Female Roles In Woman Warrior By Maxine Hong Kingston
An open theme in “The Woman Warrior'' is how females play a role in the public and family life in China, Chinese communities, and American families. Throughout the book, they are seen as being a financial burden to most families. Kingston is a very detailed writer that shares her story of how women warriors, little dogs, and the warriors are symbols and motifs that relate to the major theme of her story, and the roles that women portray in her story and life. The theme of female roles that are apparent in the story demonstrates what Kingston actually wants to be as a person and as the daughter of Brave Orchid. She wants to symbolize the positive aspects of being a young woman, as it is something that she focuses on throughout her book.
The symbol of woman warriors are thoroughly shown throughout the story. These woman warriors are representations of what Maxine wants to be, a fierce, strong, and independent woman that can protect her family through anything. In comparison to what she has been told her whole life when Maxine would only hear the stories of young baby girls who are drowned and drenched in ash. As stated in White Tigers, 'Everyone takes the girls when he can. The families are glad to be rid of them. 'Girls are maggots in rice.' 'It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters.' He quoted to me the sayings I hated'. This quote shows how girls in Chinese families are seen to be a financial burden/labor and need to get married as soon as possible. This notion still widely filters what is said to young Chinese girls especially from the Chinese elders in different families. Kingston does not agree with this notion and shares her own opinions through her story of Fa MuLan. As said in the earlier portion of the book, “The swordswoman and I are not so dissimilar. May my people understand the resemblance soon so that I can return to them. What we have in common are the words at our backs. The idioms for revenge are 'report a crime' and 'report to five families.' The reporting is the vengeance — not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words. And I have so many words — 'chink' words and 'gook' words too — that they do not fit on my skin” (Kingston 53). This quote is showing how Maxine is making a huge contrast between herself and Fa MuLan, a woman warrior, and just a normal Chinese girl. Even though there is a sharp contrast between the bravery of the two different characters, Maxine makes a major comparison of how they are both taxed with words. Fa MuLan has her town hardships tattooed on her back and Maxine has different Chinese tales drilled into her brain that are riddled with gender bias and racial descrimination. Fa MuLan was able to escape from her own personal struggle, but Maxine seems to have a never-ending struggle. She just wants to see herself as someone who grows and develops to achieve and accomplish what is right. She wants to show her embrace of the idea of marriage and being a mother without relinquishing her power of self strength. Kingston continues to see herself grow as her own woman warrior through Maxine and it slowly becomes a part of her identity. She is coming of age as an American Chinese woman.
Kingston frequency uses the symbol of “Little Dog” throughout her story. Little dog is the nickname that Maxine's mother, Brave Orchid, called her daughter when she was younger. This symbol has a double meaning, but it was primarily portrayed through how Chinese people in China and the United States speak of the woman in this novel. It can also symbolize the two different sides of life cna culture that Maxine have to battle between throughout the book. She is struggling with understanding how she is a Chinese American young girl. As stated in No Name Woman, “Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what are movies?”. Maxine is trying to tackle what is real and what is a fantasy. Little dogs can also show the dual sides of being a Chinese American girl and feeling endearment but also feeling unwanted. Kingston is raised thinking that she is not enough because she is a girl. In her earlier years of life her mother would drill into her that she was just supposed to be married in an arranged marriage. As Maxine said in the beginning of the novel, “I refused to cook. When I had to wash dishes, I would crack one or two. 'Bad girl,' my mother yelled, and sometimes that made me gloat rather than cry. Isn't a bad girl almost a boy? What do you want to be when you grow up, little girl? A lumberjack in Oregon!' (Kingston 47).This symbol is showing another side of Chinese culture that is polar opposite from woman warriors. Instead of wanting to be lifted up in positivity, Maxine is constantly being suffocated by the damaging and hurtful words from her mother that are instilled in her culture. She starts to show that her sense of self identity that was manifested through her mother's social expectations of her. Maxine is consistently wondering if her identity is constantly dependent on someone else’s thoughts, implicit bias, and ideas.
There is a consistent thread of the symbol “The Warrior” being used as a motif that connects to Brave Orchid, Fa MuLan, and even Kingstong/Maxine herself. Most of The Woman Warrior is primarily about a constant struggle between mother and daughter and the daughters identity in contrast to society's thoughts. Kingston frequently uses Fa Mulan as a standard that she compares herself to in terms of confidence and strength. Stated in A Song of a Barbarian Reed Pipe , “Normal Chinese women's voices are strong and bossy. We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans. Once a year the teachers referred my sister and me to speech therapy, but our voices would straighten out, unpredictably normal, for the therapists” (Kingston 172). This quote is relevant to how Maxine feels when she becomes extremely vocal about how she doesn't fully understand what example of femininity she should follow. Throughout the book Maxine starts to develop her own sense of identity which is very uncommon in the Chinese culture. This is why she wants to compare herself to Fa MuLan. Nearing the end of the book Maxine’s voice starts to become a lot clearer. In section five, Maxine has a breaking point and states, 'And I don't want to listen to any more of your stories; they have no logic. They scramble me up. You lie with stories. You won't tell me a story and then say, 'This is a true story,' or, 'This is just a story.' I can't tell the difference. I don't even know what your real names are. I can't tell what's real and what you make up. Ha! You can't stop me from talking'. This moment was when Maxine let go of her pain and anger that she had kept in her whole life. She had finally come to reason with who she wants to be as a person. She doesn’t want to abide by the bias and pressure that is embedded with being a Chinese-American girl, she wants to be an American-Chinese girl and be completely independent. Maxine wants to be released from her controlling mother and take the reins on her own life. She has finally become her own warrior.
The Woman Warrior is riddled with the struggle of problems between mother and daughter that stem from their different cultural backgrounds. Maxine and Brave Orchid come from being Chinese and American backgrounds, and they are nothing alike. She battles through feeling unwanted, under appreciated, and feeling silenced.Maxine goes on a journey of self discovery and finding her own identity. Kingston helps to convey Maxine’s story through the use of powerful motifs and symbols that relate to a bigger picture that is primarily about female roles in China and America. Maxine finds who she is, a neutral blend of her own American traits of Chinese heritage. Kingston amplifies what it means to be a female through her eyes in this novel as Maxine, and she reidentifies her own sense of power, voice, and strength.