The Voice Of Women In Kingston’s The Woman Warrior

“The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston is about the author’s life in an immigrant household in the United States of America. Maxine refers to the stories narrated by her mother to tell the tales of influential figures in her life from whom she draws strength and inspiration while living in a sexist and oppressive society that seeks to silence women. The five chapters tell the tales of 6 women, namely, “No Name Woman”, the author’s aunt who was forever silenced; “Fa Mu lan”, a legendary warrior who leads china towards revolution; “Brave Orchid”, the author’s mother who was a doctor in China and immigrated to live with her husband in America; and “Moon Orchid”, the author’s aunt who moves to America and dies in a mental asylum after her husband marries another woman. The last chapter is distinctive as the author expresses her own frustration with both her silence and her troubling relationship with her mother. The final story is about Tsai Yen, who was kidnapped by barbarians and who brought back songs from the foreign land. Kingston in the woman warrior suffers from a crisis of identity borne from clashes between the cultures that define her. Kingston uses silence and the contextualization of the stories of the influential figures her mother describes as tools to shape her own identity and give voice to the silent.

The very first line of the book evidences the importance of silence, the most important motif Kingston uses to contextualize the interrelation of the characters from her mother’s stories. “You must not tell anyone,”. The mother warns her she must remember the story in silence which has a lasting impact on the author. The talk story is about the author’s aunt, No Name Woman, whose whole life is symbolic of the silencing and suppression of self. No Name Woman, a married woman with an absent husband, who was punished because she committed adultery and who commits suicide with her new born child after being outcast. Throughout the chapter No Name Woman’s silence emphasizes her feeling that her words have no value. Her sexual relations with both her rapist and her husband, wherein she had no control, evidence the foundation of this feeling. No Name Woman’s silence can also be seen as an act of retaliation as she refuses to tell anyone the name or the identity of her rapist and wants her family to suffer in uncertainty.

Moon Orchid, the author’s maternal aunt appears in the talk story “At a western palace”. Although she is very conversational at Brave Orchid’s house, all she is actually able to articulate is the actions of the children around. Though blessed with the gift of speech, it can be argued that her speech too is another form of silence as she has no real impact on anything around her. Another example of silence in Moon Orchid’s story is shown in the exchange that takes place between Moon Orchid and her husband. Brave Orchid believes that Moon Orchid’s husband will be shocked when he sees Moon Orchid and at the actual confrontation it is Moon Orchid who is speechless. She silently accepts her defeat and acquiesces, symbolically, to the patriarchal society that surrounds her. Moon Orchid loses her identity and self as a result of her silence. Her husband’s expectation that Moon Orchid stay silent even though he has taken a new wife, represents that how cultural pressures succeed in disempowering and silencing women. She uses this talk story as a lesson on identity and how it is of suppression speech leads to loss of identity.

Throughout the book, the author narrates the stories of women who were silenced to frsm her own suffering. Kingston’s silence starts to frustrate her as her voice is frail and is only a whisper. Her frustration grows and she begins to vent out on a quiet Chinese girl in whom sees her own troubles of communication. The authors frustration because of her silence grows and she launches a verbal assault against her mother borne from her anger at her confused identity living as a immigrat torn between Chinese and American culture .However, she calms down and starts thinking logically about the Chinese culture and her mother’s talk stories. She relates herself to Tsai Yen, a poetess who was kidnapped by barbarians. Tsai yen never forgets her Chinese identity and her voice is her strength unlike Fa mu Lan who has but physical strength. She takes inspiration from both however to empower herself and provide herself with an integrated and non conflicting Chinese and American identity .

Maxine through these different talk stories represents nuanced views of the lives of different women and learns key lessons from them which address the issues Chinese women face in their lives. The talk stories serve as a representation and articulation of the experiences of the women who were silenced. The different talk stories together are integrated in a way to provide a voice to the women shoe identity was trampled. Kingston hence retells these talk stories and cements these words in ink so that they are never forgotten. 

16 August 2021
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