Throughout the book, The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston, the generation gap between the narrator and Brave Orchid is evident. The narrator feels that her mother’s culture values have no relevance in America. In the chapter, At the Western Palace, Brave Orchid sends for her sister, Moon Orchid, to come to America and urges Moon Orchid to confront her sister’s husband. The ideas that Brave Orchid has are bold and they conflict with Moon Orchid’s nature. Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid are two Chinese women who live in two different countries. They are separated by a cultural gap rather than a generation gap. This gap between Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid has created two inimical viewpoints on the value of physical appearance, necessity versus extravagance, and modesty in manner.
Physical appearance is very important in America’s society whereas women in Asia only dress-up on special occasions. Most of the time, Asia’s women are cooking, cleaning, and sewing, which is manual work. In America, when women go out in public, they try to look presentable, pleasing to the human eye. After Moon Orchid arrives, one of the first things that Brave Orchid does is point out that Moon Orchid is fat and looks very old. “You’re an old woman…your hair is white and your face wrinkled…you’re so fat.” In Asia, fat people are considered to be rich. Being fat is a sign of being rich because only rich people can afford to eat so much that it would make them fat. In America, obesity is often times something to be ashamed of. Americans seem to desire the body of a model. Brave Orchid also screams at her own children about their appearance but Moon Orchid always defends them. Brave Orchid is very concerned with physical appearance and how people view her and her family. When Moon Orchid’s daughter points out that her children can speak both Chinese and English, Brave Orchid immediately points out that her children could do the same. Brave Orchid did not want her family to appear stupid or uneducated. Moon Orchid is just the opposite. She does not worry about her looks. After Brave Orchid meets the second wife, she goes to Moon Orchid and says, “She’s very pretty and very young…you need to sit up straight. Use my powder. Be as pretty as you can. Other wise you won’t be able to compete.” If I were trying to get my husband back, I would try to look beautiful, making him want to desire me. Moon Orchid does absolutely nothing. She shows up in her everyday clothes, which to some extent is considered dressed up, with probably no make-up on, waiting to meet her husband. If I had heard that the second wife was beautiful, I would have put on lots of make-up and tried to pretty myself up as much as possible. Moon Orchid did none of that. She felt that her appearance would not play a factor is whether her husband chose her or not. She felt that her husband would take her back if he wanted her regardless of her looks. Brave Orchid begged to differ. She felt that Moon Orchid would be no competition unless Moon Orchid tried to be as pretty as the second wife. Brave Orchid thinks that how Moon Orchid looks would play a factor in whether Moon Orchid’s husband took her back. Brave Orchid, living in America, has been taught that physical appearance is extremely important if you want to succeed or get respect, whereas Moon Orchid has learned from Chinese culture that looks are not everything.
Brave Orchid seems to strive for extravagance while Moon Orchid seeks only for necessity. When immigrants come from other countries, they strive to achieve the “American Dream.” Often times, they lose sight of their dream and are tempted and blinded by luxuries. People who live in Asia, work long, hard hours to support their family. In places like China, the best a person can do is to earn enough to provide his/her family with the bare necessities. They feel that extravagance is a waste. Brave Orchid has lived that immigrant life. She goes to America to achieve a dream and discovers there that extravagance exists and can be attained. Moon Orchid who lived in China does not understand why such luxuries are desired. Brave Orchid wants Moon Orchid to take advantage of all that Moon Orchid’s husband may have. Brave Orchid tells her to, “…Let him know exactly how much money you expect for allowance…Ask for more, of course. Food costs more here. Tell him your daughter must inherit his property…” She urges Moon Orchid to demand many material things. America has taught her that one can be rich and she sees this as a “get rich quick” opportunity. Moon Orchid does not understand why her sister wants so much. Moon Orchid was satisfied with the money her husband sent her. She could live comfortably off it and was able to send her daughter to college. “He didn’t abandon me. He’s given me so much money. I’ve had all the food and clothes and servants I’ve ever wanted. And he’s supported our daughter too, even though she’s only a girl. He sent her to college. I can’t bother him.” Moon Orchid is completely content with what she has been given. Brave Orchid wants more for her sister. She wants her sister to live luxuriously, the way some people only dream of living, while Moon Orchid wants to settle for “just enough.” America and China’s expectations and desired lifestyles are radically different causing a clash among sisters.
In America, a compliment is met by gratitude, unlike China where a compliment is met by denial and self degradation. Moon Orchid is disgusted with Brave Orchid’s children. “Why didn’t you teach your girls to be demure?” Moon Orchid expects the girls to be modest. “When she complimented them, they agreed with her! Not once did she hear a child deny a compliment.” She is truly surprised. She never expected such arrogance, at least that is what she saw it as. Brave Orchid takes a different stance on modesty. From the text, I can conclude that Brave Orchid is not modest. She chooses every opportunity to point out that her children are so wonderful. “My children are also very bright. Let me show you.” And then Brave Orchid leads Moon Orchid to the collection of athletic trophies. Brave Orchid knows that in America, one needs to let everyone know how good they are. This builds self-esteem and pride. In Moon Orchid’s point of view, when complimented children should state that they are bad, or ugly, or dumb, contrary to the compliment. Moon Orchid has been taught to be humble and modest, never an arrogant show-off. Brave Orchid feels that her children should not be “ashamed of the things they could do.” She wants to let everyone know. Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid’s opinion on modesty in manner do collide due to cultural differences and values.
Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid’s different opinions on the value of beauty, necessity and extravagance, and modesty have been influenced by their cultural upbringing. Even though they are both Chinese, one learned the lifestyles of China while the other learned the lifestyles of both China and America. Many of the values that China holds were altered and some ignored by Chinese descendants presiding in America. America’s culture has influenced immigrants and therefore causing this clash between these two women. Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid’s gap is a cultural one caused by the influence of the society each lives in.