The Woman Warrior

HL106 Research Paper

Against The Woman Warrior: Discuss the sorts of attacks that critics have made against The Woman Warrior. Do you agree with the charge that Kingston is creating characters designed to appeal to American stereotypes about China?

Characterized by a complex interplay of Chinese and American discourses, Kingston uses the stories the The Woman Warrior presenting how an Asian-American struggles to discover his/her own identity through her superstition, myths and also personal experiences. As much as many of the themes brought up in this memoir are still evident in society and particularly China today - the oppression of woman as a lower being compared to males and the legalism in those days, many critics refute the entire accuracy of these claims.

Through both the subtle and blatant shifts from reality to fantasy, from actuality to myth, Kingston's brings out the voice of women in the Chinese society and the theme of voice and silence. In this essay we will discuss the criticism made against The Woman Warrior and the theme of voice and silence.

As Frank Chin strongly critics Asian-American writers being stereotypical about the Chinese culture “Every Chinese American autobiography and work of autobiographical fiction... has been written by Christian Chinese so foul, so cruel to women, so perverse, that all the good Chinese are driven by the moral imperative to kill it.” Chin caricatures Kingston's work as “the fake,” and also challenges her very use of the autobiographical form, arguing that autobiography with its basis in the Western metaphysical tradition and the Christian confession would never capture the sensibility or the imagination of Chinese America.4 (Yuan Shu 200)

Indeed, given the subtle and complex nature of the problems of cultural and ethnic representation, we can say that this book presents a less than adequate perspective of the Chinese culture. From the book, it claims that to have a daughter in starvation time was a waste enough, there is no profit to raise girls and that raising geese is more profitable than raising girls. Such stereotypes of the oppression of women during the olden days in China are common in this text. It is perhaps inaccurate to describe the generic structure of a Chinese American autobiography as defining of a expression of the Chinese stereotype. Just like Chin puts it. “How do we account for their consistency with each other?” (Frank Chin 8)

However, we cannot deny that Kingston's presentations are totally invalid. It is very evident that in today's world, we have not completely conquered the stereotype of women being the weaker link. In many countries, such ideas have been rooted for centuries and are feminists are still struggling to gain power despite the dispute for thousands of years. We can also argue that Chin oversimplifies Kingston's purpose of deconstructing the oppositions of American and Chinese, between the male and female in her quest of search for her personal identity and individuality. The Woman Warrior indeed holds many layers articulated through the voices of her experiences and myths. Just like the Fa Mu Lan's mind, Kingston's text is “large... so that there is room for paradoxes” (Outka 452). Kingston uses the power of language in Fa Mu Lan where she herself in fantasy becomes a figure “told of in fairy tales,” remembered and revered. Even though many parts of the books seems to be non-fictional, relating tales that has been passed down from another generation, as seen in Fa Mu Lan,

“Here is a story my mother told me, not when I was young, but recently, when I told her I also talk-story. The beginning is hers, the ending, mine. (Kingston 206)” Kingston perhaps often alters the myths substantially and thus this selective expression of the stories she has interpreted from her mother is another way of her own self-construction. Kingston just represents one of many different perspectives in the Asian American literary. Asian American realities should not be defined through literature. Her stories are perhaps stories within the story of Kingston's search for her identity and roots.

Right from the start of this book, Kingston and her no-name aunt's identities seem to be shaped by silence. “You must not tell anyone” The opening lines of The Woman Warrior are an irony in itself as Kingston presents the truth which was not suppose to be told to everyone. In the first story of the “No Name Woman”, the aunt 'kept the man's name to herself throughout her labour and dying' (Kingston 18), we realize that silence is not only a way of protecting her father and the family from shame, but also a form of punishment for her aunt as she is denied of her voice and expression. Throughout the story, Brave Orchid also warns Kingston about the possibility of the same thing happening to her as she matures into puberty. Perhaps, the writing of this autobiography is Kingston's &lsqou;rebellion' to the silence that she has held for many years of her life significantly in this chapter, Kingston displays her break of silence with a irony from the start of the book.

