BRIAN LAMAR Heroes and Tricksters November 19, 2002 A Haunted Youth Maxine Hong Kingston encounters difficulties in finding an identity as she grows up as a Chinese-American girl in Stockton, California. In “The Woman Warrior” she examines her youth from different perspectives and at different stages of her development. She struggles to find her place in her family and the world. Kingston relates her life through various devices. As an outsider her mother referred to everyone not Chinese or Japanese as ghosts. The talk-stories provide Maxine with life lessons to teach Maxine how to behave. Maxine desires to be a strong woman figure like Fa Mu Lan in the talk-story told by her mother. The Chinese community is very guarded and protective of itself. Maxine learns to be quiet as a child growing up in a very enclosed community; however, she later learns that she can give voice to her feelings best through her writing, allowing her to speak out and express herself in ways she could not as a child. Throughout the book Maxine expresses her feelings of being unwanted and unvalued by her family. Only boys are felt to be of worth to the Chinese family. Maxine‟s mother is a strong woman figure and role model for young Maxine, however; her mother reinforces the negative stereotypes that girls are disappointments to their parents. Maxine imagines herself a swordswoman, like Fa Mu Lan, whose revenge is her words rather than a sword. Kingston‟s dream is to break apart stereotypes and old traditions and create new ideas. Being a first generation Chinese child in America means that you do not belong to any culture. Maxine is torn between two worlds and is not fully accepted in either. Maxine‟s Chinese heritage is second-hand, retold through her mother‟s talk-stories and from what images she can conjure from these stories. She struggles with the strictness of the Chinese traditions and the freedom allowed in America. She does not know how to dress or what to say. As a child, Maxine is naturally soft spoken and shy which are labeled American characteristics. The Chinese women are described as being loud and public. Maxine‟s mother, Brave Orchid, freely expresses her opinions and even attempts to get others to be more assertive. Brave Orchid, attempts to get her sister, Moon Orchid, to reclaim her husband who has abandoned Moon Orchid. Brave Orchid is a very bold and strong willed woman. She claims to have cut Maxine‟s tongue as a girl so that she would speak more. Maxine explains, “My American life has been such a disappointment. „I got straight A‟s, Mama.‟ „Let me tell you a true story about a girl who saved her village (45).” Maxine tries to please her family at first, but learns that Chinese girls are thought worthless. Kingston attempts to find her place in the world while facing the obstacles of old traditions and unfamiliar people. Kingston grew up surrounded by ghosts. Brave Orchid calls anyone who is not Chinese or Japanese a ghost. Ghosts represent outsiders. Ghosts appear throughout the book; some ghosts protect the living while others can do harm. Maxine acknowledges that “America is full of machines and ghosts – Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts, Five-and-Dime Ghosts. Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly; breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White ghosts and their cars (97).” Ghosts are everywhere and their role changes depending on the point of view from which people are seen. Brave Orchid‟s sister is convinced that “Mexican ghosts” are trying to hurt her. There are ancestral ghosts who can protect the family and gifts are given to them. There are also animal ghosts. Brave Orchid is said to be able to dispel ghosts. She fights one in her dormitory at school displaying her powers as a shaman. The Chinese emigrants were uncomfortable around Americans. The children were taught to “Lie to Americans.” The children are taught to see non-Chinese people as ghosts and as outsiders. This idea of everyone not Chinese and in their community being ghosts displays the intense strictness and closeness of these communities. The only people that mattered were the other Chinese emigrants living in the same community. The first thing Kingston says she is told is “You must not tell anyone.” She is taught to keep quiet. “Don‟t tell anyone you had an aunt (15.)” Ironically, Kingston ends up telling everyone the story. When she is grown and capable of maturely analyzing the situation Kingston voices her anger declaring “Sometimes I hated the ghosts for not letting us talk; sometimes I hated the secrecy of the Chinese. „Don‟t tell,‟ said my parents, though we couldn‟t tell if we wanted to because we didn‟t know (183).” Maxine learned about her heritage from piecing together stories told by her mother. The talk-stories heard by Maxine illustrate the high value of control within the Chinese community. The community is very close and the emigrants are wary about anything threatening a disruption. In No-Name Woman the story explains that all the villagers are connected and responsible for one another's lives. In the talk-story the community punishes Kingston‟s aunt for disrupting order. Maxine illustrates the Chinese community as strict and oppressive, where people are unable to have private lives. Women have to bind their feet, which represents the restricted lives of the women. Everyone is part of one family that worked together. Kingston‟s aunt disrupts the stability by being pregnant. Although she is probably pregnant by no fault of her own, she is made an example of and disgraced. The community‟s need for order and secretiveness is oppressive to Maxine who wishes to be like Fa Mu Lan in the stories told by her mother. The most oppressive force in Maxine‟s life is the traditions, which are carried through the women. Men do not play a vivid role in this book. Kingston‟s mother tells her the talk-stories to teach her lesson and which also relate the status of girls in the Chinese community. It is women who say “There‟s no profit in raising girls. Better to raise geese than girls.” “Feeding girls is feeding cowbirds (46).” Chinese parents would leave their baby girls to die because they had wanted boys. Females were seen as being either wives or mothers, nothing more. Traditions passed on through the women pounded in the devaluing idea of girls as worthless yet the talk-stories exalted women warrior figures such as Fa Mu Lan. “When we Chinese girls listened to the adults talk- story, we learned that we failed if we grew up to be but wives or slaves. We could be heroines, swordswomen (19).” Kingston set out to become a swordswoman of sorts, using her words to strike at the backward traditions that are imposed on young Chinese- American girls. Maxine‟s mother tells talk-stories which are oppressive and uplifting for Maxine. Maxine learns about shamans and swordswomen who claim their own positions and are empowered. However, her mother and other women constantly remind her that girls are disappointments. Kingston‟s mother is a very imposing figure. Brave Orchid seems to possess supernatural powers and intelligence, which contradicts the traditional role as a weak housewife. Brave Orchid went to school where she was allowed to escape the confines of her community. At the school she demonstrated superior intellect and bravery by dispelling a ghost. She is a kind of shaman, with the ability to fight ghosts and cure ailments. After an encounter with a ghost, Brave Orchid‟s classmates call to her “Your friends need you. We need you. Return to us. Return to us at the To Keung School. There‟s work to do. Come back, Doctor Brave Orchid, be unafraid (71-72).” Amongst her classmates Brave Orchid is revered for her abilities and her strong character. However, in America, Brave Orchid slaves away in a laundry and tomato fields. She is reduced to the traditional role of mother and wife. She still maintains her outspoken temperament. Brave Orchid is a powerful female figure in Kingston‟s life. The story related by Kingston is a journey to finding one‟s voice. Kingston was a naturally quiet child who deliberately behaved contrary so as not to be married off. She did not fit in with the Chinese community and she felt oppressed by the demeaning values put on women. Her emotions built up inside of her and when she allowed them to be expressed verbally it was typically a poor reflection of Maxine. Her confrontation with the quiet girl at school illustrates Maxine as a bully. She is unable to express her emotions in a controlled fashion. Her outburst at her mother is another unflattering example of Kingston letting her emotions fly. She discovers through writing she can convey her emotions with more maturity. Writing is her sword that can be drawn upon to attack the ignorances perpetuated by some Chinese traditions. The years of oppression and anger at the Chinese traditions can be aptly expressed through her writing. She comes to terms with her mother and ends by creating a talk-story from part of a story her mother had said.