Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior” is novel composed of myths and memoirs that have shaped her life. Her mother’s talk-stories about her no name aunt, her own interpretation of Fa Mu Lan, the stories of ghosts in doom rooms and American culture have been the basis of her learning. She learned morals, truths, and principals that would be the basis of her individuality.
Since her mother’s talk-story was one of the major forces of her childhood and since she herself is now talking-story in writing this book, stories, factual and fictional, are an inherent part of Kingston’s autobiography. Finding one’s voice in order to talk-story, a metaphor for knowing oneself in order to attain the fullness of one’s power, becomes one of the book’s major themes.
The story her mother told her, “No Name Woman,” is meant to deal with issues concerning a young woman’s life. I think that it is her mother telling her not to be a disgrace to the family’s name. Brave Orchid, Kingston’s mother, grew up in a small village in rural China where every action of the residents was common knowledge to the villagers. The villagers’ mentality then was to weed out the less productive and bad inhabitants that would put a strain on the already poor village. She states how her father would not admit to having a sister because of the humiliation she caused them. The man who got her aunt pregnant wanted to kill her because he did not want to be embarrassed, when actually it was his fault just as much hers. Kingston’s mother tells her this story because she wants her daughter to be the perfect female for their family. “Don’t let your father know I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us. You wouldn’t like to be forgotten as if you had never been born. The villagers are watchful.” This is frightening for Kingston because she feels that women are being watched to make sure they are behaving the right way for society. Kingston then shows us later in her own telling of Fa Mu Lan, that she is actually strong and doesn’t need to conform to society’s stereotypes.
I also believe that the story about her “Father’s drowned-in-the-well sister” is a warning to be cautious of people trying to take advantage of her. Brave Orchid is trying to instill the fact that she doesn’t have to do what other people demand her to do, as in the example of her aunt’s admirer, when he told Kingston’s aunt to have sex with him and she didn’t say no, then it ruined her life and disrupted her families lives. Kingston wrote, “The fear did not stop but permeated everywhere. She told the man, “I think I’m pregnant.” He organized the raid against her.” Another major point Brave Orchid makes from the story is not to let someone that is untrustworthy get the upper hand in a situation where they would have the power to take advantage of her, to save themselves from shame and humiliation. She is trying to make Kingston deal with honest people and make good friends through a rather frightening story of humiliation and deceit.
In the re-telling of the Fa Mu Lan myth, Kinston shows the strengths and warrior like abilities of her character, rather than the weaknesses her mother scares her with, in the story of the “No Name Woman.” “When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk-story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves.” Fa Mu Lan helps her get out of the circle of the average subservient Chinese woman and strive to be something better than a housewife or a slave. She gets an abundance of inspiration from the heroine in the myth, pretending the hero is she. Kingston is inspired to break the mold of the typical Chinese woman. From this myth she learns that it is ok to be different, to be a Chinese-American woman. She proves to herself that she can be whoever she wants whether society agrees with her or not. She can make up her own myths and be the hero, regardless of what her strong willed mother says.
Kingston’s life growing up was plagued with “ghosts.” Kingston writes, “We were regularly visited by the Mail Ghost, Meter Reader Ghost, Garbage Ghost. Staying off the streets did no good.” She is living in a completely different culture than her mother had raised her to understand. “We hid directly under the windows, pressed against the baseboards until the ghost, calling us in the ghost language so that we’d almost answer to stop its voice, gave up.” As a child she didn’t understand that these were her neighbors going on about their daily lives, while she was stuck in her own culture, her own world. Her mother doesn’t help her realize that Americans are real people too. Her mother doesn’t want to give up her origins for a new way of life, a new culture in “The Gold Mountain.” “Whenever my parents said “home,” they suspended America. They suspended enjoyment, but I did not want to go to China.” It seems that her life growing up, raised as a Chinese girl living in an American culture was very confusing to her. She knew that her parents didn’t like this place and would rather be back at “home,” but she only knew one home and that was California.
The ghost stories helped Kingston and her family put a name on the confusion the American people caused them. In the Chinese culture, I think that they used the word ghost for something unfamiliar to them, something confusing. Instead of calling the Americans weird or strange, they would call them ghosts. Kingston also says that her aunt “haunted” her from childhood on. I think she says this because she didn’t understand her aunt’s ways. I don’t think that she was actually haunted; I think that she was just really confused.
In Kingston’s book, the myths, talk-stories, and memoirs she puts together help her to understand her own life on her own terms. Whether she is trying to understand the Chinese culture that her mother teaches her or to understand the American culture she is growing up in, the stories are her way of accepting the life that she is born with. Kingston uses the negative influence on her life from her mother to help her understand what her mother expects and an insight into the Chinese traditions. She also uses myths life Fa Mu Lan to help make her will stronger. The stories of the ghosts in America help her to put a meaning on the confusion she is having. All through out the story, the stories and myths teach her about life, either good or bad, and teaches her to overcome her weaknesses to strive to be a modern day Warrior Woman.