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The Woman Warrior | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In The Woman Warrior, how does Maxine Hong Kingston's treatment of the silent girl reflect her mother's treatment of her?

Maxine Hong Kingston's mother constantly calls her a "bad girl" and tells her she is a mess. Kingston believes part of her own silence is her mother's fault for cutting her tongue, and she feels worthless as a daughter because she doesn't fit in with anyone, she isn't traditionally pretty compared to her sister, and she is socially awkward in both Chinese and English venues. Her mother reminds her at every possible opportunity of her shortcomings. There is no one worse than Kingston, in her own mind, except for the silent girl because the silent girl never ends up talking, even when Kingston has started to participate in class. Kingston needs to feel powerful, so she uses all of the insults her mother has directed at her to try to get the silent girl to talk. She bullies the girl in a much more hurtful way than her mother treats her. Kingston's behavior is an extreme reflection of the way she has been treated.

In The Woman Warrior, what reason does Maxine Hong Kingston give for her 18-month long illness, and how does she react to it?

Maxine Hong Kingston is upset with herself for having treated the silent girl so badly. All of the insults she tried to use to get under the silent girl's skin don't work on the girl, but they work when her mother uses them against her. Kingston thinks the illness that caused her to be bedridden for 18 months is spiritual retribution for what she has done to the silent girl. While continuing to think about how nasty she has acted toward the girl and how she couldn't stop herself from hurting someone else is extremely upsetting, she is also relieved at not having to interact with anyone for that long. Staying in bed for 18 months doesn't help her social skills, but she enjoys the quiet time. She likes resting from the pressure of living up to her mother's idea of a good girl. Her mother takes care of her during this time, which feels more like motherly love to Kingston than her other interactions have felt.

In The Woman Warrior, how does Maxine Hong Kingston show that the silent girl's situation is different from hers when she goes back to school?

Maxine Hong Kingston shows that the silent girl's situation is different from hers by explaining how nothing has changed for the silent girl, except her sister has decided to stay home to take care of the silent girl instead of getting married. Kingston's mother tells her it's time to get up, return to school, relearn to talk, and rejoin her life. There is no more rest from stress for Kingston, but the silent girl is taken care of. It doesn't matter for the silent girl if she never marries because now she doesn't have to marry to be taken care of. Kingston begins to worry about her own future and how to keep her family out of harm's way in a country that is often increasingly harder to navigate.

What role do lies play in the lives of children in Maxine Hong Kingston's neighborhood in The Woman Warrior?

Maxine Hong Kingston has said she can never tell when her mother is telling the truth or telling a story that is only partly true for her whole life. However, as a child, she has to keep secrets and tell lies, not only for her family but for all of the families in her immigrant neighborhood. Many of the people in her neighborhood have secrets about who they really are, what they did for a living in China, how they make their living now, and whether or not their immigration papers are in order. Authorities in San Francisco try to get people to reveal their immigration status, and the word on the street is that people then get deported back to China, where no one wants to go. Kingston is exhausted from trying to figure out what she can tell and what she has to keep secret, including from teachers if they are ghosts (white).

In The Woman Warrior, why does Maxine Hong Kingston tell the stories about the crazy ladies in her neighborhood?

Maxine Hong Kingston tells the stories about Crazy Mary and Pee-A-Nah because each of them plays a part in her childhood fears. Crazy Mary represents the effects of abandonment on the psyche because she was left behind in China by her parents as a toddler. She didn't come to the United States until she was 20 years old, and by that time, she had completely lost her mind. She acts like a person stuck in toddlerhood, and Kingston finds this result of abandonment disturbing. Pee-A-Nah's habit of chasing children and being verbally threatening scares Kingston and every other child in the neighborhood. Pee-A-Nah represents a type of violence that isn't so far from what Kingston did to the silent girl. Eventually, Pee-A-Nah disappears, and Kingston assumes she has also been put in an asylum. Kingston thinks about the fact that every village seems to have a crazy lady, and in thinking about her own behavior, she wonders if other people think she is destined to become the next neighborhood crazy lady, with her crazy hair, her messy clothes, and her resistance to her mother's orders. She constantly worries about what people think about her. Crazy Mary and Pee-A-Nah reinforce for Kingston the idea she needs to get out of her neighborhood to really grow without being judged in a negative way.

In The Woman Warrior, why isn't Maxine Hong Kingston upset like all the other people in her neighborhood about the Communists in China ?

