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Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

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Major Theme

The major theme of the memoirs is that Chinese women can rise above the inferior position dictated by their heritage without abandoning all cultural ties. Kingston often gains Chinese knowledge from her mother who assumes that Kingston's stance in relation to eastern culture should be submissive and subordinate. Kingston finds ways to take her cultural heritage and actively shape it to fit with her American reality. Instead of receiving the knowledge of her cultural past passively, Kingston questions it, amplifies it, selectively uses only beneficial portions of it, and in general, views it with American eyes. Dominant in this cultural heritage is the ideology of women's inferiority. In each section, Kingston finds ways to imagine women differently than inferior and passive to that fate, while refusing to totally abandon her Chinese heritage.

Minor Theme

The minor theme of The Woman Warrior is that a blending of two cultures is possible and is developed in the book through Kingston's evolving relationship with her mother, Brave Orchid. Brave Orchid drives Kingston to distraction with her non-Western thinking and her overbearing treatment of her family. As a result, Kingston goes through a process in which she moves from a total repudiation of her mother to an ultimate reconciliation with her, a reconciliation that allows Kingston to blend her own Western thinking with her rich Chinese heritage. This blending enhances her writing and proves that a person can richly exist within the framework of two cultures.


The mood of the memoirs is meditative and speculative. Kingston works in most of the sections in an improvisational narrative mode. She does not come across as an authoritative guide to Chinese culture for her American readers. Instead, she recognizes and struggles with her own puzzlement over her Chinese heritage and the conflicts it reaches when it encounters American reality.

Maxine Hong Kingston - The Woman Warrior Free Study Guide/Notes/Summary
Maxine Hong Kingston

Maxine Hong Kingston - BIOGRAPHY

Maxine Hong Kingston was born in Stockton, California in 1940 as Maxine Ting Hong. She was the eldest child of six children. As a young girl, she was often confused about her dual American and Chinese heritage. But attending public school in California, she became very Americanized. After graduation from high school, she attended the University of California at Berkeley and received a Bachelor’s degree in 1962. In 1965, she earned her teaching certificate.

Kingston is the most popular Asian-American writer living today. Her work is studied in Ethnic studies courses, women's studies courses, and American Literature courses. Her book of memoirs, The Woman Warrior, won the National Book Critics Award for the best book of nonfiction in 1976. Kingston also wrote a book on Chinese male immigrants to the United States, called China Men. She regards it as a companion piece to The Woman Warrior. The purpose of China Men is to show how much Chinese Americans have contributed to the national heritage of the United States, as they built the railroads, farmed the wastelands, and faced some of the worst discrimination in the country’s history.

Maxine Hong Kingston continues to live and write in California. She is married to Earl Kingston and has one son.


To call The Woman Warrior, a non-fiction book, is rather misleading, for Kingston experiments with mixing many different forms in her memoirs: autobiography, fiction, history, and folk tales. It is crucial that readers recognize the mix of genres in The Woman Warrior. Kingston reveals that she receives her information about her Chinese heritage from her closed-mouthed mother, who tells the truth with fiction, weaving myth, fable, folklore, and reality together in a form of story telling Kingston calls "talk-story." In the “talk-story,” the reality of the story is less important than the lesson drawn from it. Kingston does not attempt to convey her Chinese heritage in an authoritative way. On the contrary, she frequently calls attention to the gaps in her knowledge and the fact that she is reconstructing her history from snippets of conversations that she has overheard, and from the reading that she has done.

The book can be difficult to read because Kingston so often breaks the rules of the genre that she is using. For instance, while telling what seems like a factual story of her mother's education in China, Kingston breaks off into a long discussion of the history of ghosts in China. The expectation that history and ghost-lore are quite distinct is broken. The reader needs to suspend disbelief and go with the flow of the interwoven fact and fiction. Realizing that a single person's reality is often a mixture of the imagination, the creative memory, and the reality of the actual experience.

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