The Plot Of The Woman Warrior
Form, Structure, and Plot. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, is a little over 200 pages, and separated into five stories. The books five separate plots are about twenty to thirty pages long, more or less.
The first story, titled No Name Woman, is told by Maxine Hong Kingstons mother. The woman in the story though, is Kingston's long-dead aunt, who remains unnamed throughout the story ' hence the title 'No Name Woman.' After the story, which is about a disgraceful pregnancy, is told, Kingston goes on, on her own tangent ' a stream of consciousness ' thinking up ways of how her aunt became pregnant when her husband had been away for years. She comes up with several that she fits to her own judging ' she believed more that her unknown aunt was a victim, rather than a culprit, in her own case.The second story, titled 'White Tigers', is a fantasy about a character, Fa Mu Lan, of whom she takes the character of. The story ' which is more of a fantasy ' begins with Kingston explaining how 'Chinese girls' learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves.
We could be heroines, swordswomen.' She goes on to tell the story of Fa Mu Lan, whom she portrays as herself, and how she wanted to learn to fight in place of her husband and brother. When she comes of age, she pretends to be a man, and becomes warrior greater than imagined, and accomplishes great feats, even with a newborn baby. The story spans from her early teens to her mid-twenties.The third story, 'Shaman', is about Maxine Hong Kingston's mother, Ying Lan ' translated to be 'Brave Orchid.' Kingston narrates how her mother's 'talk-stories' made her mother who she was.
The nature of many of these stories upsets Kingston, while others give her nightmares. The story spans variously throughout Kingston's mother's life.The fourth story, 'At the Western Place,' is about Kingston's aunt ' her mother's sister ' whose name translates to Moon Orchid, and how she moved from Hong Kong to America to make a better name and life for herself. This story is set thirty seven years after she had left her sister; when Brave Orchid was sixty-eight years old.The last story, 'A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,' is about Kingston who talks about how her mother cut the under part of her tongue, called the frenum, because she 'would not be tongue-tied' be able to speak languages that are completely different from one another' [and] be able to pronounce anything.' (164).
The story is set when Kingston is in grade school.Point of ViewThe novel is written mostly in Maxine Hong Kingston's point of view, but there is also a third person limited. The tense & difference between a reminiscent and recent perspective varies.In 'No Name Woman,' the story itself is told by Kingston's mother, but Kingston goes on her own tangent after the story is told, fantasizing about what kind of a person her aunt was. She reminisces about the time when her mother had told her the story, and all of the things she had thought then.
At the end of the chapter though, she brings us back to the present, talking about the real punishment for her aunt ' not being the raid, but the family's forgetting her, and acting like she never existence. She then goes on to talk about how she would not be at peace, and how the Chinese 'are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute.' (16).In 'White Tigers,' the author becomes Fa Mu Lan, a woman warrior character in the story. Therefore, she tells the story in first person, as the protagonist. After the story, she talks and reminisces about how the story has affected her. She tells about instances in her life where she looks for a unique bird like Fa Mu Lan did, and how she was ridiculed and treated more poor than the boys in Chinese culture, because she was a girl.
The story spans from her early teens to her mid-twenties. Outside of the story, it spans from her younger years to present.'Shaman' is written essentially in third person omniscient, but limited to her mother. Kingston inputs her own thoughts in the beginning, but she eventually retells stories of her mother's life, incorporating both the 'talk-stories' her mother has told to her and her own ideas and fantasies. She tells of how her father left them to go to America, how the supposed eldest two children she had died, how she wanted to be a doctor (and succeeded)."At the Western Palace" is told in the limited third person also.
Kingston tells of her mother yet again, but this time, it's also about her sister, Kingston's aunt and how she came to America to reclaim a better name for herself. But in the end of the story, Kingston's mother ends up having to call her niece and have her sister put in a California state mental asylum, where she eventually dies.In the last story, 'A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,' where she tells about herself in the first person. She reminisces about how, when she was a child, she came up with a list of things that she wanted to tell her mother, but never could.
