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The Woman Warrior | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Woman Warrior, how does Brave Orchid's son's behavior in Los Angeles reflect his relationship with her?

Brave Orchid's son is the driver when Brave Orchid accompanies Moon Orchid and her daughter to Los Angeles to drop off Moon Orchid's daughter and then confront Moon Orchid's husband. The husband's address turns out to be an office building. Brave Orchid wants her son to go to the office and lie to get the husband to come down to the car. She tells him to make up a story about someone with a broken leg on the sidewalk. Her son is mortified that she wants to tell such a ridiculous lie to the husband, and even more embarrassed and horrified that he's the one who has to tell the lie. He tries to convince his mother this is a terrible idea, but she insists he go through with her plan. Her son is a level-headed boy who knows a bad idea when he hears it, and from his reaction to his mother, he is apparently used to having to talk his mother out of bad ideas. He is more astute in realizing that in Chinese-American society, the idea of getting an estranged husband to go back to the first wife is not going to work, and he doesn't want any part of this plan. However, he is also an obedient son of a Chinese mother, so he ends up doing what he is told. As soon as the husband comes out, though, the son is so embarrassed that he runs off to avoid the husband's anger at his lie. The son may be obedient, but he also recognizes the conflict between his mother's traditional ideas and her life in America.

In The Woman Warrior, how does Maxine Hong Kingston try to show a fuller picture of Moon Orchid's husband's personality?

Maxine Hong Kingston tries to show a fuller picture of Moon Orchid's husband by using dialogue between the husband, Moon Orchid, and Brave Orchid. Moon Orchid's husband isn't going to take her back because he has created a new life for himself, but he isn't completely careless toward his responsibilities. He says he will continue to financially support Moon Orchid, and he also says he would never condemn anyone, much less Moon Orchid, to have to return to China. This statement indicates how he was so deeply unhappy in China; this unhappiness caused him to emotionally close himself off from his wife and daughter he leaves behind when he comes to the United States. He reveals part of this unhappiness through his reply to Moon Orchid regarding their life in China: she never talked to him there, shutting herself off in her own bubble as she has done in the United States. He knew he could not send for her to join him because not only would she not be able to cope with the fast-paced, communication-heavy life in the United States, but she would not be able to have a normal spousal relationship with him, either. He should have told her this once he realized it, but his new life swept him away into a world where he could finally be happy and start over. He continued to pay for her expenses so she would not suffer materially, and he wonders why she didn't figure out after so long that their marriage was over. Moon Orchid's husband is insensitive in some ways to Moon Orchid's emotions, but in other ways, he has protected her from being hurt by drowning in a life she could not have handled. He has also realized he needs a partner who communicates with him, which is not something Moon Orchid would do. He has now found a happy partnership with his new wife, the nurse.

In The Woman Warrior, how do Moon Orchid's husband's choices show that despite his immersion in American life, he still falls back on Chinese cultural ideas?

Moon Orchid's husband financially supports Moon Orchid and says he will continue to do so, which is a very American response to the split of a marriage. However, his decision to stay away from his daughter (even though she lives in the same city) is extremely strange, reflecting the tendency in Chinese culture to devalue girls in the family. If he and Moon Orchid had a son, he would likely have sent for his son to join him because he would have wanted to cultivate family support for himself in his old age. As it is now, he has two sons with his new wife, and he is set for all of his typically American needs as well as his Chinese needs with no responsibilities to feed, support, and marry off a daughter. His daughter is, in fact, married and has children, but she is now her husband's responsibility, according to Chinese culture. Because of his Chinese values, Moon Orchid's husband doesn't feel guilty at all about walking away from his daughter.

In The Woman Warrior, how does the reliance on Chinese tradition prolong Moon Orchid's suffering?

Brave Orchid reopens Moon Orchid's wounds regarding her broken marriage by forcing Moon Orchid to confront her husband. Moon Orchid would have been happy never to see him again, even though his abandonment still hurts her. However, Brave Orchid's insistence on sticking to Chinese tradition—the First Wife is the primary wife and the Second Wife acts as a slave to the First Wife—ensures that Moon Orchid is going to have to confront the person who hurt her. She must revisit emotions she has successfully put aside until now. Because she is already a mentally unstable person, this confrontation puts her over the edge. After she starts to lose her mind, her daughter calls Brave Orchid instead of continuing to seek better or more appropriate medical care for her mother. This reaction is also typical of traditional Chinese cultural values, to keep problems within the family. Brave Orchid, who has been a doctor, assumes she knows what is best for Moon Orchid, taking her off her medications and giving her herbal treatments along with keeping her company at night. Brave Orchid's reliance on Chinese traditional medicine and her own medical knowledge rather than seeking Western medical treatment for Moon Orchid nearly destroys her entire family.

In The Woman Warrior, how does Moon Orchid's mental breakdown compare and contrast with that of Crazy Mary?

Moon Orchid has been left behind in China with her young daughter, who also eventually goes to the United States, leaving her mother behind. Similarly, Crazy Mary was left behind in China as a toddler. Both women have suffered from the lack of family support from important people in their lives, a husband and two parents, respectively. In addition, both women appear particularly prone to paranoia and irrational fear, both exacerbated by their respective abandonment situations. Crazy Mary reunites with her parents, but this reunion doesn't help her regain her sanity. They place her in an asylum where she is much happier, presumably because people around her are all taking care of her, a situation she hasn't had before. Moon Orchid reunites with her daughter and sees her estranged husband, but she is able to continue her relationship with only her daughter. The abandonment issues with her husband continue because he doesn't want her back. Moon Orchid's paranoia reaches extreme proportions, and she is also committed to an asylum where she is happy because she is being taken care of. However, she fades away and then passes away not very long after having moved there. The loss of her marriage and her abandonment in China compounded by the fresh feelings from her husband's abandonment, thanks to Brave Orchid, proves to be too much for her to take.

