One of the assigned reading books in the class was The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. This book covered the culture clash between the modern American and traditional Chinese cultures. We were given a list of topics that we could write about, in this case I combined two prompts which I can't completely remember at the moment...its been a while since I wrote this.
February 10, 1997
In Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, The Woman Warrior, Kingston touches upon several aspects of life common to all. Her experiences as a child were illustrated through this book. People not of the Chinese culture were seen as ghosts in this child's world. The similarities between Kingston's childhood, and the reader's help make this novel universally readable. The images created by Kinston, and the parallels between her life and others justify the creation of The Woman Warrior.
When writing an autobiography, it is the goal of the author to point out the lessons of her life to others. While the lessons expressed are not always unique, each has its purpose. Parent child differences are common; caused by changing times and beliefs. Kingston not only had to deal with the generation gap, but she had to deal with the dissimilar Chinese and American mindset and traditions. Kingston often explained in detail how her mother acts in certain situations. Maxine often felt embarrassed by her mom; when they received a wrong prescription, her mother wanted retribution from the pharmacist. It would be complex for Maxine to explain the situation to the store clerk, who would not understand. As a child such a situation is confusing, explaining to mom will not help, she is not American. Those who have not encountered a similar situation can still correlate the predicament the one's experiences.
Telling stories is a tradition of many cultures. Parents tell of a mystical event, or sometimes of a person. Knowing the history of one's ancestors is important. As a whole, people are always making mistakes; to correct them the error must be remembered so that the same act is not repeated. "She could not have been pregnant, you see, because her husband has been gone for years."(1) In the No Name Woman story, her mother told of the aunt who had been disowned from the family. The story stayed in Maxine's memory for years until she began to grasp the underlying meanings of that tale. Kingston's mother also told of her life and ancestors. These stories had two key purposes: to teach Maxine the mistakes of her forebears, and to illustrate the culture that she comes from. Maxine's mother wanted her to be aware of their Chinese roots, and to be proud of her heritage.
Those displaced, out of place, stay within their circle; a group of the same people. Because people remain with their kind, outsiders are seen as ghosts, and those ghosts see them in the same light, as alien. Facing uncertainty is handled differently by each person. Certain people like Brave Orchid handle the change well. Her sister, Moon Orchid, reacted in a different manner. Being without her husband, and away from the servants in Hong Kong, Moon Orchid goes insane. The other people of Maxine's neighborhood each had a particular way of handling culture shock. Left as a child, Crazy Mary "often pointed at things not there."(187) At school, the Chinese girls were quiet; they were among ghosts. Once they were at Chinese school, many of them became loud and talkative. In a way they chose to isolate themselves inside their culture, much like their parents. Raised in this detached environment, Kingston lived a Girlhood Among Ghosts.
Some of the women in society found their voices while others did not. Those who found their voice, like Brave Orchid, excelled and did more than the other women. Instead of being a lowly slave, Brave Orchid went on to medical school and became a respected doctor among the villagers. In the chapter White Tigers, Fa Mu Lan avenges her village and begins a peasant revolution in China. A lone woman battling with the men leads them to victory. Brave Orchid and Fa Mu Lan represent the stronger people of society. When given a voice people can rise above the others. Those, like the little girl, who lack a voice are destined to become a slave. Before the Communist regime, women in China were repressed. Those without a voice represent the suppressed individuals. While characters with a voice encompass the aspects that people strive to achieve.
Heroes help provide direction in life. In stories, mythical idols like Fa Mu Lan accomplished many things, giving a source of inspiration to the unfortunate. These stories gave a person something to accomplish, a goal that can be reached. They depict how one can do anything even if at times it seems impossible to do. Brave Orchid was a village shaman who would only treat those who were not dying. This was her way of making herself appear a better doctor. No one would want to be treated by a physician whose patients died. Maxine's mother is also reluctant to show her Medical diploma from China. She said, "The sweat of hard work is not to be displayed. It is much more graceful to appear favored by the gods."(??) Modesty is an attribute to one's personality, an especially important one in Chinese culture.
Kingston recalls several events during her childhood in Stockton, during The Woman Warrior. No matter where one is from, one's parent child relations have similarities to those told in this novel. In every life there are people considered outsiders, those outsiders are ghosts to certain people. The biographical events on which this book is based provide a universal foundation for Kingston's novel.
Copyright, © Greg Wittel 1996-2000. All Rights Reserved.
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