She eventually bursts and begins yelling at her mother. Of course, her mother is yelling back at her, telling her she is 'noisy' and talks too much, and nobody would want her. She then ends the chapter with another talk-story her mother has told her, mixed in with herself.CharacterMaxine Hong Kingston is the main character, and narrator, throughout the book.
The times vary, from when she is a child, to present (her thoughts). She would be considered a dynamic character, because as she grows up, the talk-stories that her mother tells her influences the way she thinks, feels, and acts, and also who she is and what kind of person she becomes. She is also a round character, who develops as she grows older, and understands more and more of what her mother's talk-stories are supposed to mean to her.
Kingston is more of an indirect character, for she narrates her own book, and inputs her own thoughts.A quote that reveals Kingston's character would be from a story in the book ' 'White Tigers' ' on page 53 in the last paragraph: 'The swordswoman and I are not so dissimilar. May my people understand the resemblance soon so that I can return to them. What we have in common are the words at our backs. The idioms for revenge are 'report a crime' and 'report to five families.' The reporting is the vengeance ' not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words.
And I have so many words ' 'Chink words and 'gook' words too ' that they do not fit on my skin.' Kingston points out bluntly that the reality of her life, compared to Fa Mu Lan in the fantasy, are completely different, in the way that Fa Mu Lan can defeat an army of people, but Kingston herself cannot do so in her own life. But at the end of the quote, she goes on to contradict herself, saying that they both have in common 'the words at our backs.' In the story/fantasy she has told in that chapter, Fa Mu Lan's parents tattoo a list of things on her back that they want revenge for.
Although Kingston does not literally have a list tattooed on her body for the things she or her family name wants revenge for, she instead has the stories and fantasies, and all the things her mother tells her about Chinese culture constantly reminding her of whom she is and who she should be.Brave Orchid (Kingston's mother) is the one who tells Kingston all of the talk-stories about herself, and Chinese ways, which seem to stick with Kingston. In some parts of the book, she is a gentle, kind, and caring woman. But in other parts of the book, she is full of pride, mean, vicious, and almost brutal. The talk-stories that she tells, practically dominate her daughter's, Maxine Hong Kingston's, life as she grows up. She appears most in two stories ' 'Shaman' and 'At the Western Palace.' In 'Shaman,' the story is about Brave Orchid, and what kind of a person she was growing up, and how she made her own way ' becoming a doctor in China.
In 'At the Western Palace,' there is not only Kingston's mother featured, but her aunt also ' Moon Orchid. Brave Orchid is also more of an indirect character, for Kingston shows the reader what kind of person her mother is through the stories, and her actions ' such as the yelling, back and forth, between mother and daughter, in the last chapter of the book.Brave Orchid's character is revealed in the argument between mother and daughter ' as mentioned before ' on page 201 through 204. She is malicious in the way she insults her own daughter, calling her 'noisy' (202), and criticizing her, telling her that she 'talk[s] like a duck. [She is] disobedient [and] messy' (202). But she is caring, in a strange way, that she believed Chinese traditions and such, that she cut off Kingston's frenum as a child, so she would 'talk more, not less' (202).
Also, in a way that she called the police twice on her daughter, because she had led them on an adventure to explore, and she had no idea where her children were.SettingThe author tells five different stories, set in different places.'No Name Woman' takes place in China, years before Kingston was ever born. It creates more of a tense feeling. Usually, people are disgraced when they are married, yet they are pregnant by another man.
In China, they have their customs and such, and it's stricter, so to speak. Therefore, it creates a more tense feeling, when Kingston's no-name aunt gets pregnant, and the village finds out about it. This leads to the raid/riot that they orchestrate against her and her family. The setting of 'Shaman' is set in Canton, where Brave Orchid learns to be a doctor.'White Tigers' is set in China, but it is more of a fantasy kind of story that Kingston creates and molds into her own.
The bird in this story guides Fa Mu Lan, whom Kingston takes over the character as ' up a mountain, and leads her to an old couple that is to teach her how to fight. Another symbol would be the mountain that Fa Mu Lan climbs, and reaches the old couple that comes to be her mentors in learning how to fight.'At the Western Palace' and 'A Song for a Barbarian Reed Piper' is set in Stockton, California, when Kingston is growing up.Diction & SyntaxIn the book, Maxine Hong Kingston uses more of a neutral/formal language. She uses little to no slang. She uses an advanced vocabulary in some sections of the book, while in others; she uses simple sentences and vocabulary. Kingston is also very descriptive, and uses many simple sentences, and excludes fragments and rhetorical questions from her writing.
