Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston|
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THE WOMAN WARRIOR: LITERARY CRITICISM / LITERARY ELEMENTS
Brave Orchid tells her children they must help her to keep their father
from taking a new wife. Her husband tells her he is almost seventy years
old and does not plan to take a second wife. Remembering the story of
their aunt, Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid's daughters decide that “they would
never let men be unfaithful to them."
This is the only chapter in which Kingston uses an uninterrupted storytelling format. It is told in the regular past tense, and Kingston, the present-day "I" narrator, never comes in to break the narrative or comment on her present life or her gaps in knowledge. Here, Brave Orchid gets center stage in the center of the book, and Kingston shrinks into the background only mentioned in the third person as the oldest of Brave Orchid's children whose name sounds like "ink" to Moon Orchid.
Moon Orchid and Brave Orchid represent for Kingston two very different modes of feminine gender. Up until this chapter, the book has portrayed Brave Orchid as the main image of a Chinese woman: a picture of strength, daring, imagination, and will. In Moon Orchid, a very different mode of Chinese femininity is developed. She is quiet, submissive, delicate, and in genuine need of protection and care. Moon Orchid fulfills more of the American stereotype of Chinese women, often perpetuated in books and movies. For Kingston, Moon Orchid is another example of Chinese womanhood to be avoided. Where her mother is loud and embarrassing, Moon Orchid is silent, as she tries to be demure. Kingston is determined to be like neither Chinese woman.
Moon Orchid serves a second function in her contrast to her sister. She comes directly from China and, thus, brings with her all the cultural customs in which Brave Orchid has either adapted or abandoned. She is unable to look people directly in the eyes, and imagines that those who do are wild animals or barbarians. She is shocked to find that Brave Orchid has hung her own family’s portraits, when the custom is to hang only the pictures of dead ancestors. Unable to question the authority of any man, Moon Orchid has lived thirty years without challenging the husband who abandoned her. When she finally sees him, she is unable to utter a word. Unlike Brave Orchid, who has adapted to a life filled with hard work and providing for her family, Moon Orchid has lived off the money sent by her husband and never worked for a living, unable still to provide for herself. Even more than Brave Orchid, she thinks only things Chinese are human and all else is savage and ghost-like. As a result, Moon Orchid is unable to make the transition to life in America and goes mad.
This section also reveals Brave Orchid's sense of disconnection with her children.
They are not only a generation apart, but also virtually a culture apart.
Brave Orchid does not understand the measures of success in the United
States, which have marked her children's school years. She questions their
honesty in telling her of their successes since her measures of success
are Chinese, at which her children fail. She wonders why anyone would
want to marry her children, since they seem lazy and disorganized to her.
She also resents their American ways, their abilities to laugh at life
and stare trouble in the face. In this aspect, Kingston has provided a
valuable and poignant insight into the pain of being an immigrant parent
who watches her children become foreigners.
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. 09 May 2017