The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | Shaman (Midwifery) | Summary



In this part of "Shaman," Brave Orchid returns to her village, carried on a sedan, to great acclaim from the villagers. She is now a doctor and goes everywhere to heal whatever ails her fellow villagers. She has also bought a slave and a puppy. The slave comes from a dealer rather than from the slave's parents because it is too traumatic for parents to sell their daughters, and Brave Orchid does not want to deal with all of the questioning. She also does not trust the signs dealers make, figuring that if a dealer needs to mention he doesn't engage in a particular bad business practice, he probably has thought of doing it anyway. Brave Orchid's slave, unlike the other girls she looks at, has a pulse like hers and gives all the right answers to Brave Orchid's questions. Brave Orchid gets a low price by complaining the girl doesn't know how to finish her weaving, even though the girl actually does know how.

Brave Orchid has told Kingston all about the babies she delivered, particularly the "monsters," babies with deformities that were not compatible with life. Maxine Hong Kingston is pretty sure Brave Orchid never killed any female babies, but she does hear about how parents killed their daughters, keeping ashes nearby so they could turn the baby's face into the ashes and suffocate her. Kingston ends up having nightmares in Chinese about having to keep babies alive and failing to do so. She has to turn on all of her lights to get her head back into an "American-normal" space.


Maxine Hong Kingston's retelling of her conversation with her mother about Brave Orchid's slave girl reveals her insecurities about her own value as a daughter. It amplifies her childhood worry that she will end up being sold as a slave if she doesn't shape up. Her mother's mention of how much more it cost her to have Kingston than it did to buy the slave girl is another instance of her mother using insults to let Kingston know her expectations.

The horror stories Brave Orchid tells Kingston about the deformed babies and what she had to do with them haunt Kingston's dreams for years. Kingston's sense that she isn't acting correctly as a daughter extends to not being able to save or keep track of the babies in her dreams. The method some parents used to get rid of their baby daughters also horrifies Kingston, and she is pretty sure her mother never killed a girl baby just because she was a girl, but her mother doesn't talk about whether or not she did. This tiny degree of uncertainty hangs over much of Kingston's interpretations of her mother's words directed at her and her sister. In addition, Kingston's use of matter-of-fact descriptions of how parents or midwives would get rid of unwanted babies in such a quick, seemingly cavalier way highlights how ingrained the perception of a child's worth was in Chinese culture.

Turning on all the lights in her room to bring her back to "American-normal" existence is Kingston's way of describing what it is to be normal in America as a Chinese-American girl. The mysteries of China have to be eradicated or at least explained in such a detailed fashion that there is no questioning what is real or not. However, all the lights in the world cannot do this for Kingston. She believes just about everything her mother says, and takes it all very seriously, which leads to some extremely defiant behavior on her part and a huge argument later in life.

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