Her sentences vary, from time to time, from being plain and simple, to using an advanced vocabulary in her sentences. For example, the beginning of 'Shaman' in the first paragraph: 'Once in a long while, four times so far for me, my mother brings out the metal tube that holds her medical diploma. On the tube are gold circles cross with seven red lines each ' 'Joy' ideographs in abstract. There are also little flowers that look like gears for a gold machine. According to the scraps of labels with Chinese and American addresses, stamps, and postmarks, the family airmailed the can from Hong Kong in 1950.
It got crushed in the middle and whoever tried to peel the labels off stopped because the red and gold paint came off too, leaving silver scratches that rust. Somebody tried to pry the end off before discovering that the tube pulls apart. When I open it, the smell of China flies out, a thousand-year-old bat flying heavy-headed out of the Chinese caverns where bats are as white as dust, a smell that comes from long ago, far back in the brain. Crates from Canton, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have that smell too, only stronger because they are more recently come from the Chinese. (Page 57)This paragraph uses a mix of simple and complex sentences, and mostly simple vocabulary. Though, it uses many descriptive words, and is very detailed and specific.
It creates a sense of wonder, as to why Kingston's mother's papers were in a metal tube described like so. The paragraph flows easily, focusing on just the tube ' how it looks, and what it smells like as it opens.Concrete Detail/ImagerySight: 'The diploma gives her age as twenty-seven. She looks younger than I do, her eyebrows are thicker, her lips fuller.
Her naturally curly hair is parted on the left, one wavy wisp tendrilling off to the right. She wears a scholar's white gown, and she is not thinking about her appearance. She stares straight ahead as if she could see me and past me to her grandchildren and grandchildren's grandchildren. She has spacy eyes as all people recently from Asia have.
Her eyes do not focus on the camera. My mother is not smiling; Chinese do not smile for photographs.' In this part of a paragraph on page 59, Kingston describes her mother's looks on a photo that was with her medical diploma in the metal tube. It gives the reader an idea of what her mother looked like, years before she had children.
She is younger, and she is more care-free; independent.Touch: 'Pine needles covered the floor in thick patterns; someone had carefully arranged yellow, green, and brown pine needles according to age. When I stepped carelessly and mussed a line, my feet kicked up new blends of earth colors'' In this quote, on page 21, Kingston describes the floor in the old couple's hut, which the unique bird has led her to.Taste: 'The door opened, and an old man and an old woman came out carrying bowls of rice and soup and a leafy branch of peaches. 'Have you eaten rice today, little girl?' they greeted me. 'Yes, I have,' I said out of politeness. 'Thank you.' ('No, I haven't,' I would have said in real life, mad at the Chinese for lying so much. 'I'm starved. Do you have any cookies? I like chocolate chip cookies.') ' They just happened to be bringing three rice bowls and three pairs of silver chopsticks out to the plank table under the pines.
They gave me an egg, as if it were my birthday, and tea' The teapot and the rice pot seemed bottomless'.' In this quote, also on page 21, Kingston (as Fa Mu Lan) describes the food that the old couple brings out for her to eat, after she reaches them. The reader can practically taste the food, because of the hunger Kingston describes.Symbolism & Figurative LanguageIn 'White Tigers,' there is a bird in the story that guides Fa Mu Lan, whom Kingston takes over the character as ' up a mountain, and leads her to an old couple that is to teach her how to fight. The bird represents guidance, to a better way of life; a better lifestyle. Another symbol would be mountains in general.
Brave Orchid helps her sister, Moon Orchid, make it to the 'Gold Mountain' ' meaning America, and the better life it is supposed to hold there.Throughout the book, Kingston uses a variety of similes and metaphors, though, mostly similes. Some examples of similes that she uses are: On the very first page, at the bottom, she states how the villagers came to raid the house. 'Like a great saw, teeth strung with lights, files of people walked zigzag across our land, tearing the rice.' Of course, teeth cannot literally string with lights. Also, on the next page, 'Some of the faces stopped to peer at us, their eyes rushing like searchlights.' And here, eyes cannot 'rush,' nor are they 'headlights.' These similes create an urgent, rushed, and panicked atmosphere.
