The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | Quotes


You wouldn't like to be forgotten as if you had never been born.

Brave Orchid, No Name Woman

Brave Orchid warns Maxine Hong Kingston the "villagers" are keeping an eye on everything she does, so she had better be careful now that she has her period, meaning she can get pregnant. In a hypercritical and insulting way, Brave Orchid is using No Name Woman's story to try to protect her daughter from getting hurt.


Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil.

Maxine Hong Kingston, No Name Woman

Kingston realizes that in the Old China, having a girl was considered wasteful if your family was going hungry. She gradually understands her lost aunt would not have risked everything in such a time, which means it is likely she was raped. Women could not choose to say no for fear of being publicly humiliated by the rapist.


I couldn't tell where the stories left off and the dreams began.

Maxine Hong Kingston, White Tigers (Training)

Kingston's mother conducts talk-story with the children until they fall asleep, and Kingston dreams of women warriors and heroines. Her mother's talking-story is just as much a great power as the women in the stories, giving her the desire to become a warrior.


Hunger also changes the world—when eating can't be a habit, then neither can seeing.

Fa Mu Lan, White Tigers (Training)

Fa Mu Lan spends years in mountains where white tigers live, escaping from them and wandering. She begins to hallucinate after she has wandered without food for a long time. She sees gold around people dancing and sees the old people coming toward her as angels. She says hunger gives her the power to see behind the mysteries of life. The normal way of seeing is gone when she is hungry.


Together my parents sang what they had written, then let me rest.

Fa Mu Lan, White Tigers (Warrior, Wife, Mother)

Fa Mu Lan's parents carve their words of revenge against the baron—oaths of revenge and the names of the people who have been sacrificed—on Fa Mu Lan's back. They sing the words, making them stronger and allowing Fa Mu Lan to know what they are. By carving the words into their daughter's back, the words will never be forgotten, and if she dies, her army can use those oaths as a weapon against the baron and the emperor's armies. Because Fa Mu Lan is a trained warrior, she is able to withstand the pain and heal quickly.


The reporting is the vengeance—not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words.

Maxine Hong Kingston, White Tigers (American Village)

In the Fa Mu Lan story, the warrior exacts vengeance on the baron and can go back to her family. The Chinese idiom for "revenge" is "report to five families," but in Kingston's world, the words that describe her as a girl keep her away from her family, "out of hating range," and she carries these words on her back along with the racist words she fights against. She hopes her fight and her successes let her parents realize she is a valuable warrior, not a "useless" girl.


There is no pain you can inflict that I cannot endure.

Brave Orchid, Shaman (The Ghost Room)

Brave Orchid is attacked in the Ghost Room at medical school by a Sitting Ghost, which she later eradicates with her fellow students by setting alcohol and oil on fire and smoking it out of the room. This quote is one of the insults Brave Orchid flings at the ghost while it is sitting on her in the bed the night she stays in the room. She is strong enough to beat the ghost, and she is also strong enough to withstand the daily horrors of her job as a doctor. There is nothing timid about Brave Orchid.


This is terrible ghost country, where a human being works her life away.

Brave Orchid, Shaman (Ghost Country)

Brave Orchid calls white people ghosts, and to survive in their country, she has had to work extremely hard her entire life. Urban Renewal Ghosts gave her money for her house in the slums, but it isn't enough to live on, so she is working in a tomato field. She is also working because if she sits still and does nothing, her body hurts and she feels like she is disappearing. Her value in Ghost Country is measured by how much work she can do.


You have to ask him why he didn't come home. Why he turned into a barbarian.

Brave Orchid, At the Western Palace (Moon Orchid)

Moon Orchid has emigrated to the United States, thanks to her sister, Brave Orchid, and in this quote, she is being encouraged to find her estranged husband. Brave Orchid calls him a barbarian because he is now a businessman and has a new wife and children, having abandoned Moon Orchid and his daughter with her. According to Brave Orchid, if he were doing his duty as a Chinese husband, he would place Moon Orchid, the First Wife, in his house and make her the mother of his two sons, making Second Wife (the receptionist, his current wife) a slave to Moon Orchid, First Wife.


We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine.

Maxine Hong Kingston, A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe (Bully)

Kingston says Chinese women are normally loud and brash, but in the United States a woman with a loud voice is not feminine and will not be attractive to men. To fit in and be considered attractive and feminine, American-Chinese girls whisper and change their personalities from brash and outgoing to timid and quiet.

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