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The Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston

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full title ·  The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

author ·  Maxine Hong Kingston

type of work ·  Memoir

genre ·  Autobiography; ethnic or collective autobiography-biography; fiction-fantasy; myth-epic; ghost story

language ·  English

time and place written ·  Hawaii, 1973–1975

date of first publication ·  1976

publisher ·  Alfred A. Knopf

narrator ·  Kingston herself is the narrator, at various stages in her life. However, the chapter "At the Western Palace," which details an episode told to her second-hand, is written in the third-person, and the chapter "White Tigers" is Kingston's retelling and recreating of a myth in the first person. The narrator is sometimes difficult to pin down because so much of the book derives from talk-stories told to Kingston by her mother.

climax ·  The closest thing there is to a climax is Kingston's rebellious outburst against her mother in "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe." Another pivotal moment is Moon Orchid's confrontation with her estranged husband in "At the Western Palace."

protagonist ·  Kingston and Brave Orchid, the only characters who appear in every chapter, serve as dual protagonists. "Shaman" focuses on Brave Orchid's life, while "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" focuses on Kingston's.

antagonist ·  Brave Orchid also serves as an antagonist throughout the book. Her talk-stories are responsible for much of Kingston's difficulty adjusting to life in America.

setting (time) ·  1924–1975, from the time Kingston's father leaves for America until the time she writes the memoir

setting (place) ·  The events recollected in "No-Name Woman" take place in the New Society Village in China, and much of "Shaman" is set at Brave Orchid's medical school in Canton. The rest of the work (not including the imaginary story of Fa Mu Lan) is set in Stockton, California, where Kingston grew up.

point of view ·  The story is, for the most part, told from Kingston's point of view, although "At the Western Palace" is told in the third person. In "White Tigers," Kingston takes on the persona of Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior.

falling action ·  Brave Orchid's talk stories about her mother; Kingston adds her own talk story about the Chinese poetess Ts'ai Yen, whose story serves as a metaphor for writing the memoir.

tense ·  Immediate past (real-time narration) blended with present tense

foreshadowing ·  Foreshadowing is not a major literary device in The Woman Warrior, as the story does not proceed in linear fashion or move in any one direction. We might say that the fact that Kingston is constantly silenced as a little girl—a theme that appears in a number of different chapters—foreshadows and anticipates her eventual outburst at her mother in "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe."

tone ·  Kingston's tone is sometimes angry and frustrated, and childlike at times. More often than not she displays a kind of bitter but perceptive irony about her childhood and her family.

themes ·  The role of women in traditional Chinese society; silence and voice; growing up Chinese-American; the individual vs. the community; writing and speaking as triumph

motifs ·  Ghosts; warriors; talk-story

symbols ·  Circles; birds; mountains; the white horse; bound feet; ideographs

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