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The Woman Warrior | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In "White Tigers (Training)" in The Woman Warrior, how does the reason the Old Couple gives Fa Mu Lan for waiting to fight reflect Chinese family values?

Fa Mu Lan desperately wants to leave to help her husband and her brother get to safety when she sees through the gourd that they have been conscripted by the baron into his army. Her urge to leave and make big differences in the world is similar to Maxine Hong Kingston's urge to get out of the house to escape her parents' rules and customs she doesn't understand. However, Fa Mu Lan is only 14 years old at this point in her training, so the Old Couple insists she stay until she is 22. At that point, they say, she could save whole families, not just two boys. The responsibility for an entire family and not just a few individuals, as well as the entire village and not just one's family, is a big part of Chinese culture that carries over into Kingston's immigrant neighborhood. Kingston's mother wants all of the children to live with her in one big group like her family did in China and like she did with her husband's family when she married him. The notion of the group being more important than the individual is also what helps Communist revolutionaries succeed in convincing people in China to join them (although they end up forcing their agenda on everyone, and only a few benefit from the wealth in reality).

Why does Kingston question her sanity and feel like she could be the neighborhood crazy lady in the "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe (Illness)" of The Woman Warrior?

Maxine Hong Kingston's mother hits her children when they do something against the rules in the same way the "villager," the other parents in the neighborhood, do. The trouble is that many of the Chinese-American children who have never even visited China have no idea what these rules are. Kingston sometimes feels like her village is a country within a country, and she as a Chinese American has no idea what the local customs are. She says there are rules about when to wash one's hair, where to step, or whom not to step over. A misstep or a mistake gets a slap and then what she calls a "sideways glare" for the rest of the day. This inability to tell what's right and what's wrong, what's true and what's false, makes Kingston question whether she is actually sane or not. This situation and the way she self-sabotages her looks so no one will want to marry her give her the qualities of a crazy lady in training.

In The Woman Warrior, why does Maxine Hong Kingston yell at Moon Orchid, even though her mother wants her to be nice to her aunt?

Moon Orchid is the most annoying relative and new villager Maxine Hong Kingston and her siblings have had to deal with apart from crazy people. Moon Orchid follows the children around, particularly Kingston, to narrate what they are doing. It is almost as if she is a sportscaster commenting on a game, describing every move Kingston makes. She also pokes Kingston, which drives her crazy, and Kingston yells at Moon Orchid to get away from her. Brave Orchid keeps telling the children to be nice to their aunt, but the children end up speaking with each other in English so Moon Orchid can't understand them, talking to each other about how annoying Moon Orchid is. Brave Orchid begins to feel embarrassed her children are loud Americans rather than quiet, polite Chinese children, but the young ones can't help it; Moon Orchid's habits are not only weird, but also disturbing and exhausting.

In "Shaman (Ghost Country)" in The Woman Warrior, what does Maxine Hong Kingston's tendency to get sick at home reveal about her?

Maxine Hong Kingston gets sick every single time she visits home, and her colds there turn into pneumonia. She can't sleep because she hears ghosts all night long. As her mother says, the city never goes to bed, so she doesn't sleep well, either. Kingston's sickness points to her vulnerability and a lack of feeling secure when she is at home. In a neighborhood like the one her parents live in, she has to lock the doors and worry about ghosts. Her mother thinks this tendency toward illness relates to her eating habits, but Kingston knows it is being home and losing the calm center of being away from the city that causes it. She needs a simpler, quieter life away from the worry of ghosts.

In The Woman Warrior, why don't immigrant parents explain their traditions and rituals to their children, and how does this lack of communication affect the children?

Immigrant parents don't explain their traditions when their children ask. They sneak rituals into dinners and other times of day so the children don't notice. Maxine Hong Kingston says the adults are afraid ghosts will hear them and somehow give this information to authorities. What they would do with this information, Kingston doesn't know, but it coincides with how the immigrants must keep secrets so they are not deported. They have codes to tell each other when stowaways come in and where they come from, but they refuse to acknowledge this secret code to their children for fear they will tell their Ghost Teachers accidentally. The parents, says Kingston, even refer to their Chinese-American children as a type of ghost because they are surrounded by ghosts in every aspect of their lives. This lack of openness and trust among parents and children make the children feel insecure and unsure of how to act and what to say.

What is the significance of Fa Mu Lan's wedding with regard to her battles in "White Tigers (American Village)" in The Woman Warrior?

