Literature Study GuidesThe Woman WarriorWhite Tigers Training Summary

The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | White Tigers (Training) | Summary



"White Tigers" tells the story of the legendary woman warrior Fa Mu Lan. Maxine Hong Kingston tells how stories of legendary women who were warriors led her to feel she would be a failure if she only became someone's wife. Especially meaningful to her was the legend of Fa Mu Lan, a warrior who avenged her village and started a new dynasty in China. Kingston tells the story in the voice of Fa Mu Lan, as if she herself were the warrior.

Fa Mu Lan follows a bird into the mountains when she is seven years old, and meets an Old Couple. They feed her and let her stay the night, and then ask her if she will stay with them and learn to be a warrior to avenge her village and be a hero to the Han people. She is allowed to see her parents in a water gourd. Her parents expected this to happen, so she decides to stay and train. The first lesson for Fa Mu Lan is how to be quiet in the woods and allow the animals to approach her. She also becomes strong through exercise and learns to fend for herself by being left for days in the forest of the white tigers. When the Old Couple find her again, they train her to envision dragons and create and control swords with her mind. In the water gourd, Fa Mu Lan sees her childhood friend grown up, marrying her spirit in the water gourd, but she isn't able to help him against the emperor's forces until she is 22.


The fact Maxine Hong Kingston retells the ancient legend of Fa Mu Lan (known as Mulan in popular culture, including the 1998 Disney film of the same name) as if she herself is the warrior shows how deeply the story resonates with her. The female role of the woman warrior represents Kingston's hope for her own life. She decides she is going to have to be a warrior, but in all the situations in which she would avenge her village, particularly the village in China destroyed by Communists, she can only fantasize about what she would do. She cannot stop Urban Renewal from taking her parents' laundry for parking lot development, either. Her power is in words, defending her parents and her people against racism as well as writing about their lives successfully in the United States. In writing about this power, Kingston shows another way to interpret the role of the woman warrior.

Kingston's first-person retelling of the Fa Mu Lan story also shows why she would want to be a warrior instead of any of the other female roles available to her in Chinese-American society. The image of girls her relatives have, as "maggots in the rice" and a burden on parents, conflicts with the image of a warrior who saves not just her village but also an entire people. Kingston has grown up surrounded by people who reinforce the notion that she is useless and unimportant, the exact opposite of the woman warrior. Her parents are even ashamed to walk down the street with Kingston and her sister before they have boys to make the family acceptable to their neighbors. However, talk-stories about woman warriors Kingston's mother tells as bedtime stories put in Kingston's mind images of women as powerful in addition to being wives and mothers. In these stories, the power of the warrior role never detracts from the roles of mother and wife, and those traditional female roles never detract from the warrior's power. The conflict between female roles for Kingston is constant, which contributes to her perpetual confusion about what is reality and what is simply a story.

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