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Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

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CHAPTER 2: "White Tigers"

Summary (Continued)

When she heals, a white horse steps into the courtyard, wearing a saddle just her size. She puts on men's clothes and armor and ties her hair like a man's. A young man steps forward to volunteer for her army and another comes to join her on a black horse. The villagers give her gifts and offer their sons, which they had earlier hidden from the baron's army. She takes the ones the families can spare, and leaves the young fathers and those "who would break hearts with their leaving." Before she leaves, she thanks her parents for having carved on her back.

As she leads her army, other, smaller armies join hers. She hides her gender from her troops, fearing they would rebel if they knew she was a woman. Her skill in battle does not betray her, for she fights like a true warrior. Her first opponent is a giant. When they fight, she cuts off his leg and then his head. When he reverts to his true self, a snake, and slithers away, the giant's soldiers pledge loyalty to her. After the fight, the woman warrior looks up to the mountaintop and hopes that the old people are watching. She next leads her army north and defeats the troops of the emperor. Whenever she is in danger in battle, she makes a throwing gesture and the opposing army falls under hailstones and lightning

One morning as she is in her tent, a man asks to visit with her. It is her future husband who tells her she is beautiful. They ride together in battle, and love one another after the fighting. She soon becomes pregnant and wears her armor altered so she looks like a big man. She gives birth to a baby boy. They make a sling for the baby inside her armor and return to battle. At night in the tent, they play with their son. When he is a month old, they give him a name, shave his head, celebrate his birth, and send him to the husband’s family to raise in safety. The woman warrior’s appearance becomes slim again.

She misses her son, and in her loneliness she wanders alone into the woods. The enemy spies her, attacks, and pins her to the ground. Before she can seek help from her magic beads, the enemy steals them from her. She realizes the thief is the prince. She takes her fastest horsemen and pursues him. She uses her lessons learned from eagles to focus her eyes and sees the distant prince throwing away her beads. Now the rest of her victories must be won on her own, with no magical protection.

On a hill overlooking Peiping, the woman warrior sees the Han people marching toward the emperor. They challenge the ruler, behead him, clean out his palace, and inaugurate a peasant to begin the new order. The woman warrior then returns to her native village for one final battle. The wicked baron still has power over the village. By herself, she attacks him and tells him that she has come for his life in payment for his crimes against the villagers. He demands to know who she is, and she answers by saying, "I am a female avenger." He laughs at her and says, “Girls are maggots in the rice...It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters." She accuses him of taking away her brother, taking away her childhood, and being responsible for her back. The woman warrior then slashes him across the face and cuts off his head. She searches the house and locates a locked room, where she finds women cowering and whimpering. She gives the women a bag full of rice, and they all wander away like ghosts. Later she hears that they become a band of sword women. Since her battles are over, the woman warrior goes home to her parents-in-laws to see her husband and son. Her son is impressed when he sees a general, but his father says, "It's your mother." The son will always remember the words on his mother’s back and how they were fulfilled. He would also hear the villages make a legend about his mother’s “perfect filiality.”

After the story of the woman warrior, Kingston shifts to her present life in America saying, "My American life has been such a disappointment." When she received straight A’s as a child, her mother rewarded her by telling the story of the "girl who saved her village." But as an American youth, she could not figure out the meaning of “village,” for she felt no attachment to the old China. She also resented the Chinese attitude about females. When she heard her parents talk negatively about girls, she would throw a temper tantrum. Her parents would respond by telling her she was bad and quote another negative saying, such as “There’s no profit in raising girls." Her mother would then hit her for crying.

(Kingston promises never to hit her children for crying.) She screamed to her mother that she was not a bad girl, but realizes now that the real problem was not being bad but being a girl. She still remembers how the Chinese shook their heads when she and her sisters walked by. They felt sorry for her mother for having so many worthless daughters. As a result, her parents became ashamed to take the girls out, but they were always proud to display their sons and give them special privileges.

As a Chinese American student, she stopped getting straight A’s, and decided she would never marry. She also refused to cook or clean. (Kingston admits that even now she sometimes refuses to do household chores.) She spent her time dreaming about making herself “a warrior like the swords woman who drives me." But she knew that “China wraps double binds around my feet," causing her to feel inferior. As a result, she was ineffective in life. When urban renewal tore down her parents' laundry, she made up warrior fantasies and did nothing useful. When she worked in an art supply store and her boss offended her by telling her to order more paint in "nigger yellow," she could only complain in a whisper using her "bad, small-person's voice that makes no impact." As a result, the boss never even acknowledged her complaint. At another job for the land developers' association, she refused to type invitations to a banquet at a restaurant being picketed by the NAACP. Her boss laughed at her stupidity and fired her. She began to think about avenging not only the "stupid racists," but also the tyrants who deny her family food and work; but she realized that to avenge her family, she would have to "storm across China" and take back her family's land from the Communists. She would also have to race across America and reclaim her family's laundry, but no wise bird has called her, no wise old people have trained her, she has no magic beads, and no rabbit will jump into a fire for her.

The news from China is confusing to Kingston in her younger days. When she was nine years old, letters from home arrived and made her parents cry. They told about how her uncles were made to kneel on broken glass during their trials. Then they were executed. An aunt was tortured and later killed herself. Other relations disappeared. Those who lived in communes had to work seventeen hours a day. The old women were given axes by the Communists and urged to kill themselves for being useless. Kingston resented that her Chinese relatives were not like the heroes presented in the talk-stories about home.

When Kingston visits her family, she explains all of her American successes to them in order to assert that she is worthy. She believes her family does love her, but cannot go beyond the negative Chinese philosophy about women. Even though she once read in an anthropology book that the Chinese think girls are important, she has never heard any Chinese say so. Kingston then ends the second chapter by saying, "The swords woman and I are not so dissimilar.” The two of them have in common the "words at our backs." The woman warrior had them engraved in her skin, while Kingston engraves her words, her thoughts, on to the page in order to explain and instruct. Through “the words at her back,” she is able to avenge herself.

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