Fa Mu Lan watches her own wedding in a reflection of the water in a gourd. The husband who had been promised to her early in childhood marries her spirit because he has been promised to her for life, and her parents know she is somewhere out in the world. Fa Mu Lan wants to go save her husband when she sees the baron has conscripted him to fight, but she doesn't go until she is ready to do battle and win against whole armies. One day during battle, a man comes into her tent, and she realizes it is her husband. Because they are then together, she becomes pregnant and has to hide the pregnancy from the rest of the army because she is dressed as a man. Having her husband with her doesn't harm her ability to fight, but she has to change her armor to accommodate the pregnancy and still hide her gender. After she delivers, she has to have her husband take the baby home to his parents. She must stay behind to fight as if she does not have a child. However, when they leave, her marriage and motherhood begin to interfere with her ability to be a conscientious warrior. She makes mistakes, allowing an army to escape, and decides it isn't worth pursuing. Her main goal becomes to kill the man who conscripted her husband: the baron.

In The Woman Warrior, what does her choice to be a lumberjack reveal about Maxine Hong Kingston?

Maxine Hong Kingston says in a couple of places in the memoir The Woman Warrior she wants to be a lumberjack. This desire to take a job typically reserved for men reveals her desire to bring to her parents what boys bring to their parents, and, in turn, to be greeted by her parents with the feasts and celebrations her brother receives when he returns home. Kingston's desire to be a lumberjack also reveals her desire to understand what she is doing and accomplish it simply. She wants quiet and trees, a simple life that does not contain mysteries based on half-truths. She doesn't have this at home with her parents and needs to leave home to get herself into a position that feels as simple and as straightforward as that of a lumberjack.

In The Woman Warrior, how is American school in Maxine Hong Kingston's city different from Chinese school?

Maxine Hong Kingston says American school is nearly silent for the Chinese-American students because none of them wants to speak up and draw attention to themselves. Kingston herself doesn't speak during the first year in American school. She also can't take on some of the rituals American schools make students participate in, like the Pledge of Allegiance. She says she has to tell her teacher she can't say "land where our fathers died." Kingston's teacher thinks she is talking about politics and argues with her about it, but Kingston means she can't say it because it will bring a curse on her and her family. Conflicts like this make Kingston's will to speak up in class even less likely. Chinese school, in contrast, is a zoo at recess and a calm place to be in class where students can approach the teacher individually and receive their lessons while everyone else does something else quietly. They have respect for not wanting to draw attention to oneself in class. Kingston has no trouble speaking in Chinese school, not just because of the language, but because of the level of respect and cultural understanding she is given.

Why does Maxine Hong Kingston throw tantrums as a young child in "White Tigers (American Village)" in The Woman Warrior?

Maxine Hong Kingston throws tantrums because she is angry at her relatives for saying horrible comments about girls. If she were in China, she would probably not be throwing a fit every time someone said something negative about girls, but in her neighborhood in Stockton, she screams and kicks on the floor when she hears her parents say something like "feeding girls is feeding cowbirds." The statement means feeding girls is a waste of food because the girls leave their families to go with their husband's families. Kingston is so enraged to hear this sentiment from her own parents she screams loud and long enough to lose her voice, physically fighting against the misogyny. To make matters worse, people ask why she is throwing a tantrum, and her mother says it is because Kingston is a "bad girl." When Kingston becomes justifiably angry about being called a waste of food, she receives another insult. She screams that she is not a bad girl, and later, her mother talk-stories this experience, saying when Kingston was little, if Kingston said, "I'm not a bad girl," she would automatically burst into tears. This kind of compounded frustration causes Kingston to develop a frustrated sense of identity.

In The Woman Warrior, why does Maxine Hong Kingston paint everything black in school for three silent years in the beginning of "Songs for a Barbarian Reed Pipe (Cut Tongue)"?

During the three years in school that Maxine Hong Kingston is completely silent, she paints over everything she does in black. She is creating the curtain that is down before the start of a show, she says, but the curtain hasn't gone up yet. This action symbolizes her not being ready to start speaking. She is certain there is a beautiful operatic performance behind each curtain. Her parents are baffled and her teachers are concerned she is completely unintelligent, but Kingston sees these painted pages as "so black and full of possibilities." The theme of voice, and how to get ready to use her own voice, appears in this of the memoir through those performances for which she has to prepare herself completely before she can speak. Kingston says she is still like this, needing to stay "behind the curtain" longer than most people do before she can speak.

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