The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | No Name Woman | Summary

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The Woman Warrior has five chapters. In this study guide, the four longer chapters, "White Tigers" through "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," are further broken into sections by topics for analysis.

Summary

The Woman Warrior opens with the story of Maxine Hong Kingston's forgotten aunt, the "No Name Woman." She is a sister her father does not acknowledge as ever having been born because of the humiliation she brought to the family. Brave Orchid, Kingston's mother, tells Kingston the story and insists she never talk to her father about it.

Kingston's mother says the aunt had a new husband who had sailed to America for work with her father and his brothers, but years later, the aunt became pregnant. Clearly, the baby could not possibly be her husband's, so the villagers came one night to raid and destroy not only the crops and the livestock, but the family's possessions inside the house as well. The aunt ran to the pigsty to give birth. The next day, she was found in the drinking-water well, having committed suicide, taking her baby with her.

Kingston hypothesizes about what really happened to the aunt and tells the story like her mother's talk-stories, as if it were the truth, based on the few details she knows. She thinks the aunt must have been raped because the family was already starving, and to risk pregnancy, especially if the baby ended up being a girl, was foolish during that period. If a villager, or even a relative, had threatened to hurt her family or humiliate her, she would have had no choice other than to say yes to sexual intercourse. If she had then told the man she might be pregnant, he may even have been the one to stage the raid. Kingston also feels ashamed of having kept the secret of the missing aunt for so long. She sees her own silence as another punishment for her aunt. When she finally begins to write about it, she is haunted by her aunt's ghost.

Analysis

The No Name Woman is the first of five women discussed in the memoir. The fact that Maxine Hong Kingston's mother tells her the story of her unnamed aunt may seem, at first, to be an acknowledgment of the aunt's existence and, therefore, an expression of sympathy. However, later in this section, Kingston's mother tells her she is only relating the story to warn Kingston not to get into the same situation. She wants to make sure Kingston knows a pregnancy outside of marriage will humiliate the entire family, and she would be disavowed as their daughter if she committed such a grievous error. In revealing this detail of the conversation with her mother, Kingston offers clues about her neighborhood and the traditions in China that have carried over to immigrant families in the United States.

Kingston thinks about her aunt's situation in great detail, imagining exactly how it might have unfolded. Her own talk-story to the reader about her aunt reveals that Kingston, as the main character in this memoir, has a vivid imagination enhanced and encouraged by the detailed talk-stories her mother tells her. She emphasizes how dangerous it was to be a woman alone in China in her aunt's time; any man could have taken advantage of her aunt's situation and forced her to have sex. Female roles in China dictated that a woman would not have the choice to say no because the man's status would allow him to lie about the interaction and get away with it.

In this section of the memoir, Kingston highlights the themes of Chinese-American culture and female roles, pointing out just how precarious familial approval in a Chinese family can be for girls and women. It does not take much for a woman to bring shame on her family or incur insults and admonitions. In "No Name Woman," Kingston reveals her long association with ghosts: a symbol of the legends passed down by her ancestors as well as a symbol of how white people were part of a world Chinese immigrants could not enter. Stories Kingston's mother tells her usually involve ghosts, and as a child, Kingston learned to refer to white people as ghosts. Now, because Kingston has told readers her aunt's secret by writing about it, her aunt's ghost haunts her, especially in her dreams. The aunt's ghost is a symbol of how the memory of a troubled person's tragic story persists in one's mind.

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