Maxine Hong Kingston

The Woman Warrior (1976)


Maxine Hong Kingston (1940-)

Born in Stockton, California to parents who operated a laundry (considered among the few jobs left for Chinese-Americans)

1962 Graduated from Berkeley, married Earll Kingston.

After an involvement with anti-war protests in late sixties, Kingstons moved to Hawaii. Maxine taught English.

1990 Started teaching at Berkeley.


The Woman Warrior (1976)

To make my waking life American-normal, I turn on the lights before anything untoward makes an appearance. I push the deformed into my dreams, which are in Chinese, the language of impossible stories. Before we can leave our parents, they stuff our heads like the suitcases which they jam-pack with homemade underwear.


Memoir focuses on 5 women’s stories, integrated with Kingston’s own experience and talk-stories (spoken stories combining Chinese history, myths ad beliefs)

Chapter 1: “No-Name Woman” retells the story of Kingston’s dead aunt who jumped in a well in China for having an illegitimate child. Story is told to Kingston as a warning accompanied by a dictate never to mention the aunt’s name again. Kingston retells the story in her memoir as she compares her aunt’s rebelliousness to her own.

Chapter 2: “White Tigers” is about a mythical female warrior, Fa Mu Lan, who fights against the corrupt emperor posing like a man, then returns home to be wife and mother. Kingston compares the warrior’s strength to her own weakness in the face of her racist bosses, realizing that her weapon is her pen.

Chapter 3: “Shaman” tells about Brave Orchid, Kingston’s mother, who was a doctor and midwife in China and whose stories of Chinese babies dying, slave women, and stoned women cause Kingston many nightmares. Mother and daughter reconcile at the end of the chapter as mother is compassionate to daughter for the first time.

Chapter 4: “At the Western Palace” is a talk-story about an emperor with 4 wives told to Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid’s sister. Moon Orchid’s husband leaves her in China and remarries in Los Angeles. Brave Orchid encourages her sister to ask for her rights as his wife. Moon Orchid’s inability to speak English and to fend for herself in California drives her crazy and she eventually dies in a mental asylum.

Chapter 5: “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe” depicts Kingston’s anger as a child for her inability to please her unappreciative mother. Eventually appreciating her mother’s talk-stories, Kingston tells her own of a poetess who is captured by barbarians but returns to China with songs from another land.