Moving on to the later parts of the chapters, we discover her silence during the childhood as she was schooling “During the first silent year, I spoke to no one in school”, “the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl”. Spending most of her life being confused about why and how her background affected her freedom of expression and mindsets, Kingston successfully satisfies the recollected past as brings us to find her strength to reconcile with her roots and the emotions that has held strong in her heart. This could perhaps be due to the relationship with her mother, Brave Orchid. As Kingston reveals how disillusioned she is with the cultural expectations in order to assert her voice “When I get to college, it won't matter if I'm not charming. And it doesn't matter if a person is ugly; she can still do schoolwork” (Kingston 201). Brave Orchid responds by saying that Kingston is not ugly. Kingston then refutes her saying that Brave Orchid has always told Kingston that she was ugly, her mother replies, “That's what we're supposed to say. That's what Chinese say. We like to say the opposite” (203). As a young woman who is growing up into puberty and developing her identity, Because of her mother's silence and emotional reservations, it causes Kingston pain as she grows up believing herself to be inadequate and ugly. Kingston says “It seemed to hurt her to tell me that” (203). The cultural expectation - that women remain silent concerning personal matter and humble concerning compliments - however encourages Kingston to evaluate both her cultural expectations and roles and her individuality. (Allison D. Schisler)

We notice also to parallel of the stories when Brave Orchid was in power against the ghosts and of Fa Mu Lan, in great detail, Kingston's own search for identity and culturally instantiated fear is embodied and externalized in her mother's tales which in vivid detail crosses into the supernatural realm, mythic of horses, songs, revenge and ghosts. In The Woman Warrior, as she finally musters much of the skills taught to her, Fa Mu Lan which Kingston fantasies herself as says “I'm a female avenger” which is much contrast with the reality as we read the rest of the book with her and even particularly women being discriminated against and victimized. “My American life has been such a disappointment.” (Kingston 45)

The juxtapose of Chinese and Chinese-American woman is also brought to our attention as we see Fa Mu Lan, a brave Chinese female warrior being contrasted with Moon Orchid and the No Name woman who are in contrast weak, unsuccessful, inarticulate and victims of circumstances. We can agree that to a certain extent, Kingston creates the characters of Moon Orchid and No Name woman designed to appeal to American stereotypes about China dealing with the plight of women. The depiction of Chinese men and society in general as misogynist in being brought out in the text through the stories where women are always the one being victimized and having to keep silent. “Don't let your father know that I told you.” (Kingston 5) In conclusion, Kingston's work could be interpreted as a autobiography taking liberties with the traditional and cultural facts, including fictional elements in her narrative that are offered as face. However, as we look at the last chapter, we see Kingston's journey of youth to adulthood beginning with her as a baby and ending with her in the present-day role as a writer. We also see some of her most pivotal moments and phases of her life: as a silent, insecure and isolated girl, a rebellious teen who blames Brave Orchid for what she faces. Gradually Kingston begins to learn to be ‘separated' from this past and becomes mature, embracing it to find strength to write The Woman Warrior. Her memoir spurs us to think about what is indeed the true identity of the American, the Chinese and American-Chinese identity.

Works Cited

  1. Yuan Shu. Cultural Politics and Chinese-American Female Subjectivity: Rethinking Kingston's “Woman Warrior” Vol. 26, No. 2, Identities pp. 199-223. Summer, 2001.The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) Web.
  2. Frank Chin. “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake.” The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature Ed. Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong. New York:Meridian, 1991. Print.
  3. Paul Outka. Publish or Perish: Food, Hunger, and Self-Construction in Maxine Hong Kingston's “The Woman Warrior” Vol 38. No 3 pp. 447-482. Autumn 1997. University of Wisconsin Press. Web. Maxine Hong Kingston The Woman Warrior Great Britain, 1977. Print
  4. Allison D. Schisler Identity Shaped by Silence Female Voice in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior suite101 Oct, 2008. Web.
  5. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Woman Warrior.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 9 Nov. 2009.
  6. Donna Woodford, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.

Chin not only challenges Kingston's sense of Chinese-American identity and community, but also problematizes her use of the autobiographical form as a symptom of subjection to the Western desire. He claims that Kingston manifests the effect of assimilation and westernization, and misinforms her readers about gender and identity configuration in Chinese-American culture: “She takes Fa Mulan, turns her into a champion of Chinese feminism and an inspiration to Chinese American girls to dump the Chinese race and make for white universal- ity” (27).

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