Critical Analysis Essay
Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American writer who was born in the USA in the family of Chinese immigrants. The woman wrote an autobiographical book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts to show the formation of her identity through her experience and her mother’s stories. The book consists of five chapters. Each chapter focuses on the stories of different women, including Kingston’s aunt, mother, and Kingston herself. The most powerful image that occurs throughout the book is the image of silence. Although silence cannot be described as an animate object, it is symbolical in the memoirs. It is known that, since ancient times, Chinese society was based on the code of silence. These traditions imprinted on the minds of Chinese immigrants, including Kingston and her family. The author begins her story as a voiceless Chinese girl who does not know who she is and how to behave in her Chinese family and American society simultaneously. By recounting her mother’s folktales and adding her personal interpretations, Kingston smoothly transfers from a shy and silent Chinese girl to a self-confident personality who knows what she wants. The power of silence and words is equal, and the author demonstrates this power in her pilgrimage. Thus, in the book The Woman Warrior by Kingston, the author successfully combines silence and words to represent her personal transition from a mysterious and voiceless Chinese identity to a strong and confident Chinese-American personality.
From the beginning, it is evident that Kingston is confused to distinguish between the Chinese and American identities. Moreover, she asks herself and other Chinese Americans whether they recognize this difference: “Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese?”. Her family is silent, which makes it difficult to comprehend the difference between the real traditions and imaginary reality. Kingston does not understand why she has to keep silence about all those stories her mother has told her. Moreover, she perceives silence as a punishment for her ancestors’ sins. In her article, Mary Zeiss Stange writes, “The family’s forgetting amounted to denying the aunt her place in the heaven of the ancestors: the family’s silence is No-Name Woman’s eternal punishment”. Although it was Kingston’s aunt who was punished for bringing an illegitimate child to the family, the author feels as if she was punished for being a girl herself. Her parents do not talk to her as often as to her brothers because she is a girl, and in Chinese culture, girls are not as desired babies as boys are. Kingston’s No Name aunt is an example of such negative treatment, and the family prefers to forget about her existence rather than live in shame. Silence becomes a symbol of a Chinese identity, and Kingston breaks this silence and alters her identity. In such a way, she shows respect to her Chinese aunt and honors her forgotten memory. Thus, the first step from a voiceless Chinese identity to a strong Chinese-American one is taken.
Interestingly, though Kingston is a silent student at the school, she abuses another Chinese American girl for being voiceless too. The author cries, “Look at you, snot streaming down your nose, and you won’t say a word to stop it. You’re such a nothing. […]. Talk!” (Kingston ch. 5). Such behavior symbolizes the author’s protest against Chinese traditions and her desire that the other girl could become a real Chinese American instead of being a voiceless slave. Thus, Kingston reveals her frustration and a sense of deep mortification she feels towards her family. At home, she cannot speak and express her feelings openly. Thus, this silent girl is an object of her self-expression. Due to this girl, Kingston can free her real identity and reveal her hidden thoughts without being afraid to be punished. Joanne Frye writes, “The actual abuse is clearly an effort to expunge those parts of her Chinese-female identity which she abhors and to mark out her own possibilities for strength in resisting that identity”. Kingston abhors silence because this silence moves her away from her family and does not allow her to know her Chinese past in all details. Therefore, the author begins to express her emotions by crying at a girl and, later, by writing a book. Her mother’s stories, which had to be silent, are revealed on the pages of the book in spite of Kingston’s mother’s request not to reveal them. In such a way, the author takes her next step to come closer to her new identity.
In the fifth chapter, Kingston argues with her mother for the woman’s attempt to cut her tongue. The author writes that the membrane under her tongue was cut by her mother; however, this event did not prevent Kingston from speaking. She says, “And I’m not going to Chinese school anymore, […] the kids are rowdy and mean. […] And I don’t want to listen to any more of your stories; they have no logic. […] Ha! You can’t stop me from talking. You tried to cut off my tongue, but it didn’t work”. This speech is the final step to the author’s new identity. She understands that she lives in America, where the views and traditions are different from that of Chinese. Thus, she does not want to keep silence, and she ventures to break the rules and start talking. Long silence is impossible; it is harassing and exhausting. At the same time, it is the weapon of Kingston’s family, and they use this weapon to force each other into submissions. Instead of applying physical force to punish each other, they use silence as the worst punishment. Moreover, silence is the main punishment for women. According to Chinese traditions, women had to obey the men and do not speak about some taboo themes, such as sex, death, or shame. However, Kingston is unable to endure such method of punishment. While she is growing older, she realizes that the words are as powerful as silence is. One can suppose that she comes to the following conclusion because of her mother’s stories. Her mother is not silent since she tells her different Chinese stories, teaching the girl that she would become a wife and a slave. At the same time, the mother tells her about the woman warrior, and Kingston decides to become such a warrior. She manages to do it through speaking and writing, thus, breaking silence and Chinese identity again.
Alternatively, Kingston uses silence as another way to comprehend her real identity. Kingston’s silence helps her in her education because it gives her power and knowledge and gives her a possibility to unite with nature both in the material world and spiritual one. The time she has been voiceless is the time of her self-identity. The woman uses silence to observe the world around her, listen to other people, and make her personal decisions about the Chinese and Chinese American traditions. The long way from Kingston’s voiceless girlhood to her becoming adult and self-confident is not as easy as it seems to be. The author has to overcome many obstacles on this way to realize the importance of silence in her life. Due to this silence, she wrote the book The Woman Warrior. Silence inspired her to create something new and express her inner thoughts and feelings. Although silence is not an animate object, it is a symbol of power, growth, and strength in the book. The same is with the words. The author does not tell them; however, her written language is as powerful as spoken language is.
The book becomes a symbol of Chinese immigrants who come to the USA to take their refuge. First, they are silent because they are afraid of being deported. However, when they adapt to circumstances and begin to feel at home, their words escape their lips, and their identities alter. Kingston’s memoirs became symbolic for every immigrant because they help them adjust to new conditions and comprehend the importance of silence and words. The author’s pilgrimage in understanding her identity was long and hard; however, she managed to succeed in it and became a strong and confident woman who knows her place in the world. Kingston used the book to break this silence and destroy the features of Chinese traditions she hated. One cannot regard the book as an autobiographical story only since it can be identified with all Chinese American individuals who cannot comprehend their real identities. Kingston does not want to be a slave of silent Chinese culture, and she decides to become a Woman Warrior who fights for her rights and liberties and does not keep silence anymore. To sum up, the book The Woman Warrior demonstrates the author’s transition from being a voiceless Chinese girl to an independent woman with her powerful and assured voice.