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The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior is a memoir, but told mostly through stories of other women. Maxine Hong Kingston was born in America to Chinese immigrants, and when she wrote the book she had never yet been to China. All her knowledge of her home is mediated through stories, with myths, songs and family history recounted by her mother.

The Woman Warrior is a working through of issues about tradition, gender, and most importantly identity. There are five stories in the book about strong women and weak women told in different kinds of perspectives. In the first she talks about her aunt in China, who disgraced the family and killed herself and her baby. She was punished by being forgotten. They never speak her name, and it is as if she had never been born. Kingston writes that in adhering to this silence, by never asking about her, she participates in her aunt’s punishment.

Voice is important in the book. In the very last chapter Kingston explores her childhood and adolescence, years of silence that culminated in an attack on another shy, quiet Chinese girl. She seems to rebel against herself, wanting to be different. She screams at the girl, tries to taunt her into speaking, but it doesn’t work. Then she accosts her mother, confessing how the stories she has been told confuse her, that she can’t tell what is real and what is made up.

The women in The Women Warrior are all important in their own right, and it is as if Kingston is writing all these stories to figure out which one she’s going to be. At the end of the book she tells a final story passed onto her by her mother, but that she finishes. The final line, ‘It translated well’, hints at a kind of resolution. I think she found her voice, her identity, in passing stories on to others.

The Woman Warrior is a fast, engaging read. The characters in it are fascinating, the stories well-told, and there is plenty of food for thought about reconciling a modern life with a history of tradition.


TITLE: The Woman Warrior

AUTHOR(S): Maxine Hong Kingston


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