Book Review: Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

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Maxine Hong Kingston recalls stories from her past and recounts them in her work of creative non-fiction Woman Warrior. Her stories reflect the situations of women within the Chinese culture, as well as Chinese Americans living in the United States during the Chinese Revolution. She discusses explosive topics (particularly when they are paired with women) such as education, fighting, sexism, and family life. She tells stories from her mother’s past and effortlessly blends her autobiography with Chinese folktales in such a way that the reader could misunderstand and believe that it is purely an autobiographical story.

Maxine Hong Kingston opens Women Warrior with a story of her mother telling Kingston as a child to never talk about her aunt. Kingston’s aunt becomes pregnant while her husband is away at war, and Kingston’s mother recounts the story of what happened to her; the village is enraged and ransacks her house. She retreats and gives birth alone, after which she takes the child and jumps into the family well, committing suicide. Kingston ponders this story of the “No Name Woman”; she wonders if her aunt had loved the man, or perhaps if she was forced into the sexual relationship and had no choice in the matter. Kingston frequently talks about women and the gross injustice of the oppression they are required to face.

Kingston goes on to tell the story of the warrior Fa Mu Lan, essentially morphing into the character herself. She describes the training she endures, as well as the skills and intelligence that are needed to withstand the experiences that she does. It is interesting to note that Kingston chooses to tell this story in relation to the story of her aunt; the two women (Fa Mu Lan and her aunt) are so starkly different. While Kingston’s aunt (whose name we never learn because the family is trying to wipe out her memory) gives up rather easily and does not fight, Fa Mu Lan is a committed warrior who does not let her circumstances affect her or her attitude. Fa Mu Lan is brave, strong, and unhindered.

Kingston also highlights racism in her collection of stories. She is disappointed in herself because she cannot stand up to her racist boss, who frequently makes horrifying comments to Kingston. She wishes that she could be like Fa Mu Lan and bravely stand up to her boss, but she is not bold. She expresses her discomfort in whispers and squeaks, after which she is fired. Kingston is very bitter and angry about the racism she faces, and that reflects strongly in the way she describes and refers to Americans and the United States in general.

Kingston’s writings also have a very spiritual nature to them. She frequently refers to stories involving ghosts, spirits, and other paranormal activity. Kingston tells a particularly striking story involving her mother’s educational life, in which she faces and overcomes one of the ghosts that lurk in the halls. It is known as “The Sitting Ghost,” and Kingston’s mother lights buckets of alcohol and oil on fire in order to scare it away. Although it is not an explicitly Christian story, spiritual matters heavily influence Kingston while she is writing Woman Warrior.

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