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Free Study Guide: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

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Kingston devises a unique method of combining a family story with a cultural story. The family story of the struggle girls often go through of differentiating themselves from their mothers makes the book accessible to people who do not have the experience of living as a minority in a majority culture. The cultural story runs parallel to this family story.

As a member of a minority cultural group, Kingston had to negotiate between her mother's cultural values and her adoptive country's cultural values. As a child she found that both sides denigrated the other. That is, her mother regarded all Americans, including her children, as barbarians or ghosts, barely human and unmannerly, all because they were ignorant of the Chinese tradition. The Americans Kingston encountered at school regarded the Chinese children in a roughly similar way. Their Chinese culture was not taken into account as an explanation for their knowledge or lack of knowledge, and their difficulty speaking was regarded with indifference or cruelty. As a child, Kingston found her mother's Chinese customs embarrassing. She sided, as a measure of self-defense, with the dominant group, in her scorn of her mother's Chinese way of seeing. Only later, after she found a way to gain power in her successes academically, could Kingston come back to her mother and her culture with respect and love. Only then could she regain that part of herself that her mother nurtured.

The benefit Kingston gained from this return or reconciliation was a freeing up of her imagination. She regains wholeness when she accepts her mother's gifts of storytelling and imagination. As the saying goes, "You are your mother." In repudiating her mother (and her mother's culture), Kingston had repudiated a vital part of herself. When she reconciled with her mother (and her cultural heritage), she gained a powerful voice. The result is The Woman Warrior, a book of exquisitely lyrical beauty. All the while the reader reads of Kingston's shame in her "ching-chong ugly" voice, he or she is reading carefully crafted and eloquent prose. The beauty of the writing proves the value of the reconciliation with her mother and her cultural heritage.


1. Describe what Maxine’s childhood was like in America. How is it different than her childhood in China?

2. Describe Brave Orchid as a person. What affect does she have on her daughter Maxine?

3. What is the main problem that Maxine must overcome in the book? How is she successful?

4. What is the meaning of “talk-story” in the book? Why is it important?

5. Briefly summarize the story of the No-Name Woman. Why does Brave Orchid tell Maxine this story?

6. As a child, Maxine was sick and in bed for eighteen months. What does she think has caused the illness? Why was the event so significant to Maxine?

7. Explain the structure of the book, how it is put together into a whole. Why is the structure effective?

8. Compare and contrast Maxine as a contemporary Woman Warrior to the mythical Woman Warrior described in the book.

9. Who is Moon Orchid? Why does she go insane?

10. What is the main theme of the book? How is it developed?

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The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston: Free BookNotes Summary

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