Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior

2620 words - 10 pages

Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior
Maxine Hong Kingston's novel, The Woman Warrior is a semi-autobiographical collection of short stories that chronicles her childhood in California. It gives the reader a feeling of how it feels like to be a Chinese American girl growing up with traditional parents in a world that is quite different from theirs. Throughout the novel, both she and her mother refer to the outside world as "ghosts." The subtitle given to the book is Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. To figure out the meaning behind this subtitle, one has to try to see what Kingston means when she and her family use the term "ghost."
When people think of ghosts, it can be said that thoughts of death and non-existence come to mind. When this term is used in her family, it shows that the outside world is non-existent, or useless to them. Whenever a non-Chinese person is talked about, that person is referred to as "ghost." These non-Chinese people are strange to Kingston's family. Kingston's mother, Brave Orchid, has a slight disgust for ghosts of all sorts. In the chapter titled Shaman, she fights a ghost in one of the rooms of her medical school. The ghost is symbolic of everything that is, and will be, an obstacle to her. Fighting this threat to her and her friends, has given her the strength to live in a world where the women are deemed to be not as important as the men. It has also given her a reputation amongst her friends to be a strong woman.
Later on in the chapter, she has immigrated to the United States. It is here where we see Kingston use the term "ghost" in a manner to mean "stranger." She writes, "America has been full of machines and ghosts – Taxi Ghosts, Bus Ghosts, Police Ghosts, Fire Ghosts, Meter Reader Ghosts, Tree Trimming Ghosts Five-and-Dime Ghosts." This description gives the reader the culture shock that someone who has just moved to the US can get. It may be a very unnerving experience to be surrounded by so many strange and alien things.
Despite her mother using the term "ghost" to be vaguely insulting, it does not seem that way when Kingston uses this term for people. For example is in the chapter A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe. She labels her Negro friends as "black ghosts." When she labels gives them this name, it is not as if she is using this term in a derogatory manner. Since her mother has always referred to strangers as ghosts, she has picked up the same habit. In...

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