in the chapter of White Tiger. Mu Lan is a role model for Kingston’s life. She is a fierce warrior, and she is also a woman. Kingston ponders that she and Fa Mu Lan are not so much different; “they both have swords on their backs” (Kingston 2.189). It also influences her being as a woman and also a warrior using powerful words.
In the context, Kingston is often angry and frustrated regarding the role of women through her Chinese-American’s life. In Chinese society, Confucianism is regarded as a code of conduct, a set of virtues that should be obeyed and delivered as a part of Chinese traditions. Women in Confucian society are seen as below men. Women and men have an almost “servant and master” type of relationship. Most women are keepers of the household; far less women are educated than men. A woman’s most important task is to create a son for her husband (Confucianism). Nai-Hua, Ko in her essay on Familism in Confucianism investigates the world of women and men in Chinese society. She begins with Chinese charaters, and indicates “The Chinese character for “woman” shows a female figure sitting at home. On the other hand, the Chinese character for “man” is a combination of “field” and “labor” (Familism P.4) After marriage, this is the simple structure for women and men in old Chinese society.
Women should always be subordinate to men. The story of The Western Palace is also giving a conflicting message for this idea of representing the old China. Setting things with Moon Orchid’s husband, Kingston’s depiction in this chapter leaves some debated concerns about feminine anger on old traditional issues. In truth, Brave Orchid is incredibly proven as typical of feminist hero once understanding how valiantly her mother has fought to retain a sense of identity and dignity in America. Moreover, Kingston’s mother also cites that the role of a wife is to “scold her husband into becoming a good man” (Kingston 4.130). In contrast, Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid’s sister was described as weak and uncoordinated from Kingston’s writing. In this chapter, there is a less humorous example where Brave Orchid forces Moon Orchid to confront her husband. Moon Orchid always seems scared and worried about seeing her own husband because she is afraid that the United States doesn’t allow for two wives. She wants her sister Brave Orchid to be with her to talk with her husband. Moon Orchid is passive that she depends on other people to guide her for the reason that she is infused by the Confucian hierarchies. The scene in this chapter implies the significant impacts of these traditional influences to both characters’ life. Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid are two Chinese women who live in two different countries. Moon Orchid assumes that the old traditions will carry over in the new country and asserts. However, Kingston’s portrayal of her mother is a more factual warrior as a Chinese American immigrant.
Within The Woman Warrior, the reader must know for a more comprehensive understanding of the depiction on characterizations. Kingston has emphasized the fact that how different women’s roles in Chinese traditions facing the struggles with the cultural issues. By the depiction of the characters throughout the novel, she determines her aunt and Moon Orchid are both unfortunate Chinese women who are victims of old Chinese traditions because the power of Chinese traditions philosophy carried through women. Despite the narrator’s problems with traditions, the unique qualities of Fa Mu lan also inspire Kingston to find her own definition of “woman warrior.” Kingston tries to expound her individuality and her mother’s identity as a Chinese-American woman who is also facing the struggles and issues because of deliberate misinterpretation of Chinese traditions.
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