Literature Study GuidesThe Woman WarriorA Song For A Barbarian Reed Pipe Bully Summary

The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe (Bully) | Summary



In Maxine Hong Kingston's Chinese school class, there is a girl who is completely silent, except for when she reads aloud. Kingston hates her for her silence, and one day, when she stays late after school to play with the sports equipment, the girl is there. The silent girl follows her into the lavatory, and Kingston gets in the girl's face, saying she is going to make her talk. She pinches her cheeks, pulls her hair, and screams in the girl's ears, making the girl cry. The worse Kingston is to the girl, the more the girl cries. Kingston insults her, telling her she is a nothing and no one will marry her.

Then Kingston begins to cry and says she will give the girl candy if she speaks. Kingston goes on and on about how bad the girl's life is going to be if she never speaks. Kingston knows her mother is going to wonder where she is and might call the police on her. Luckily for Kingston, the girl's sister comes in looking for her and takes the silent girl home. Kingston is spared punishment from her mother, but not by the gods. For the next 18 months, she is confined to her bed with a mysterious sickness.


The bullying scene is one of the moments in Maxine Hong Kingston's life of which she is most ashamed, but she never tells her mother about it. As she begins to cry, her frustration and anger appear to be partially directed inward, hating herself for being quiet and for stifling herself, slowing down her life and limiting how far she can reach outside her comfort zone. All of the insults she hurls at the girl could just as well be insults she hurls at herself. They are all insults her mother has flung her way: no one will marry her; no one will take care of her; people think she is dumb. However, none of them stick, and none of them work. Kingston's mother's insults work very well to get under Kingston's skin, but all Kingston succeeds in doing to the silent girl is bruising her cheeks and making her sob so hard her nose drips everywhere.

It's almost justice that Kingston becomes ill and no one can figure out why. The incident with the silent girl reflects the pinnacle of her frustration with herself and her life. Having to conduct her life from a bed for 18 months and not deal with anyone or anything feels to her like a long vacation from stress.

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