Maxine Hong Kingston's No Name Woman
A person's identity cannot be given to her, instead a person must achieve a sense of her character through personal experience and self-reflection. In "No Name Woman", Maxine Hong Kingston recalls the events of her aunt's life in the vague world of her Chinese roots. The story of her aunt is told by her mother and Kingston recreates the events into an exploratory story to help herself figure out what part of her identity is Chinese and help her better understand the Chinese culture. In retelling her aunt's story, Kingston seeks to reconcile both her Chinese and American identities and mold her own identity as a result. Kingston, a first generation American, finds that as a result of her cultural heritage and current surroundings, it is extremely difficult in resolving her identity. Although growing up in America, she is a product of a very strong Chinese culture so her identity becomes multifaceted. In attempting to resolve who she is and what her cultural roots are, she discovers that her identity is characterized in relation to her Chinese identity and her American environment.
In the opening scene of the story, the audience is immediately presented with a tragic story within a story. The events viewed in retrospect through the eyes of the narrator's traditional conservative mother seem skewed and moralistic, delivered in an instructive voice. The mother's speech is purely didactic. She is telling this story to Kingston to teach a lesson; never do what your aunt has done and do not bring shame upon the family name. Instead of clearly accepting this tale, Kingston has a hard time believing and consenting to her mother's message. Although Kingston is to never speak of the aunt and pretend that the aunt never existed, she disobeys her mother and comes up with a speculative version of events in retelling her aunt's story.
Kingston's story seeks meaning in the Chinese culture system in order to strengthen her individual identity. It also shows that certain aspects of the people and traditions of a cultural background can be disturbing at times. "To be a woman, to have a daughter in starvation time was enough... Women in the old China did not choose (Kingston 6)." The Chinese community that held the most meaning for Kingston's cultural identity had been lost somewhere in the past. The only knowledge Kingston has of anything Chinese had come from her mother, but that was not enough for her. She has only vague memories and imaginations of such a community that serve as a backdrop for the goal she seeks in strengthening her identity in relation to her ancestral and cultural makeup.
For Kingston, she had become separated from part of her heritage. She struggled in attempting to understand the meaning of this heritage in a world that is different from the older generations. She illustrates this confusion and difficulty in attempting to understand her cultural roots when she says, "Chinese Americans, when...