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Commentary on The Woman Warrior Essay


Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York City: Vintage Books, 1975.

Throughout the lives of the early immigrants from China to America, there have been many hardships resulting from the transition to an American-style culture. The traditional, Communist culture of their Chinese homeland is too difficult to shed and alter so that the American culture can be obtained. In this case, that forms an oppressive system of living for the Chinese-Americans. The story of Maxine Hong Kingston in her autobiographical memoir, The Woman Warrior, provides ideas and figures of certain characteristics that should be obtained to overcome the oppressions of adversity in a foreign land. Some of the characteristics that Kingston develops are individuality amongst a community, innovation from the Chinese traditions, and finding ones own voice. With the use of these essential characteristics, Kingston is able to adapt to the American lifestyle and live peacefully, following the hardships of her growing Chinese-American.

Though it is natural for the Chinese to band together and do what is the greater good for the masses, in America there is a completely different lifestyle. An individual must work to provide for oneself or for their family. Everyone in China is equal, whereas everyone in America is relatively different. The differentiation of people creates an oppressive system of living because the two, being the individual versus the community, cannot completely coincide with each other in America. From Kingstons youth until her adult age, she is forced to focus on becoming an individual by exterior pressures. Her distance from family and her intolerance to their ways during adolescence makes her seem to be the odd-ball of her community because her behavior is not similar to that of regular Chinese children. She has shadowed behind her curiosities and this causes Kingston to not fit into the Chinese-emigrant society. The Chinese scorn individuality because of their traditional communist ways. Kingston is sparked by the weird and unnatural individuals around her to become an individual. As in the case of the silent girl at Chinese school, both Kingston and the girl are equal in society and alike in character, which in turn causes Kingston to hate the girl for reminding her of her own flaws. The lives of the Chinese-American children become harder with each generation because of the lack of self-reliance and the influence of their Chinese culture. Kingston learns how to become an individual from the shedding of her odd, native Chinese traditions.

From the beginning of Kingstons life, it is apparent that her native Chinese tradition puzzles her and clouds her ability to adapt to the new American lifestyle. To break free from an oppressive system, some traditions must be altered to fit the margins of the new lifestyle. The Chinese traditions are based upon the ways of the old. Their nostalgic nature is too difficult to maintain amongst the ever-changing American society. Kingston adapts to the less strict American society, which in turn causes her to grow more distant from the Chinese. The prime example of the breaking away from traditional constrictions is the story of Moon Orchids husband. He is the prime example of the Chinese who find new, and better, lives in America and try to forget their old customs. The community that Kingston lives in relies on the silence and cooperation of the Chinese to maintain their native traditions. The emigrants want to keep their communitys traditions secretive whereas their sons and daughters are trying their hardest to understand it. This creates a burden for all of those who continue to live in America and struggle to adapt. Kingston is reaching out to her fellow Chinese-Americans who are going through the same frustration that she is going through. For the first generation of Chinese-Americans, it is difficult to bring together the restrictive traditions of China with the freedom of life in America. Through her mishaps and uncertainties, Kingston finally rids herself of her hardships from oppression through finding her own voice.

Kingston has to find a voice to overcome Chinese traditional, individual, and social oppression. Even her mother influences her to remain silent, which in turn is an American-feminine trait rather than the loud Chinese-feminine trait. This influences Kingston morally because she has to break her silence to rid herself of the oppression of America. She is confined by society because she is expected to remain silent about traditional affairs and her opinions. She tries to reason the old and new customs of Chinese society and the new Chinese-American lifestyle. Brave Orchid, Kingstons mother, uses her talk-stories to assist Kingston in finding her inner voice. Silence keeps from disrupting the natural flow of society and nature. In fact, much of Kingstons memoir is about the process of finding her own voice. Kingston's difficulty in finding a voice is similar to that of many Chinese-American children who are silenced by their parents. Kingston realizes that her words are her weapons and tools. Writing becomes Kingston's way of speaking about the life if a Chinese-American woman. Although it takes a long time for Kingston to find her own voice, she finally realizes that the power to gain words in order to express herself actually comes from her mother and her individuality as a Chinese ancestor. This shows that she begins able to live in harmony, in both Chinese and American cultures.

In conclusion, it is essential to have certain characteristics to overcome an oppressive system. Some of the characteristics that Kingston develops are individuality amongst a community, innovation from the Chinese traditions, and finding ones own voice. Through the memoir we see Kingston at the key phases of her life. She begins as a quiet child who is unclear to what position she holds in society. Then as a rebellious teenage girl who seeks self-gratification to better coincide with being a unique Chinese-American. Finally as a mature woman, that is seeing the world logically, taking in her past, and using it for strength as a writer.

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