In the beginning of 'Shaman,' Kingston describes her mother's metal tube with 'little flowers that look like gears for a gold machine.' She then goes on with a metaphor and mixes in a smile, 'When I open it, the smell of China flies out, a thousand-year-old bat flying heavy-headed out of the Chinese caverns where bats are as white as dust, a smell that comes from long ago'' The figurative language gives the novel a more descriptive effect as a whole. It gives the reader a clearer understanding of what the author is trying to convey, whether it be images or ideas.ThemesThroughout the book, Maxine Hong Kingston's mother makes it a point of how men are very much more preferred than women, in Chinese society. At one point in the book ' in the 'White Tigers' chapter ' Kingston's mother points out, while having a conversation with a neighbor, 'You know how girls are. 'There's no profit in raising girls. Better to raise geese than girls.'' (46).
The person her mother is talking to replies, 'I would hit her if she were mine. But then there's no use wasting all that discipline on a girl. 'When you raise girls, you're raising children for strangers.'' Also, the point of raising boys is better, as opposed to girls, is made obvious in the first story, when the unnamed aunt is so disgraceful to Kingston's father's family, that she is casted out of the family, as if she had never existed. But then, Kingston contradicts what she has been taught, by telling the story of Fa Mu Lan, in 'White Tigers,' where Fa Mu Lan not only makes a name for herself, but she does so with a family on her back.Another theme would be how Kingston is silenced throughout her life, because she is a girl.
She never gets to voice her opinions, or ask questions, or anything. She eventually makes a list, in 'A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe,' that she plans to tell her mother, slowly. But when her mother silences her when she tries to tell her one of the items on the list, she eventually snaps and begins yelling at her mother.
Her mother, of course, yells back.Significance of the TitleMaxine Hong Kingston's novel, titled, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts refers to two specific things: the ghosts throughout Kingston's life, and Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior character that she takes the place of in 'White Tigers.' Ghosts are a frequent recurrence throughout the book.As Kingston is growing up, her mother tells her talk-stories of things both true and untrue. Eventually, after a while, they all blur together, and she cannot differ between what is real and true, and what is not ' on page 102: 'And I don't want to listen to any more of your stories; they have no logic. They scramble me up. You lie with stories.
You won't tell me a story and then say, 'This is a true story,' or, 'This is just a story.' I can't tell the difference. I don't even know what your real names are. I can't tell what's real and what you make up.' Kingston cannot recall if events were real or not, and the same goes for the people.
She cannot differ between the ghosts that her imagination creates and the true flesh and blood standing in front of her. Also, Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid's sister, was sent to a mental asylum because she feared so much that ghosts would take away people who left the house.Thus, Kingston grows up, taught that men were better than girls, yet, wanting to break free from that Chinese custom, so she creates the woman warrior ' Fa Mu Lan. And her family is surrounded by ghosts ' of her unnamed aunt, of Moon Orchid's mind, and even of Kingston's own imagination.Memorable Quotes'Be careful what you say.
It comes true. It comes true. I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and sidewalks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, TV dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts.' In this paragraph, Kingston is giving a warning. Reality is only what it is told to be. Kingston begins to 'see the world logically' when she leaves home.
She had learned that mysteries are better off as mysteries; plain and simple.'I continue to sort out what's just my childhood, just my imagination, just my family, just the village, just movies, just living.' This quote emphasizes how Kingston is still trying to differ the truths and facts of her life and family.'Long ago in China, knot-makers tied string into buttons and frogs, and rope into bell pulls. There was one knot so complicated that it blinded the knot-maker. Finally an emperor outlawed this cruel knot, and the nobles could not order it anymore.
If I had lived in China, I would have been an outlaw knot-maker.' This quote compares talk-stories to knot-makers. She creates a hypothetical situation, using 'if.' Also, the reader can imply that the story was passed down from generation to generation, parent to child, and so on.
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