In The Woman Warrior, how do Brave Orchid's responses to Moon Orchid's mental illness differ culturally from a typical American reaction?

Brave Orchid's first response to Moon Orchid's illness is to take her in, take her off her Western medications, and use all of the techniques she knows from Chinese medicine and responses to ghosts that have worked for her. However, Brave Orchid discovers that none of these remedies work, and she is finally forced to admit Moon Orchid needs to be institutionalized because Moon Orchid is holding her family hostage with her paranoia. Brave Orchid's response to this failure is to assume that Moon Orchid has cursed her household, and she ritually cleanses the house of Moon Orchid's presence. This reaction comes from her Chinese cultural values. An American family might put their ill relative on more medications and possibly change doctors treating the patient. The final choice to institutionalize might still occur, but the failure would be ascribed to some form of dementia rather than a curse.

In the last part of "At the Western Palace (Fear)" in The Woman Warrior, how does Brave Orchid's behavior compare and contrast with that of Fa Mu Lan?

Brave Orchid's attempt to get her sister to confront her husband is the act of a woman warrior who wants to avenge her sister in some way. It fails, whereas Fa Mu Lan's acts of vengeance are all successful. When Brave Orchid takes Moon Orchid in and sleeps next to her every night, pulling on her ears to get rid of ghostly influences, and trying to get her to come back to herself, she is also performing the job of a warrior waging war against the mental illness, the curse she thinks has taken over her sister. She leaves her family in spirit while Fa Mu Lan literally leaves her family to fight off the enemy. Both Brave Orchid and Fa Mu Lan return to their families, but Fa Mu Lan returns in triumph. Brave Orchid has to resign herself to having failed in curing her sister and having forced her family to endure the curse of Moon Orchid's paranoia. Still, while Brave Orchid's decision to save her family life may seem like failure, it is also the act of a woman warrior protecting her home village. Fa Mu Lan also ends up putting her family first, but only after she has already won all of her battles.

In The Woman Warrior, how do Moon Orchid's experiences affect Maxine Hong Kingston?

Maxine Hong Kingston and her siblings resolve never to get married, a resolution Kingston has already been actively supporting with terrible behavior to be seen as not worth marrying off. They also resolve to major in math and science so they can maximize their intelligence and succeed financially in life rather than having to depend on a spouse to support them. Kingston doesn't follow through with this particular resolution and instead becomes an activist and a teacher before she begins her writing career. The experiences Moon Orchid and her daughter have, however, stay with all of the children, coloring their view of how trustworthy a spouse can be in supporting their needs and their dreams. Moon Orchid's breakdown cements Kingston's notion that spouses absolutely need to allow each other to be free to pursue their dreams while simultaneously loving and supporting each other. She realizes financial sustenance isn't enough because emotional sustenance keeps a relationship going. She isn't sure how she is going to accomplish both sides and wonders if anyone will love her enough to support her dreams. In a family that ignores the dreams of its female children, Kingston is used to being the only champion of her own dreams.

In The Woman Warrior, how does Brave Orchid's operation on Maxine Hong Kingston's frenum backfire?

Maxine Hong Kingston's mother decides to cut Kingston's frenum, a piece of skin that attaches the underside of the tongue to the bottom palate in the mouth, because she thinks it is too big and will impair Kingston's ability to speak well, especially more than one language. Kingston, however, believes her mother cuts her frenum to shut her up, and she is silent during kindergarten and first grade. Kingston is angry she is the only child who has been sliced in such a manner. When Kingston finally speaks, her voice is not at all what her mother has hoped. Kingston is socially awkward and has a hard time getting a sentence out to adults, especially white people. Her voice also sounds, according to fellow villagers, like a duck being squeezed. Kingston's whispery quacking, a combination of her natural voice and the whispering she takes on as an affect to make her appear more feminine and desirable for dates, drives her mother crazy. Her mother has a tantrum, telling her she cut Kingston's tongue to make her speak more, not less, and that her whispering is ridiculous. Theirs is a clash between the brashness of Chinese women and the affected silence and delicate constitution of young Chinese-American women.

In The Woman Warrior, how does Maxine Hong Kingston's trip to the pharmacy reflect a clash between immigrant culture, Chinese-American culture, and American culture?

When the pharmacy accidentally sends a medication to Maxine Hong Kingston's home, Brave Orchid is terrified a curse has now come over the house. Kingston doesn't understand this fear at all—it's just a mistaken delivery—but Brave Orchid is up in arms and wants Kingston to take the medicine back to the pharmacist and demand candy from him to lift the curse. Kingston, while grateful she doesn't have to do some weird ritual dance, burn anything, or swallow anything awful to break the curse she doesn't exactly believe in, is still reluctant to speak to any ghosts (white people). The Pharmacy Ghost can't understand what she is trying to tell him when she asks for candy. She tries to force out enough words without actually speaking a full sentence to explain how Chinese pharmacists would give candy when they made a mistake, and he finally gives her a bag full of candies. From then on, he gives her candies every time she goes there. He realizes this offering is customary for Chinese people and abides by it, but Kingston is still afraid to speak to him and is completely embarrassed at having forced him to abide by a Chinese custom she doesn't understand. Her mother's immigrant culture clashes with her own Chinese-American sensibilities, and she, as a Chinese-American girl, feels ridiculous bringing this notion to American life where it doesn't fit in.

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