Literature Study GuidesThe Woman WarriorShaman The Ghost Room Summary

The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | Shaman (The Ghost Room) | Summary



In the dormitory at the medical school where Maxine Hong Kingston's mother, Brave Orchid, lives and studies, there is a haunted room none of the other girls will stay in. Brave Orchid loves storytelling about ghosts but is not easily convinced she should be afraid of any of them. When she makes excuses for the strange noises coming from the haunted room, another girl challenges her to go see what's there. She does, and sees piles of junk in the room. She takes her time getting back and tells the girls there is nothing there. The girl who challenged her tells everyone the haunting begins at midnight, and Brave Orchid says she is so sleepy she can't wait that long. To everyone's amazement, she goes to sleep in the ghost room, asking her two roommates to use her personal name to call her and wiggle her ears if she becomes afraid.

Brave Orchid is visited in the night by a Sitting Ghost that keeps her from reaching for her knife. Brave Orchid calls on her totem, her dragon nature, and insults the ghost, refusing to be bullied by it. She tells the ghost she will come back and burn it out of the room, and that the ghost is no match for her. She then ignores it, chanting her lessons until dawn when the ghost slinks away and she falls asleep.

When Brave Orchid wakes up to the sound of her classmates coming into the room, she has them call her name and tell her the way to come home while pulling on her ears. Then she tells them the story, noting she died for a while, came through a desert, chanted through attacks by Wall Ghosts, and was gone for 12 years, though only an hour passed in the room. Brave Orchid warns her roommates that the ghost will come back, and the women smudge the room with burning buckets of oil and alcohol. They find a wooden block covered in blood under the bed when they are done and burn it, too.


Brave Orchid's willingness to sleep in the ghost room appears as an extension of her unwillingness to be humiliated in front of the other women. Not only does she have to appear to be more intelligent than the other women, but she has to appear to be fearless as well. In reality, she experiences a great deal of fear when she realizes she may not be able to physically overpower the Sitting Ghost who attacks her. Like her daughter Maxine Hong Kingston, Brave Orchid uses the power of her words to defend herself and shrink the ghost.

Readers will recognize Brave Orchid's ability to come up with creative insults from Maxine Hong Kingston's childhood stories of getting into trouble with her mother. Brave Orchid is a talker, hard to beat in arguing. Additionally, Brave Orchid tells her story to the women after they wake her up and talk her out of her fear, but the story she tells is different from the story readers first see. Brave Orchid uses talk-story to weave in metaphors for her feelings, like her momentary death and her 12-year absence. Her retelling of the event sounds more like a myth than like an actual occurrence.

Brave Orchid's warning—the ghost will come back and the women must spring into action to chase it away for good—is almost like her woman warrior stories. She leads her troops, armed with their buckets and flammable liquids, into the room to completely eradicate the hungry ghost, motivated by the power of Brave Orchid's terrifying story. Kingston isn't sure if the part about the bloody chunk of wood under the bed is part of the story or made up in her own mind, but she remembers hearing that when it was burned, it smelled like a corpse.

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