Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston|
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The third section, "Shaman," describes Kingston's mother's life as a doctor in China. Brave Orchid is married to a man who migrates to the United States and cannot send for her for years. She lives with her tyrannical mother-in-law until she goes to medical school and studies to be a doctor. While at school, she fights a Sitting Ghost and impresses all her fellow students with her bravery. Then she travels back to her home village and practices medicine. Her own villagers and the people of surrounding villages treat her with great respect. She only treats ill people who are not dying, for she does not want to get the reputation of being a failure. Kingston ends the section by describing a recent visit to her mother in which her mother complains about how hard she works in the tomato fields and about her daughter’s long absences from home. Kingston cannot go home often, because she becomes sick with anxiety every time she visits. Her mother finally grants her the space to stay away.
Section four, "At the Western Palace," has Brave Orchid sending to Hong Kong for her younger sister, Moon Orchid, in order to reunite her with her husband, who has been away from her in the United States for thirty-six years. During the separation, Moon Orchid has lived a sheltered life in Hong Kong, raising her daughter and receiving monthly checks from her husband, who refuses to send for her. Brave Orchid tries to toughen her sister up by teaching her to work and persuading her to confront her husband, but Moon Orchid is hopelessly inept as a worker and fears standing up to her husband. Brave Orchid takes Moon Orchid to her husband's office building in Los Angeles, where he is a brain surgeon, and arranges a confrontation. The husband has totally assimilated into the American culture and cannot connect with Moon Orchid. Moon Orchid becomes very distraught. She stays with her daughter, now living in Los Angeles, but soon manifests paranoid delusions about being spied upon by Mexican Ghosts. Brave Orchid tries to heal her, but realizes her sister is beyond help. Moon Orchid spends her last months in a mental asylum where she dies happily.
The last section, "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," describes
Kingston's desire to find her voice. Her mother cut the frenum of her
tongue when she was an infant, presumably in order to keep her from being
“tongue-tied” and to help her speak two languages, but Kingston finds
this disturbing and ineffectual. She describes a painful childhood learning
English in an indifferent school system where her language learning difficulties
and cultural conflicts were treated with scorn. She remembers a totally
silent schoolgirl whom she one day tortured in the girls' bathroom in
an attempt to make her talk. After this event, Kingston gets a mysterious
illness, which keeps her in bed for eighteen months. Kingston saves up
a list of more than two hundred complaints and confessions to tell her
mother. She confronts her mother, and tells her she fears being sold into
slavery as her mother's China stories have led her to believe. She also
refuses to be treated as a second-class citizen, and confesses that she
is smart according to her American teachers. She leaves home to escape
from the anxiety she feels with her mother and her cultural heritage;
but she returns later with an understanding of her mother and an appreciation
for her storytelling power. She ends the book on two stories, one is her
mother's and the other is hers. Her mother's story is about her grandmother
who loved operas so much she made her family brave bandits to attend.
Her story is about an ancient Chinese poet named Ts'ai Yen who was kidnapped
by barbarians and kept for twelve years during which time she had two
children and learned to respect the music of the barbarians. When she
returned from captivity, she produced poetry that combined barbarian language
and Chinese language.
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. 09 May 2017