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

The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "The Woman Warrior Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 Feb. 2017. Web. 21 Nov. 2018. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, February 7). The Woman Warrior Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 21, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "The Woman Warrior Study Guide." February 7, 2017. Accessed November 21, 2018.


Course Hero, "The Woman Warrior Study Guide," February 7, 2017, accessed November 21, 2018,

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



Maxine Hong Kingston is bedridden for a full 18 months, and no one knows why she is ill. Even so, her mother insists she get up after that time and go back to school. She has to relearn to talk. At school, she sees the silent girl she was so mean to, who hasn't changed at all. She finds out the girl is completely protected by her family, and her sister never marries so that she can stay to take care of her.

Kingston becomes weary of all of the secrets the Chinese villagers have that she can't share. Some secrets, like the fact her father was not a farmer but a gambler, can't be shared because it will affect his immigration status, especially if it is said in front of a teacher who is one of the ghosts. There are ghosts everywhere, and parents encourage their children to lie to them about their true identities. When an immigration office is set up in San Francisco where illegal immigrants are encouraged to come settle their paperwork and become legal, everyone says to stay away, because they think it's a trap. Even the actions children take without thinking merit a slap from a horrified Chinese parent, like stepping over one's brother or washing one's hair on the wrong day. Kingston's mother sets two places at the table for two spirits and never explains why. Everything is a mystery and a secret. Children get hit with no warning or apparent reason, and receive what Kingston calls "the sideways glare" for the remainder of the day. They try to avoid making a wrong move, to no avail.

Then there are the crazy people in the neighborhood the children try to avoid, like Crazy Mary, whose parents left her in China as a toddler and didn't send for until she was 20. By that time, Crazy Mary had lost her mind. Crazy Mary dresses in pajama bottoms and heavy tops, and jumps out from behind corners at children to grab them. Her parents eventually have to put her in an asylum, and they say she's much happier there than at home. There is also an "angry witch," a crazy woman the children call Pee-A-Nah, who chases them with such ferocity that they become terrified. She disappears as well.

Kingston is worried she is the crazy one in the family, but she is more worried she will be sold or married off by her parents. When news of aunts and uncles being killed by or having their land taken taken away by Communists arises, the villagers are upset. Kingston, however, is secretly relieved because it means they won't go back to China where she is sure her parents could sell her off to someone terrible. Also, according to other women, she has a voice like a "pressed duck," and no one will ever marry her unless her mother does something about it, so her prospects of being sold off here are not good, and she'd like to keep it that way.


There are many crazy people around Maxine Hong Kingston, yet she is more worried about herself being crazy than anyone else. She intentionally acts crazy to avoid what she thinks is an intention to marry her off to anyone who will take her, but she worries that, inside, she really is unstable.

Kingston's feelings are understandable: the stories her mother tells are never clearly true or clearly false, and her mother won't say which is which. In addition, when parents say the exact opposite of what they mean, the disconnect in the children's brains is significant. Kingston wants to be somewhere where she knows what is real and what isn't, and where the truth is easily seen. She wants simplicity and is entirely sick of mystery. This tenuous grasp on reality makes her question her own sanity.

The ghosts are an ever-present force in Kingston's life because they have control over who stays and who goes back to China. Kingston's mother has taught her to be afraid of the white ghosts and never to trust what they say. In the case of the immigration officers offering to help with straightening out papers, the whole village is right to suspect this is a trap. The attitude toward Asian immigrants is not kind, and everyone knows deportation back to China can mean a death sentence.

Crazy Mary's story echoes Kingston's feelings of being unwanted by her parents. Mary was left behind in China as a toddler and not brought to her parents in the United States until she was a young adult. Given what Kingston has said about girls in China and how the families felt about them, Mary losing her mind is understandable. She would have been treated as an outcast in China, but the rejection by her parents adds a heavier emotional blow.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Woman Warrior? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!