In her autobiography, The Woman Warrior, Maxine talks-story about how she grew up surrounded by the Chinese culture but went to American schools. How her mother told her stories of herself as a shaman and of Fa Mu Lan when Maxine brought home good grades. How she was put down by the Chinese sexism and rebelled from it. This is the story of Maxine?s search for a compromise between the American culture and the Chinese culture and how she eventually found a balance between the two cultures.
When Maxine was growing up in Chinatown her mother, Brave Orchid, would tell her stories, stories about Chinese heroes, stories about being a shaman in China, stories of her nameless aunt. Her mother intended these stories to have moral significance for Maxine but Maxine interpreted them differently than what her mother intended. When Brave Orchid told her the story of the No Name Woman, Maxine?s aunt, Brave Orchid was using the story to warn Maxine away from engaging in premarital sex. Maxine interpreted the story according to values that she can relate to, like individualism and the No Name Woman?s love for her child. Another story told to Maxine was the myth of Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior. Brave Orchid, with this story, wants to prod Maxine to go and do something as for the good of her family and community and not just for herself. Maxine thinks that she, like Fa Mu Lan, is a woman warrior, but realizes that the story doesn?t make the transition from Chinese to American very well. In all of Brave Orchid?s stories Maxine compromised, Americanizing Chinese stories and coming to her own interpretations based on her own beliefs.
Maxine, throughout her life was confronted by the sexism inherent in the Chinese culture. She wrote that “there is a Chinese word for the female I – which is ?slave,?” implying that women are slaves. When she was young her great-uncle would call out and ask who wanted to go to the store and when she and her sisters would run to get their coats he would yell “no girls” at them. Maxine, to escape the sexism and to compromise between the Chinese and American cultures, rebelled against everything feminine. She wrote that “I refused to cook. When I had to wash dishes, I would crack one or two.” Even as an adult she can?t cook, almost always burning the food. To find her place in the American culture Maxine rebelled against things she saw as feminine.
In order to find her own place in America, Maxine was forced to move away from her mother and Chinatown. In the “Shaman” chapter Maxine talks about how she was always sick at her mothers house. How she always had colds, went to the doctor, and used up her medical insurance. Maxine, to find her own place in society, was forced to sever almost every tie to her Chinese heritage. But Maxine, like Ts?ai Yen, still carried her Chinese heritage with her into the barbarian world. And they both accepted parts of the barbarian culture into their own identity. Ts?ai Yen sang about China to the accompaniment of the barbarian reed pipes while Maxine talked story about China and growing up in Chinatown. As Maxine wrote, “It translated well.”
Maxine?s autobiography, The Woman Warrior, is about Maxine?s search for a compromise between her parents Chinese culture and the American culture. Maxine forms this compromise with the help of her mother?s stories and her own experience. This balance comes with the cost of nearly severing her ties to her parents and her past. But she does find a balance between the two cultures.