The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts is a rite-of-passage story, of the type that is frequently called a bildungsroman. When Knopf’s Vintage Books published Maxine Hong Kingston’s autobiographic Chinese folk tale in 1975 it was an immediate success. It went on from being a best seller to find its place in the top ten nonfiction books of that decade. In a time of increased American International awareness, it focused on the idea of America as a land of immigrants. As American women were challenging the social order, it incorporated an awareness of women’s issues. In following the course of a woman finding her way from her Chinese heritage to the assimilation of American concepts it became a favorite literary teaching tool because of its cross discipline, cross cultural appeal.
No Name Woman:
No Name Woman takes place in three parts. The first part is the story of the No Name Woman herself. As the story unfolds, Maxine describes a young woman who is married off just before her husband and his brothers leave China for America. She gets pregnant far too long after he is gone, for the child to be his. The villagers humiliate her family by trashing their home the night the baby comes and she is forced to give birth to the baby out in the pigsty. Knowing that both she and the baby face nothing but misery for the rest of their lives she takes the baby and jumps in the well. They both drown and the family now pretends she never existed.
Well, that is not exactly true; and that is the second part, she is now a teaching story. Now she exists as a ghost story to frighten young women into a life of obedience and subservience. As hard as their lives may be it is still better to accept it and avoid the even more dire fate that awaits the disobedient woman.
The third part is how Kingston, forbidden to speak of her tells and retells the story in her journals creating different histories until she is unsure if she is doing it to put an uneasy ancestor to rest, or to satisfy her own needs and explore venues for her own rebellious spirit.
Is the story of Fa Mu Lan a mythical female warrior, Kingston tells her story is told as a first-person narrative. Again we have the multi-faceted elements of the story, Kingston’s involvement in telling it and the ultimate meaning she finds in it.
Fa Mu Lan, from the time she is seven years old, is in training to become a warrior. In her narrative, she takes on the persona and goes on a surreal journey following a bird that flies up “around and around the tallest mountain, climbing ever upward” to an old couple who lives in the sky. In return for promising to stay for fifteen years, they train her to be a warrior. The element of the White Tiger comes in after she is there for seven years. At age fourteen the couple takes her “blindfolded to the mountains of the white tigers.” .
The next part is for her to train in “dragon ways” for eight years. When she finishes that training the old couple shows her a water gourd and lets her look inside. The gourd serves as a scrying bowl and in it, she sees herself marrying a childhood friend. One of her husband and little brother drafted into the army follows this pleasant image. That makes her angry, very angry; and that brings out the power she developed in the years of training. She points at the sky and makes a sword appear, “a silver bolt in the sunlight.” She uses her mind to control it and when she can do this, the old couple lets her leave and go home.
When she get there her father tells her “I have been drafted,” her response is “No, Father, I will take your place.” . Disguised as a man she becomes a warrior and assembles an army. She defeats a snake giant, adds his army to her own forces. Her husband joins her but marriage and motherhood does not stop her until her warrior mission is finished. Instead of settling into a maternal role after she gives birth, she sends her husband away with the baby. Alone she goes to battle the evil baron slashes him across the face with her sword and cuts off his head. With that accomplished, she goes back to her duties as a wife and mother.
Kingston's own life in America is far different from the story of Fa Mu Lan. Kingston can hardly even stand up to her racist bosses let alone call a lightning sword from the sky and use it to lead a grand army against the forces of evil to protect her husband, father, brother and baby. Upon reflection, Kingston realizes, that the pen is mightier than the sword and her words are her weapons.
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