Maxine Hong Kingston
- The author and narrator of The Woman Warrior.
Kingston relates both her own memoir and the stories of women related or linked to her in some way: her mother, her aunt (Moon Orchid), No-Name Woman, and mythical characters such as Fa Mu Lan. Though Kingston is the narrator, she shares the protagonist role with her mother. Her memories of own life do not figure prominently until the final chapter, "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe," in which she grows out of the frustrations of her childhood and finds her own voice.
- Kingston's mother, whose "talk-stories" about Chinese life and traditions haunt Kingston like ghosts from another world. Brave Orchid is a proud and intelligent woman who comes off as both gentle and cruel in equal parts in the memoir. She appears throughout the book but figures most prominently in "Shaman," which depicts her life in China as a doctor and a woman of almost magical powers. Along with her sister, Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid is a main focus of "At the Western Palace."
in-depth analysis of Brave Orchid.
- Brave Orchid's sister, who comes to America in her 1960s. Moon Orchid emigrates—at Brave Orchid's encouragement—in an attempt to find her estranged husband, who left China thirty years earlier. Whereas Brave Orchid is forceful and capable and determined, Moon Orchid is timid and incapable of completing even the easiest tasks. She is largely unable to adjust to life in America.
in-depth analysis of Moon Orchid.
- Kingston's unnamed aunt, who kills herself and her illegitimate child in China by jumping into the family well. Kingston knows nothing about aunt and must make up stories in "No-Name Woman." Kingston portrays her aunt as a timid woman who gave into a forbidden passion and was then driven to suicide when she was cast out from the village.
Fa Mu Lan
- A heroic female warrior from a traditional Chinese legend, whom Brave Orchid originally described to Kingston in a talk-story. Fa Mu Lan represents both the Chinese female ideal—as a loving mother and wife—and a source of great power and independence. Kingston feels a kinship with the woman warrior and, in "White Tigers," re-imagines her story in the first person, as if she were the warrior herself. Kingston also contrasts Fa Mu Lan's great accomplishments and victories with the disappointments of her own life.
The silent girl
- A classmate whom Kingston torments when she is young, as related in "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." Both Kingston and the girl are quiet and unpopular, so Kingston hates the girl for reminding her of her own weaknesses.
Moon Orchid's husband
- A successful doctor in Los Angeles, he had not seen Moon Orchid in thirty years before the confrontation described in "At the Western Palace." He is typical of many emigrant Chinese who find new lives in America and try to forget their old responsibilities.
The old couple
- An elderly couple who, in "White Tigers," train Fa Mu Lan in martial arts and survival skills on top of the mountain. The old couple are quasi-deities—Fa Mu Lan sees that they are hundreds of years old—and, significantly, are more like parents to the woman warrior than her own parents are.
- A Chinese poetess born in 175 A.D., the source of the title of the final chapter. Ts'ai Yen was captured by barbarians and forced to fight their battles, and brought back to her people, the Han, a song called "Eighteen Stanzas for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." She serves a metaphor for both Kingston's own project in writing her memoir—bringing her songs to her people back from "savage lands"—and for the act of talk-story in general.
- Kingston's father, who runs the laundry in America with Brave Orchid, appears in the book only rarely. In both "No-Name Woman" and "Shaman," he has already left for America, and in "At the Western Palace," he disappears quickly after Moon Orchid's arrival. Kingston's father is the main character of her second memoir, China Men.