Maxine Hong Kingston fears being sold off as a slave or being married off, and she worries about her parents moving the family back to China where they could get away with selling her. She has made an effort not to be marriageable, which now she feels is hurting her chances of staying independent, but she still keeps sabotaging. Kingston hears about the killings and land theft the Communists are inflicting on Chinese villages, and instead of feeling upset, she feels relieved. Her family can't move back to China, which means they can't sell her there. In the United States, her parents also can't sell her, and because she's not marriage material, she becomes a hopeless case for them. She has to keep this relief a secret, though, because her parents and other villagers are extremely upset about their families' tragedies in China.

Why does Maxine Hong Kingston stop trying at school and make herself look terrible in The Woman Warrior?

Maxine Hong Kingston has been told by her mother for a long time that no one will marry her because she is messy and loud, an obnoxious child who is purposely a "bad girl." However, when her mother starts bringing in FOBs for her sister to meet, Kingston gets extremely upset and starts to intentionally look like a total mess, ignoring personal hygiene and being rude to her parents around other adults. She decides her straight A's in school are also a liability because they are an attractive asset, so she stops trying to do well. All of these steps make her feel worse about herself, but at least, she thinks, she won't have to marry anyone. She looks out for men whom her parents might have in mind, and accuses her parents of trying to fix her up with a mentally challenged boy rumored to be rich who hangs around at the laundry. It isn't true, but Kingston's teenage years are plagued by this fear of forced marriage in addition to feeling like an outcast.

In The Woman Warrior, in what ways is Maxine Hong Kingston's fight with her mother in "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe (Illness)" the climax of the memoir?

The fight between Maxine Hong Kingston and her mother, Brave Orchid, is the climax of the memoir because up to that point, Kingston has talked about how her mother insults her, how she is failing to be the warrior she wants to be, and how insecure she is about herself. She keeps everything secret from her mother except for the effort to be a "bad girl" so she doesn't have to get married. All of these stresses come to the surface in this fight, as Kingston tells her mother everything that has been upsetting her. She yells at her mother about people thinking she is stupid, about the terrible remarks her mother has said to her, and even about her cut tongue. Her mother retaliates by telling her not only is it impossible to sell a person, but no one would ever want to marry Kingston, and she cut Kingston's tongue to help her, not hurt her. Kingston's mother reveals she was trying to protect Kingston because she was different from the other children. Still, this is not a tender moment because Kingston's mother tells her she should leave the house. Kingston goes willingly, moving out to go to college and follow her dreams without the pressure of her suffocating neighborhood. However, the feeling of having bombarded her parents with her complaints in such a mean way sticks with Kingston and affects the way she treats them from then on as she tries to mend their relationship.

In The Woman Warrior, why does Maxine Hong Kingston change her mind about her parents and her neighborhood?

Maxine Hong Kingston begins to see her parents and her neighborhood as an outsider looking in when she moves out to go to college. She simplifies her life and doesn't have to keep anyone's secrets or run away from any crazy ladies. Most of all, she doesn't have to think about her mother's words as insults; she begins to think of them as a reflection of their Chinese heritage. This new perspective takes away the responsibility Kingston feels for attracting so many insults from her mother and puts the blame on tradition: Chinese parents tell their children they are ugly and not talented, and they mean the opposite. Kingston still finds this idea hard to accept, but she can take steps to be closer to her parents without feeling so bad about herself. Once she is out of the house, she can be herself completely without worrying as much about her parents' expectations. The only expectations she has to focus on are her own.

In The Woman Warrior, what is the significance of the comparisons Maxine Hong Kingston makes between the Chinese language and her voice?

Maxine Hong Kingston loses her Chinese language so much that she isn't really bilingual anymore, but she remembers enough of it to continue to crave it in opposition to English. English, to Kingston, feels harsh and guttural, especially in music, and even American instrumental music seems loud. Chinese music is softer and calmer, as is the language, and Kingston likes the quiet, comparing it to her voice when she is shy, which is nearly all the time. Her voice now is different from the intentional weak-willed whisper she affected as a girl to seem feminine. Now, she is simply socially anxious and tends to speak softly because of it. The Chinese language feels to her like the voice of the poet Ts'ai Yen, who was imprisoned by barbarians and ended up imitating the music of their flutes with her voice in her own language. This imitation is how Kingston feels her own voice functions when she speaks English, speaking softly like her first language, but in the language of the "barbarians."

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