Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston|
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THE WOMAN WARRIOR: FREE BOOKNOTES / ONLINE SUMMARY
At the end of the chapter, Kingston tells about the last time she visited
her parents. Her mother, close to eighty years of age, complained about
how long it had been since she had seen Kingston. Brave Orchid told her
the last time she saw her she was young, and now she is old. It had only
been a year since Kingston’s last visit. Brave Orchid next complained
that Kingston was too thin, saying the villagers gossip about their family
because they cannot keep their daughters fat. Her largest complaint, however,
is about her hard work in the tomato fields. Kingston tries to find out
why her mother still works, dying her hair to cover the white so the farmers
would hire her. Brave Orchid responds that she and her husband need the
money: just as they had needed the money when running the laundry. Brave
Orchid is convinced that she never would have had to work so hard in China.
This chapter, appropriately centered in the middle of the book, is about Brave Orchid: the central figure in the author’s life. As she tells about her mother, Kingston continues her narrative habit of digressiveness, interweaving the past and present. The author begins the chapter by looking at official documents and photographs of her mother, which reveal some information. For instance, her mother's lack of a smile and plain, dartless dresses show that Brave Orchid possessed typical traits for Chinese women in America. More importantly, the photographs and documents serve as prompts for Kingston to talk about Brave Orchid in China.
Kingston describes her mother as a woman who values her public persona, has lived several types of lives, loves her daughter awkwardly as a result of a cultural and generation gap, lives in a world peopled by ghosts without the ability to distinguish between superstition and science or between truth and fiction, and is a very good story teller. One of the stories that Kingston remembers hearing as a child is about the Sitting Ghost, where nothing is real and everything is symbolic. In the story, Brave Orchid says, “the world I touched turned to sand." Kingston realizes that a traditional woman like Brave Orchid would have felt her world crumbling away several times. First, when she entered medical school, leaving behind so many female traditions. Second, when her solid Chinese reality is left behind for the new world of America, and last when she and her husband lose the laundry and she is forced into the tomato fields to make a living. It is no wonder that Brave Orchid says, "there was so much work leading to other work and another life."
Ghosts are very real and serious to the Chinese, with books written about their histories and exorcisms performed to rid people of them. Ghosts are also very important in this section of the book. First, ghosts are acknowledged as the spirits of dead people, as in the No Name Woman section. In addition, they are the characters of talk-stories and spring from the folklore of many generations, such as the Sitting Ghost. More importantly, the ghosts are also all people who are not Chinese, thus the taxi ghosts, the garbage ghosts, and the police ghosts. Even Chinese-American children are half ghosts to their parents, for they do not know Chinese traditions. In a similarly arrogant manner, the Chinese believe their language is the only real language of humans; other language is ghost noise, not even decipherable or meaningful. Kingston felt very alienated and frightened as a child living in this country surrounded by ghosts. As an adult, she has tried to repudiate this imaginative ghost world of the Chinese and her childhood by having a realistic approach to life and explaining things in black and white.
At the end of this section, Kingston returns to her American reality. She
explains going through a painful period of separation and differentiation
from her mother, who was a very strong woman and had much influence on
Kingston. In seeking to find herself, Kingston argues with everything
her mother says, insensitive to her age or confusion. As a daughter, she
is trying to distance herself from her mother in order to find her own
voice. Even though Kingston reveals that she has always felt much anxiety
in her relationship with her mother, this section marks a turning point
for her. At the end of the chapter, Brave Orchid gives Kingston a benediction
or blessing when she calls her “Little Dog,” a term of endearment. Brave
Orchid also grants Kingston permission to gracefully stay away from her
without feeling guilty.
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. 09 May 2017