Literature Study GuidesThe Woman WarriorWhite Tigers Warrior Wife Mother Summary

The Woman Warrior | Study Guide

Maxine Hong Kingston

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The Woman Warrior | White Tigers (Warrior, Wife, Mother) | Summary



When Fa Mu Lan is 22 years old, she is ready to fight. She heads back to her village, where her parents carve their words of revenge into her back, singing them to her so that she remembers them. Fa Mu Lan raises an army to avenge the Han people. Her husband shows up in her tent, and they end up fighting side by side. When Fa Mu Lan is pregnant, she hides it by wearing the armor of a fat man. She gives birth, and hides the baby under her armor but eventually asks her husband to bring the baby home to his parents before he can remember who she is.

Fa Mu Lan heads back into battle, defeating the emperor's armies and beheading the emperor. She installs a new peasant emperor, thus establishing a new dynasty. On the way back to her village, she takes on the baron who stole her family's crops and conscripted so many of the village men who could not be spared. She slashes his face and beheads him after she has shown him the words carved into her back and astonished him by the fact he is about to be taken down by a woman. Fa Mu Lan's army spares the baron's servants and family members who can prove they will change, but beheads the others. She then goes home to her husband's family, ready to serve them and have more children with her husband. The words on her back make her a legend the villagers pass on to their children.


This part of the Fa Mu Lan story highlights three female roles and shows how easily the legendary warrior blends her life in battle with her life as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law. However, she has only been able to balance all of these roles with the help of her husband. Kingston's ideal relationship is one with this kind of balance, but she also realizes that the support the husband gives Fa Mu Lan to allow her to continue into battle means he could not be there fighting for his people. He has to make sacrifices for Fa Mu Lan to lead the people to victory. Kingston has a hard time figuring out how to balance love and sacrifice in real life, especially because she has been taught by the people around her that real girls are worthless and accomplish nothing for the family. She has learned they are valuable only for the sons they bring to another family.

Regarding the motherhood role, Fa Mu Lan gives birth to a son and plans to give her parents-in-law more sons, but nothing is said about daughters in this legend. The person who saves the villagers from more abuse by the baron and dethrones the emperor is a woman who was once a girl and is still a daughter, but the warrior role does not save Fa Mu Lan from being expected to produce sons. Kingston's statement that the three roles do not detract from each other in the legend skips right over the fact that even Fa Mu Lan would be shunned if she produced only daughters.

The moment in the legend when Fa Mu Lan slices the baron's face and cuts his head off is triumphant. Kingston says she wishes she had this level of bravery, rather than the timid level of confrontation she is able to muster in difficult situations. Readers should keep in mind the story is being told as if Kingston were the hero, so some of it is legend and some of it is wishful thinking. Unlike her mother's use of talk-story, Kingston's use of this technique reveals her personal wishes and desires, rather than serving as an attempt to teach a lesson or serve as a warning.

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